If you are stuck in a bunker, then boy, do you want to get out. If you ever have golf nightmares, then we bet a fair few of them feature sand, a dip in the course, and you and a golf club. You make your swing . . . and the sand goes up, but the ball is still there. You can’t think straight. Your mind goes blank. The golf club used in bunker – hat is it? Your mind is asking. The wedges, oh yes, but which wedge? You pick up your lob wedge. You try again, no good. Your playing partners look on in horror; your handicap climbs uncontrollably. . . Then you wake up.
Sand trap anxiety
Thank goodness it was only a dream. Unfortunately, it is a dream which can happen in real life. For some people, it can even stop their enjoyment of the game and bring on feelings of panic. We think the best answer to fear is information and planning. Get that in place, and you will make the right decisions. We have a step-by-step golf guide to getting out of the sand. Read it if you want to get out of the bunker FAST.
Knowing what clubs to use, an understanding of how sand affects the clubs, some practice with your set up and with your swing, and you can take bunkers in your stride. Everyone, even the top PGA tour professionals, ends up in the sand from time to time. Begin to see it as a way to show off your skills and use those wedge clubs. It can be fun, you know.
The basics: what is a bunker, and what are the rules
First, get to know the rules, so you don’t lose shots when you do not need to. Bunkers are a unique part of the course, where special rules apply, and you need to know them if you are to avoid penalties. A locker is merely a depression in the golf course, usually near the green or near the fairway. They are typically fairway filled with sand. They are there to stop the balls from wayward shots sailing off into infinity. And they make golf more difficult; if you hit your ball into one, you will have to get it out.
There are two main types of bunkers. Fairway bunkers are on the side of the fairway and gather up shots from the tee on par four and five holes. Greenside bunkers collect balls from stray approach shots on par three holes and are near the green.
If you have mis-hit your previous shot and ended up in a bunker, you will be using up shots to get out. Also, once you are in the bunker, there are rules. Here are the main things you cannot do once you in a bunker. As with many things in golf, it can get complicated. If you want to read the full details and the most up-to-date do’s and don’ts, then the United States Golf Association explains all you need to know on its website (Rule 13-4 ball in hazard in the one which is most relevant here.)
The horror of the potted bunker
There is one other horror bunker that you may come across, the potted bunker. It is a time to use a very high lofted club. (Potted bunkers are one thing that makes the famous links courses in Scotland so challenging). Here is a demonstration for getting out of somewhere which would scare even the best of us.
Checklist: don’t do this in a bunker
- Don’t touch the sand with your hand
- Don’t ground your club (that is, let your club touch the sand before you actually make your swing).
- Don’t brush the sand on your backswing.
- Don’t move ‘natural impediments’ (things like leaves and twigs), although you can move ‘movable obstructions’ (things like forgotten golf gloves).
As I said earlier, the most critical decision you can make is to choose the right club. You know you need your wedge clubs, but which ones? Selecting the right wedge is crucial to get out of a bunker. And making that choice is a high-stress moment in any golfer’s game. If there is any time out on the course when your mind will go blank, then this is it. Overcome this problem by remembering these facts; then, you will know which wedge is best for each situation.
Selecting the club to get you out of the hole: our five-point checklist
You can cut down your choice for the whole fourteen clubs in your bag straight away. You are going to need a wedge. That brings your choice down to three, possibly four, clubs. The next decision is which one. These are golfing points you need to consider:
- How far the ball is from the landing area, what distance do you need it to go? If it is a long way, your pitching wedge is the best choice. If it is a short way, your lob wedge will do the job. If it is somewhere between a middle distance, then your gap and sand wedges are best.
- The Lie. If the ball is in a truly terrible position, you will need a higher lofted club to get the height you will need to escape.
- The quality and the type of the sand. You will need a different club for fine dry sand than for thick wet sand. It’s your club head which counts here. You want a high bounce on soft sand and a low bounce on heavy sand.
- What you want to happen next. Specifically, how far do you need the ball to roll once it lands?
- How deep is the bunker? This determines how much upward lift you need to get on the ball to get clear. If it is very deep, you need a high lofted wedge, whatever the quality of the sand or the distance you want the ball to go.
The low point of your swing
The crucial thing about a successful shot to get out of a bunker is that you strike the sand at the low point. To do this, it is worth taking some of your practice sessions to find the low point of your swing. In practice, discover the low point of your swing. This is a clear explanation of what you should be looking for. (Note, this demonstration is not in a bunker, but it will give you the basic principles you need in your swing for good bunker play.
If you can do this action, you will be understanding and be using the low point of the swing, and the energy transmitted through the sand will lift the ball, and you will be free.
Developing your strokes for excellent bunker play
The stroke you need is all about the sand. Learning to hit the sand takes technique and practice. You need to get precision here so you can hit the sand in the exact position, a couple of inches behind the ball. Get this right in practice, but then remember that there is some variation for conditions on the course. Making those adjustments for different bunkers, wind, and rain, or other conditions comes with experience.
The sole of your wedge club and knowing how to use its potential is what counts here. The sole is the part of the club head that will stop the club from just digging into the ground when you make your shot. Here is a video which will explain it.
Playing the right stroke for distance
Pick a very high lofted wedge if you do not have much space on the green and do not want the ball to roll much. There is nothing worse than getting out of a bunker only to see your ball roll-on, way past the pin. Choose your highest lofted club if this is the danger.
If you need to ball to go more distance once you are out of the bunker, choose a lower lofted wedge. You will then get more roll when the ball hits the ground.
Your final swing run through
We hope this makes your golfing life better and bunkers seem less frightening. Here is a run-through that can make bunker play a breeze.
The stance you need to make good bunker shots is very different from swinging on the fairway. Here is a run-through.
Get stable. Dig your feet firmly into the sand, so you are balanced and use your maximum strength to lift the ball. This will also give you more sense of what the sand is like: sticky and heavy or light and fluffy. As we have already seen, this is important to your successful shot.
You want the ball to go high in the air, so play the ball off your front foot. First, widen your stance and open the clubface. Both of these will help you get the height you need. Next, put your weight on your front foot. This will give an excellent sharp angle into the sand, which will lift the ball over the lip of the bunker.
Now you are ready for that all-important swing. It would be best if you had a backswing with little shoulder turn. Keep your hands no higher than your waist. Hinge your wrists as you move, on your downswing, keep your arms close in and unhinge your wrist until impact. Hinge again after impact to give that upward energy which will lift the ball.
You want to get the clubhead moving fast, and that means releasing your wrist in good time. Hinge your wrist and bend your elbow early. That will give you speed.
Golf club used in bunker
Good bunker shots are all in the wrist action, so practice. This should help you.
Enjoy your golf