Playing out of the sand – how to hit bunker shots

Tips and advice on how to hit bunker shots

Having trouble playing out of the sand? Here’s our guide on how to hit bunker shots.

There are few shots in the game of golf that warrant quite as much anxiety as the bunker shot. But while taking an unexpected trip to the beach during a round of golf can result in a lot of extra strokes, that certainly doesn’t have to be the case.

Mastering the bunker shot is simply a matter of educating yourself, practicing a relatively simple technique, and of course, building your confidence.

If you can get these things down pat, the bunker shot will be an easy up and down for you. Of course, mastering this aspect of the game is easier said than done, but don’t worry. That is where we come in to help. Read on for a comprehensive guide to perfecting this important shot.

How to hit bunker shots

First, what is the bunker shot?

Good question. Let’s start with the basics for the beginners out there. A bunker shot is anything hit from the sand during the course of the round. Most of the time sand bunkers are found next to the green but they can actually be placed anywhere on the course.

In fact, the fairway bunker is one of the most feared hazards in the game. Fairway bunkers are generally placed in spots that people will typically land their drives in order to increase the difficulty of a hole. But while this is an intimidating shot, it’s actually pretty simple.

We’ll go over how to perform it in a little bit. The other (and much more challenging hazard) that you will encounter is the midrange bunker. These traps are placed between thirty and fifty yards from the green and they present an awkward half-swing situation that many amateur golfers struggle with.

We will cover how to perform that shot shortly as well. Regardless of where your ball ends up the objective of the bunker shot is almost the same as that of any other situation on the golf course – to get the ball as close to the hole as possible.

The inconsistent turf is enough to throw a lot of people, but it doesn’t need to be a challenge. Let’s now dive into how you can simplify this shot.

Club selection

Club selection is the first but also the most important decision that you will need to make as you approach your bunker shots. The good news is that it is also petty simple, though it will vary depending on where your ball winds up.

Fairway bunker

Depending on where your shot ends up in a fairway bunker, you may be able to use the same club you usually would for whatever distance that you find yourself.

Do note, however, that this is entirely contingent on what sort of lie you wind up with. If the lip of the bunker is low, and your ball is not buried in the sand you can pretty much count on getting your normal distance.

Many players may decide to take an extra club just to ensure that their ball gets where they need it to, but in order to determine which approach is right for you, you will simply need to practice.

If the fairway bunker that you end up in has a high lip or fluffy sand, or if you simply wind up with a buried lie, you will probably need to use a high-lofted club that can clear the lip and advance your ball to a safe spot in the fairway.

The midrange bunker

As I mentioned earlier, the midrange bunker shot can, unfortunately, be a little bit uncomfortable. In general, people often struggle with shots from the fifty-yard range as it requires an unnatural half swing motion.

Add in a difficult lie and the possibility of other complications such as an inopportune stance or bunker lip, and the situation only becomes more complicated.

Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer to what sort of club you should use from this range, though a good rule of thumb is that the same high-lofted club that you would use for any other fifty-yard shot will be appropriate here.

Of course, like the fairway bunker shot, club selection will ultimately be relative to the situation that you find yourself in, however, the good news is that with proper execution you generally count on finding yourself on the green.

Personally, I would generally use a fifty-six-degree wedge from this distance, though in the event of a very favorable lie, higher lofted clubs may become appropriate.

Greenside bunker

The greenside bunker shot is the simplest and most basic sand trap that you can expect to encounter. Generally, the club selection is a matter of comfort, but like the midrange bunker, anything from a fifty-six to sixty-degree club will be appropriate.

The goal with this shot is to hit the green one hundred percent of the time, though more experienced players will also maintain a reasonable hope of getting their ball to within gimme range.

Sand shot technique

Of course, club selection is one thing, but the right club with the wrong technique won’t do you much good. I think that this is the part of the shot that makes people uncomfortable in that it differs slightly from other standard situations.

Let’s now examine the techniques unique to each type of bunker so that you will be prepared for any situation.

Fairway bunker

The good news is that much of the time you are going to be able to use a regular swing from the fairway bunker. The difference here from a regular fairway shot is that in the bunker there is a big premium placed on making clean contact with the ball.

If you hit too far in front the ball it isn’t going to wind up getting anywhere.

There are a few different schools of thought on how to approach this shot. A lot of people just use their usual swing and hope for the best, and with practice, results should generally be favorable.

Other golfers will try and get a little bit steeper to promote a motion that is more conducive to striking down on the ball.

Personally, I think it is easier for the sake of the mental game to use your regular approach wherever possible. That said, if you feel more confident taking a steeper angle of attack then by all means, use that approach. It’s all a matter of what you are comfortable with.

If you wind up with a buried lie, or find yourself in the lip of a bunker you may need to chop out of the sand with a higher lofted club and hope for the best, or, in particularly dire situations, use the technique that I will illustrate a little bit later when we examine how to approach the greenside bunker shot.

Midrange bunker shot

The midrange bunker shot is a little bit nerve racking in that it resides uncomfortably between both techniques. For this shot, you will open your stance but keep the clubface square, or only slightly open.

Rather than hitting the ball directly, you will want to try and hit one inch behind it.

The swing itself is going to be fairly basic: a nice, natural, smooth motion that sees you bring the club all the way back and all the way through with an even tempo.

While it may be tempting to abbreviate your backswing in order to accommodate the short distance doing so will only lead to a choppy tempo and the inconsistencies that will result from that swing defect.

Swing smooth and natural, and trust the fact that your open stance and hitting an inch behind the ball will ensure that your ball goes the appropriate distance.

The greenside bunker

The greenside sand trap is the shot that you are going to encounter the most, and fortunately, it is also fairly easy to execute properly.

To perform this shot you are going to want to utilize a lot of loft. This is where I generally break out the sixty-degree lob wedge but if you are more comfortable with the fifty-six-degree sand wedge that will also serve as an appropriate option.

Like the last shot, you will start by opening up your stance. To do this, simply drop your left foot back.

You will also want to open up the face of your club as much as you can to further increase its loft.

You are going to keep the ball in the front of your stance with the majority of your weight on your front foot. This set up further promotes the higher ball flight that you will need to ensure that the ball lands softly on the green.

Once you feel comfortable with your setup and club selection it will be time to swing the club.

This motion is going to be a little bit different than the one that you are used to in that it requires an outside-in swing plane.

For the downswing, you are going to want to contact the turf two inches behind the ball. Your clubhead will slide beneath the ball, never actually touching it directly, and the ball will come out high and land softly on the green.

While the motion will certainly take some getting used to, once you start practicing it I am confident that you will quickly find it is actually a relatively simple swing that when done properly, yields very pleasing results.

Bunker shot tips, and things you need to know

Rules

While your natural instinct may be to touch the turf to test the consistency of the sand, I am sorry to say that this is not an option.

Sand traps are labeled as a hazard which means that you are not allowed to ground your club in them or otherwise touch them with anything other than your feet. You will often see players grinding the soles of their shoes into the sand to test its firmness, but unfortunately, that is the extent of what you are allowed to do.

Violating this rule comes at the price of a two-stroke penalty.

Forget about the ball

One of the biggest problems that a lot of people encounter with the bunker shot is determining where to make contact with the turf. If you strike too soon, your ball might not even get out of the trap. If you strike the ball too late, well. It’s going to go too far.

To counteract this, I always measure out the exact spot that I would like to hit when I practice, and draw a line in the sand to ensure that I hit that spot each time.

Unfortunately, you cannot do this on the course, but you can familiarize yourself with what two inches from the ball looks like.

Once you get that in your head, visualize the line in the sand and then focus only on that point. Forget about the ball altogether, and focus strictly on the imaginary line. It will lead to better, more consistent results.

Be polite

In most bunkers, you will notice a small rake placed somewhere on the premises. The purpose of the rake is to give you the chance to brush away any footprints or other disturbances that you might have left behind.

While there are no rules mandating that you engage in this practice, it is a courteous way to ensure that other golfers are given the same pure surface to work with that you enjoyed.

Be confident

Easier said than done, I know. Confidence is king in golf, especially when it comes like a shot like this. Just remember that if you practice the things illustrated in this guide you should have no problem finding success on the course.

Conclusion

As you can see from this guide to how to hit bunker shots, there is much to say and know about playing from the sand, but what it all really comes down to is practicing a simple technique and stepping up to the ball with confidence.

If you practice the techniques illustrated in this article, I have no doubt that you will experience lower scores around the green in no time at all.

Good luck on the course!