Playing From Greenside Bunkers

"A ball will always roll down a hill and stop, unless there is sand or water at the bottom of it." Now, water is a hard medium to play out of and requires either a MasterCard moment or a dropped-ball penalty. Sand, however, is placed around the course to penalise a wayward shot by a stroke. Many are fearful of sand play yet there is more room for error built into this stroke than is really understood, in terms of at least getting out of the trap.

First off, let's look at greenside bunkers (Fig 1). It is a simple photograph but it illustrates our need to first work out where we have landed our ball and its lie in the sand. On this occasion life is not too hard, lots of green to play with and the ball is not buried. We do not need the ball to travel that far, just out of the bunker and onto the green. So let's pull out our well designed Sand Wedge and go to the beach.

The Sand Wedge has a bit of design work that the rest of our clubs do not have to the same degree. It has a lot more bounce angle. (Fig 2) This is a flange on the base of the club that allows us to get the leading edge to dig into the sand and then the bounce to throw the club out of the sand rather than continue to dig into the bottom of the bunker. Many people do not use this feature and try to scoop and flip the ball out of the sand and that is one of those frustrating duffing actions of all time.

Getting Out of the Sand

So first up, how does the ball actually get out of the sand? Well, believe it or not, we do not even have to hit the ball. The idea is to throw the ball out of the bunker atop the pad of sand that it was sitting upon. Yes, this means we can, indeed, miss the ball by more than a couple of inches and still get it out! Just imagine laying a $10 note in the sand with the ball sitting pin side of its length and then image trying to hit anywhere on the note. If you can manage that, the ball is highly likely to find itself out of the sand.

With that image in mind you can see there is now there is a lot of room for error than we could not get away with in a pitch shot on grass. You can truly make what would be an ugly pitch chilli-dip shot on grass and still get the ball out of a bunker.

As with many shots in golf we have choices of how to play the sand shot. First of all we will look at setting up square to the line of flight with our feet and shoulders. Paul Hart demonstrates this by simply drawing some lines in the practice trap for clarity. (Fig 3)

We swing the club as a pitch stroke. Keep the clubhead or the butt of the club pointing at the base of the plane line, until you reach the top of your backswing (Fig 4). As with any golf stroke if you are not on plane then life is going to get tricky. This can be an arms only action. There is little need for a major pivot turn. Indeed if there is a larger weighty turn remember that your feet are likely to sink lower than into the sand than where you started from and this may mean digging deeper in the downswing than we need to.

As we play the shot, we wish to slide the clubface into the sand and under the ball, hitting down and out to our low point. In this instance if you are a slicer with your driver you are in luck. The left hand motion required for a high flying sand shot is a Vertical Hinge motion, which in the follow through would have the club face pointing directly at the sky (Fig 5 and 6). If you swing through to a fuller finish it's the old 'imagine there is a mirror on your clubface and see yourself in it" in the follow through (Fig 7)

If you use other clubface actions, an anticlockwise closing face action, the easiest way to describe what could happen if you hit behind the ball, is that you will be adding sand on top of the ball rather than digging down through it. It's not quite what happens, but the general idea is what counts here, lets work with something that has less chance of staying in the sand around the green.


I mentioned we have choices: we can also set up with an open shoulder line (Fig 8) to the intended line of flight with the clubface pointing towards where we want the ball to go. However, now we still swing along our shoulder line rather than down the target line to the pin. This exposes more bounce on the sand wedge and adds some loft to the shot, so with a little imagination you can see how you can pick the swing for the job in hand. However also consider that if the sand is a little coarse, wet or gluggy that opening the face will cause the club to bounce and may make things a little trickier than would a standard sand shot.

So with an open stance line vs. flight line target we can now work out where the pad of sand is that we want the four ball to ride upon with the clubface aimed at the target. Give yourself lots of room for error whilst driving down and out to your low point, even with the open stance line option. Again, I stress this is not on the same line as the flight line anymore! In the last photo (Fig 9) you can see clearly the club head well inside the intended flight line as opposed to the square stance in Fig 7. The clubface is aimed at the landing target and we will be swinging across this target line to low point. Those who try to swing down the target line are off plane and die in the sand.

Success should produce a cool feeling of pride in conquering the dreaded the dreaded sand pit. Remember to enjoy the sand, as it is much more fun than you have ever thought before.

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