Seven steps to magical bunker play

Bunker shots can cause all sorts of anxiety and fear. I’ve seen grown men go week at the knees when their ball lands in a bunker. Sometimes having to hit over a bunker can be a problem, with the thought of duffing the shot so great that a relatively straight forward stroke becomes a difficult one.

At one point in my golfing life bunker shots were a problem. Below I’ve listed the 7 steps that got my bunker play back on track and should have you playing with more confidence and impressing your golfing mates;

Step #1: Use a lob wedge – A sand wedge is ok but a lob wedge is better. It has more loft and makes hitting the ball higher and softer from those green side traps easier. If you don’t have a lob wedge you should get one. The best loft to choose is one with around 60 degrees. Anything with less than this will be too close to your sand iron and more won’t allow you to hit the ball with any forward momentum. Best you stick with about 60 degrees.

Step #2: Forget about swinging outside to in – I’ve seen golfers that have good swings outside the bunker but they can lose the plot when they step inside one. It really is quite funny 🙂 There’s no need to do anything that radically different. You’re still swinging the club. So focus on doing that. I’ve found best results are achieved when you stop thinking about swinging outside in, opening your stance, picking the club up quickly or any other technique. If you can swing the club as you normally do this is a good start. You’ll work out the minor details like alignment etc later.

Step #3: Open the club face – This is the main difference from a standard golf shot. You must have the club face open to play sand shots successfully. This helps the club slide under the ball without digging too deeply. The open club face ensures the ball will come out high and softly. The best method of doing this is to open the club face first, then grip it. By gripping first you are likely to return the club too square, which defeats the purpose. Open the club face first then take your normal hold on the club.

Step #4: Place the ball forward in your stance – Believe it or not but you don’t want to hit the ball with your golf club. The club slides under the ball and the sand pushes the ball out of the bunker – not the club. It’s for this reason you need to place the ball forward in your stance. No need to move it too forward – just enough so you can strike the sand behind the ball… remember, you’re are not hitting the ball!

Step #5: Pre-set the shot – I first heard about pre-setting from Carey Mumford. The idea is to get into your setup, get comfortable and make a few swings (don’t strike the sand or the ball as this incurs a penalty). Then get out of your set-up and check your footprints. You can look to see if your ball position and alignment are correct. Best of all it makes it easy to get into the perfect set-up when it comes to actually hitting the shot. You simply step back into the footprints that you left earlier and hit the shot. There’s less fumbling about, you’ll play more quickly and better!

Step #6: Learn to take a small amount of sand – you don’t need to take a heap of sand. Just a slither will do. Unless the sand is very fine and soft, too much sand will reduce the height and amount of spin you can achieve. The big mistake I see is golfers approaching bunker shots with a closed club face and then trying to dig the ball out. Much better that you approach bunker shots with the thought of sliding the ball out. When you get this right the ball will come out with plenty of spin and you’ll have more control.

Step #7: Learn to automate – Automation is the key skill here. When you can step into a bunker and perform the above steps without thinking too much about them you’ll become a better player. When golf becomes a habit rather than conscious thought you’ll do just fine. Automation allows you to perform under pressure and hit those remarkable shots when you really need them.

Bonus Step: Spend some time in a practice bunker:) This sounds obvious but many golfers think they can improve just by reading an article or watching others perform. If you want to improve your play then I suggest you grab your lob wedge and a few balls and do some practice. Open the club face and slide the club under the ball. I’m sure you’ll start to hit some better shots. Over time you’ll get better and better and once the automation kicks in you will be a good bunker player.

The final step is to experiment with different clubs and shot situations. But don’t do this until you learn the basic shot with your lob wedge first.

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  • Richard Soady

    Reply Reply July 5, 2008

    I am still using a conventional sand wedge but I like the idea of the lob wedge. I don’t have a lob wedge at the moment.
    Your method is about what I try to do. I have had several lessons purely on bunker shots and I am glad to say collectively they lead to something very close to your recommendations for greenside shots.
    Getting the feel of the shallow sliding shot comes with difficulty to many players. One Professional, knowing I was about to go to the sandbelt courses in Victoria had me practise sliding the stroke under the ball by making a small inverted cone in the sand about 1.5 to 2 cms high,. sitting the ball on the mound so formed and making a stroke without doing much to the sand below the mound.
    Your method works well not only for the bunkers at Victoria Golf Club but just about anywhere. The stroke is more precision than some are used to. Many bash at the ball with a massive blow and always complain if there isn’t a great depth of sand in the bunker. Thans for the tip on the lob wedge.

  • Cameron Strachan

    Reply Reply July 6, 2008

    Hi Richard,

    Thank you for your comments. Sounds like you’ve got your finger on the pulse regarding your bunker play.

    I’m sure a lob wedge will help you further. The extra loft gives you more variety and allows for those extra soft shots…

    Keep up the good work.


  • Cameron Strachan

    Reply Reply July 7, 2008

    Hi Brian,

    Great question. I have found the smaller amount of bounce can be an advantage. You can open the club face and still have enough bounce to stop the club digging too deeply but not too much that causes the club to bounce off the sand.

    The lob wedge is fantastic for those shorter shots around the green. Obviously, the further away you get from the pin you will need to go back down in clubs.

    Good golfing,


  • Greg wetzel

    Reply Reply May 10, 2013

    Can I make a small mound with a club to set a ball on in scramble play in a fairway ?

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply May 11, 2013


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