Sand Trap Secrets

Part 1: Sand Bunker Play in a Fairway Bunker


Am I the only one who finds sand bunker play to be horribly difficult? I would ask “Are there any sand trap secrets that will allow a beginner to get out of sand traps quickly?”

In the not too distant past, I knew that if I ended up in a sand trap bunker near the green it would cost me at least two, three or even four strokes to get out. It was so embarrassing.. I would try hard to make a smooth on-plane swing but either I would:

  • watch the ball move six inches and the surrounding sand fly right to the hole or; 
  • catch most of the ball with the club face and send the ball over the green and potentially into the other side’s bunker.  

If you watch the pro tour, it seems like many of those guys would prefer to end up in the bunker as it presents a large target or may keep them from getting into worse trouble. Many of them expect to get out smoothly with a chance to sink the shot as well. That is incredible to me, given how hard this type of shot seemed to me.

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A sand bunker shot in golf is a trouble shot that is intended to penalize a player for an inaccurately hit golf shot.  Most beginning golfers will find their ball in the bunkers at least twice per every 9 holes, and possibly much more.  


Typically, a bunker is an obstacle that is concave and contains sand, which requires a certain level of expertise to properly exit depending on the lie of your ball. People are usually told during golf swing techniques training that sand bunker shots are very difficult to properly execute.  In my experience, proper technique and mental approach to the shot simplifies it greatly.   


I have found really good advice on the internet regarding tips and techniques for exiting the sand bunker with potential for getting close to the hole, if properly executed.  

Please note that not all bunkers are created equal. I definitely treat fairway bunker shots differently from greenside bunker shots. Also, some bunkers are designed to have extremely high risk vs. reward ratios. An example might be a bunker which has a very high face or wall you must cross to get to the green but is flat on the sides. This is an example of when your mental approach must be to take the safe play to save a stroke or possibly more. 


Free Tip – Get Out of Fairway Bunkers with “Pizzazz” 


Because most fairway bunker shots leave you with a decent sight line toward the cup, my goal is to get out cleanly and advance the ball down the fairway.  I don’t feel that one should treat this shot differently from being in the rough. 

However, the rules state that you can’t take a practice swing that disturbs the surrounding sand, thus the difficulty of making proper contact with the ball for the beginner.  Knowing that you have a consistent and repeatable swing should help you a great deal here.   


Advice that has worked for me and allowed me to get out of fairway bunkers easily should also work for you! 


First, setup so the ball is in the middle of your stance, then back down a club length or two or choke down on your chosen club.  You want to hit the ball with precision first then send it with a gain in positive yardage and direction. Keep your expectations realistic. Choking down allows you to get closer the ball and increases your accuracy. If I have a lie that is not buried, I will use a hybrid club because it provides loft, bounce and length which should provide a good return for your troubles.   


Please note that I don’t do a usual sand bunker swing and shot from a fairway bunker unless I just want to get back onto the fairway a few yards away due to unfavorable risk/reward. 


Second, slow down your typical swing to about 75% of normal.  This also helps you increase impact accuracy and increases the chance of a positive result. 


Third, try to pick the ball cleanly (if you have a good lie) by hitting ball at the bottom of your stroke, then taking sand on the follow through. If you don’t have a good lie, then aim to hit the sand about two millimeters before the ball and ensure that your swing is entering the point just before the bottom of your swing arc.  The club face angle and your swing speed should take care of the rest of the work.  If you have a really buried lie, you have to play it as if you were in a green-side bunker and just get out cleanly. 

See Page 2 for Exit Strategies for Green Side Bunkers

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