Different golf courses feature different styles of bunkers. For instance, the sand in some bunkers takes on a concave or bowl shape; the ball will often funnel to the bottom, or hang up on the tilted face. In others, the sand lies flat across the bottom of the trap, producing uniform lies throughout the bunker.

In either case, you'll inevitably face a shot that must clear a high lip to reach the green. This can actually be pretty easy if your ball lies on an upslope, since the hill will naturally add height to the shot. Getting the ball up and over a steep lip from a level lie requires correct technique.

Let's say you've got to clear a lip that's four feet high and less than two yards in front of you. Here's how it's done:

  • Using a sand wedge or lob wedge, stand with your feet open to the target line (aligned left, for right-handers) by as much as 30°, or several feet left of where you want the ball to land.
  • The clubface should also be opened slightly, pointing right of your target.
  • Position the ball in the center or just forward of center in your stance and bend at the knees.
  • Choose a spot about two inches behind the ball; this is where the club should enter the sand.
  • With your focus on the entry point (not the ball), swing along the line of your body, accelerating the clubhead into your spot.
  • As you pass through impact, hold the clubface open by keeping the back of your left hand pointed at the sky.

The ball will come out high, easily carry the lip and land softly. Remember, the higher you need to hit the ball, the more open you should stand.

Greenside Bunker Basics – High Lip Escape

Greenside Bunker Basics – High Lip Escape

It's never a good feeling to see your golf ball disappear into a greenside bunker. Not only have you missed the green with your approach shot, but you don't know exactly what you are going to find when you walk up to the sand trap. Did the ball plug in the sand? Will you have enough room to make a full swing? There are plenty of things that can go wrong when your ball enters a bunker, and many of them mean that you will be walking off the green with a bogey – at best.

In this article, we are going to specifically address one of the many things that can go wrong when your ball lands in a trap – the possibility that it will come to rest up close to a high lip. If there is a high edge on the bunker between you and the hole, and your ball is close to that edge, you are going to be in for a challenge. To hit a successful shot and retain a chance for par, you will need to get the ball up in the air extremely quickly. Of course, if you fail to achieve that goal, your ball will hit the side of the bunker and fall back down in the trap. Suddenly, your situation will have gone from bad to worse, and you'll soon be writing a big number on your scorecard.

Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do to take all of the challenge out of this situation. This will always be a hard shot, and sometimes, depending on the bunker and the position of the ball, it might even be an impossible task. Our goal here is to provide you with all of the information you need to play this shot to the best of your ability. We will offer some technical advice as well as some course management tips which will help you make the best possible decisions while in a sand trap. The best course of action will always be to simply keep your ball out of the bunkers in the first place – but when you do find a trap, you should be prepared with a plan for a quick and successful escape.

All of the content below is based on a right-handed golfer. If you happen to play left-handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.

Hitting a High Bunker Shot

Hitting a High Bunker Shot

It should go without saying that the first order of business when you are up close to the lip of a bunker is to hit the ball as high as possible, as quickly as possible. Unlike something like a tee shot with your driver, which starts low and gradually climbs higher, you need this shot to come out high right from the start. The ball needs to leave the sand at an extremely steep angle in order to clear the lip and head safely toward the hole.

So, since you need to hit the ball high as quickly as you can, it makes sense to tailor your swing technique to that demand. This isn't going to be a 'standard' shot – it is going to be a swing which is customized to meet the challenge that you are facing. You won't have to use this shot very often, but it can certainly come in handy when the need rolls around. If you happen to find yourself behind a high bunker lip without knowing how to hit a high shot, you will be in a world of trouble.

To get you started, we have listed a number of key points to keep in mind on this type of shot.

  • Lay the face wide open. This is the best place to start when confronted with this kind of bunker shot. As you get prepared to swing, lay the face of your sand wedge wide open with the face pointed up toward the sky. The club should basically be lying flat at this point. As a good test, try to stand a water bottle on the face after you have opened it up – if you can, you are in a good position. Many amateur golfers get nervous about opening the face this much, but it is absolutely necessary to get over the steep lip in front of your ball. Without opening the face, you are certainly to simply plow the ball right into the side of the bunker. Also, it is important to note that you shouldn't just twist your hands at address in order to open the club. This would only result in the club closing back down once the swing begins. Instead, you should hold the club in only a couple of fingers while twisting it open. Once that is done, you will then take your grip and get ready to hit the shot.
  • Play the ball near the front of your stance. The club needs to be travelling level with the sand when it cuts under your golf ball to hit this shot. If you play the ball too far back, the club will be moving down too steeply as it enters the sand, meaning the shot will move too much laterally and not enough vertically. Line the ball up with the inside of your left foot so you can slip the club through on a flat plane. This is going to help you get immediate lift – which is exactly what you need to avoid making a big mistake.
  • Make a big swing. There is no substitute for a big swing when you find yourself in this spot. By making a swing that is just as big as the one you make on the tee with a driver, you will be maximizing your speed and helping the ball to get up quickly. A soft swing just isn't going to create enough energy to move the ball up into the air successfully. You won't use your lower body as aggressively here as you do when hitting from the grass, but everything else should be just about the same. Make a good shoulder turn away from the ball, turn your back to the target, and then whip the club down with confidence. If you are able to put the club into the sand at the correct point with plenty of power, the ball can shoot up immediately into the air and clear even the steepest of lips.
  • It's all about the right hand. As you swing down, the job of sending the club head into the sand and under the ball cleanly is going to fall on the right hand. This is where the bunker swing varies so significantly from the swing you would make when playing from the grass. You don't want to let your right hand take over your normal golf swing, as that could result in a slice. Here, however, it is going to be up to the right hand to expose all of the loft of the club to the ball. On the way down, you should feel like the right hand is taking over the action. The right wrist should extend, accelerating the club head quickly while opening up the loft of the club face at the same time. This move can be difficult at first, but you will likely start to feel how it works with just a bit of practice.
  • Chase it through to the finish. If you give up on this swing just as the club is approaching the sand, you are never going to get the result you need. Try to 'chase' this shot all the way through to the finish by continuing the movement of your right hand and arm. The club should swing up over your left shoulder in the finish, just like it would on a full shot from back in the fairway. If you feel like you are doing everything right but you just can't get the results you desire, check your finish – it is easy to overlook this part of the equation.

There is plenty of work to be done if you hope to hit quality high bunker shots on a consistent basis. While this shot is tricky, it should not be considered impossible. This is a shot which is within the reach of nearly every player. As long as you are willing to follow the tips above, and as long as you can put in some practice time, you should start to see your bunker shots come out high sooner rather than later.

Making Good Decisions

Making Good Decisions

No all decisions in golf are created equal. Some decisions – like which club to hit off the tee of a far five with a wide fairway – are easy. You are going to hit your driver in this situation, so you simply reach into the bag and let it rip. Of course, the game is going to test your decision making ability more seriously in other situations. One such situation is when you find your ball up close to a high bunker lip. What are you going to do? Can you hit the shot toward the hole, or do you need to play away from the target for safety? This is a very important choice, as you could waste several strokes if you make the wrong call.

To start this process, you should first take a look at your lie. Do you have a good lie, with the ball sitting on top of the sand? If not, you can forget about hitting the ball over any kind of high lip. The ball is always going to come out low when played from a buried or plugged lie. Only when you have a good lie can you truly entertain the notion of hitting a high shot.

Once you have reviewed the lie, you can move on thinking about the path you have between your ball and the hole. Obviously, you need to decide whether or not it is even possible to get the ball over the lip of the bunker. If you don't think you can do it, start looking for ways you can play out of the sand sideways, or even backwards. These are never fun shots to hit, but you have to do what you have to do in order to get out of trouble. You already made a mistake by hitting your ball into the bunker, so the best course of action may be to 'take your medicine' and move on.

If you have decided that you can clear the lip, the final point to consider is whether or not you will be rewarded for taking on such a challenging shot. In other words, is the benefit of playing over the lip significantly greater than just playing out of the bunker to the side? In some cases, the answer will be no. For instance, if the hole is cut all the way on the other side of the green anyway, you aren't going to gain much by taking on the high lip (since the shot isn't going to finish close to the hole regardless of which path you choose). The only reason to bother attempting a bunker shot over a high lip is when you feel like you can get the ball close to give yourself a great chance at an up and down.

It is important to think clearly prior to hitting a bunker shot. There are plenty of ways in which greenside bunker shots can go wrong, so you want to anticipate those risks and mitigate them to the greatest extent possible. Only take on risk when you feel that there is a worthwhile reward waiting on the other side. By making smart decisions, you will be able to make the best out of a bad situation and move on with your round before too much damage is done.

Executing the Shot Properly

Executing the Shot Properly

Pulling off a difficult shot on the course is not the same thing as hitting the shot successfully in practice. Things are relatively easy in practice – so even a tricky play like a high bunker shot can seem like no big deal. With that said, the game always gets harder on the course. You only have one chance to execute each shot, so you have to take that opportunity and get the job done.

To help you execute this challenging shot properly as often as possible, we have provided some simple tips below.

  • Believe in your plan. No matter what plan you come up with for the bunker shot at hand, you need to believe in that plan completely before making a swing. There is no room for doubt in golf, and that is especially true when playing a tough shot like this one. If you do decide to take on the steep lip, you need to have complete confidence that you are going to get the ball out of the bunker. If you doubt that you will be successful, you might as well not even try. Proceed with the plan that gives you the most confidence and you will be far more likely to have success. With this tip in mind, it is important to not rush your decision-making process on tough sand shots. Take enough time to consider all of the factors at play and only make a swing when you are fully committed.
  • Watch the spot. While making your swing, the only thing you should be thinking about is placing the club head into the sand at exactly the right point. If you do so successfully, the shot should come off without a hitch. So, as you are swinging, focus your eyes on that spot from start to finish. Many golfers make the mistake of looking at the ball while making their swing in a bunker, but you aren't actually trying to hit the ball in this case. You are trying to hit the sand behind the ball, so that is where you should be looking. In addition to making it more likely that you will hit the sand at the right point, training your eyes on a specific spot will help you to keep your head steady.
  • Step out and make a practice swing. After you have established your plan, you might want to quickly step out of the bunker to make a practice swing or two before actually hitting the shot. Getting up out of the bunker will give you a better view of the green, and it will let you make a full practice swing without worrying about a penalty for touching the sand. You will often see professional golfers use this tip when they are getting ready for a tough bunker shot, and you should follow their lead.

This is always going to be a tough shot, and you are always going to be a little nervous before giving it a try. However, you can overcome those nerves and perform well if you just stick to your plan, focus on proper execution, and set your worries to the side. As you gain more and more experience with hitting the ball over a high lip, your confidence will grow and you will expect to hit a great shot each time.

Staying Out of This Situation

Staying Out of This Situation

Placing your ball at the bottom of a bunker with a steep lip is never a good thing. Everyone hits bad shots in golf, but the best thing you can do with regard to this type of shot is simply avoid having to deal with it in the first place. If you can keep your ball safely away from these difficult kinds of bunkers, you won't have to worry about pulling off a brilliant sand shot.

To limit the number of times you find the sand traps during an average round, check out these tips.

  • Identify sand traps as hazards. Water hazards located around a green are sure to get your attention. If you see that there is water near the green, you will adjust your game plan appropriately in order to stay out of the water. Most likely, you don't react the same way to sand. Most players just proceed as usual when there is a bunker in the way, simply hoping that they will miss it. To avoid tough situations, respect sand traps as hazards and build your game plan around staying away from the traps. Give yourself some margin for error so even a less-than-perfect shot will have a chance to stay out of the bunker.
  • Learn the tricks of a course designer. Many course designers use 'tricks' in order to catch golfers who aren't paying close attention. For example, a designer may slope the ground from one side of the bunker toward the sand, meaning a ball which lands in that area will wind up in the bunker – even if it didn't actually land in the trap to start with. Pay attention to subtle design features and don't fall for a trick that has been placed there just to catch you napping.
  • Be honest about your abilities. Sure, you might have hit your seven iron 170-yards once upon a time, but can you do that consistently? If not, you need to be honest with yourself about your yardages and quit picking clubs based on a best-case scenario. You shouldn't be planning on hitting a perfect shot every time you make a swing. Instead, you should plan on an average shot and choose a club accordingly.

Finding your ball at the bottom of a deep bunker can be a disheartening experience. Fortunately, you can rescue your ball and even save par by keeping your wits and using the technique we have outlined in this article. Find a place to practice your high bunker shots as often as possible so you are well-prepared when the opportunity arises to test this skill on the course. You want to have as many options in your bag as possible when heading out for a round of golf, as you never know what you are going to find. Now that you know how to play this shot, there is one more situation you are prepared to handle. Good luck!