Types of Sand
Bunkers can vary dramatically from course to course. If a player uses the exact same setup for a bunker shot out of extremely fluffy sand as they do out of compact sand, they will experience wildly different results. The simple reality is that your golf club will react differently when impacting surfaces with different levels of firmness. Firmness can vary with the amount of sand in the bunker, the type of sand, and how wet or dry that sand is. You can determine the consistency of sand in a bunker by simply walking into it. Even if you haven't played much golf in your life, you've probably walked on a beach somewhere and noticed that the sand near the shoreline is much firmer and compact than the sand that never gets touched by water. Walking into a bunker is no different. Sometimes your feet immediately sink inches into the sand and it's more difficult to move. Other times your feet barely dig beneath the surface at all and you can walk normally. Your feet react differently when impacting different sands and you can rest assured your golf club will too. Use your feet to dig into the sand to help determine how much sand is under your ball.
Playing shots out of bunkers is always described in the same way. The reality is that the basic bunker technique is merely a framework that you must make adjustments to in order to increase your probability of success in all types of sand. Below are all the variations you may encounter during your next round.
** The only way to know exactly how this will affect you is to practice but use these tips as a framework for improvement.
Normal sand is light brown and non-descript. Your feet sink about an inch below the surface when you step into the bunker. This is the type of sand that the basic bunker technique should be used for. Slight adjustments are required when there is more or less sand in the bunker but all of those variatons are covered in our article on basic bunker technique.
When you encounter a bunker with noticeably large pebbles of sand, you should immediately understand that the ball will not spin very much. These large pebbles get in between your clubface and the golf ball and ruin any friction you may be able to create in finer sand. If there is a whole bunch of sand in the bunker and it's pebbly, that's even worse. Once again, the ball will not spin!
If you're playing to a pin with very little green to work with, the only way you can get the ball to land softly and stop quickly is through trajectory. In short, you need to hit it higher.
- Open the clubface as much as you can - In order to hit it higher you have to open the clubface to the max. On these types of shots the clubface should be so open that it's pointing straight up at the sky. You should be able to lay a coin on your clubface and have it stay there. This will significantly increase the effective loft of your club.
- Maximum Swing Speed - It's important to swing hard enough to hit the ball the desired distance. More than likely it will require as much swing speed as you can reasonably create. The result will be a high, soft bunker shot that won't spin very much but will stop pretty quickly.
- Try Different Clubs - There will be times when your lob wedge simply will not work for this shot. Sometimes there is so much sand in the bunker that no matter how hard you swing with your lob wedge, the ball goes practically nowhere. The mistake would be to try to square up the clubface or even close it a little bit to make up for the loss in distance. The solution to this problem is simply to change clubs. You can use your 56 degree or 52 degree and do all the things described above. The ball will go further and, after a bit of practice, you can gain the feel to determine how far each of your clubs will go out of pebbly sand.
Longer shots are less challenging from pebbly sand because you don't have to worry about the ball spinning unexpectedly and coming up short. The lack of friction in pebbly sand is working in your favor.
- Take More Club - Use your 56 or 52 degree to increase distance rather than swinging harder
- Swing Shallower - Instead of swinging down at the golf ball sharply, feel like your swing is very wide on both the backswing and the follow thorough. A shallower swing will promote a low running shot from pebbly sand.
- Allow for the Run Out - Make sure you pick a landing spot that is well short of where you want the ball to finish. The ball is going to run after it lands.
At many of the more fancy country clubs, crushed marble is used in the bunkers. It has some notable attributes that a player can notice right away. Crushed marble is much whiter than other sands. Sometimes it's so bright in these types of bunkers that it can be blinding on an extremely sunny day. Also, crushed marble tends to be much more compact than other types of sand. When you dig your feet in, you will notice that they don't go down into the sand very far at all. Playing shots out of this type of sand is relatively easy compared with other types but there are a few things to keep in mind. You need the club to dig into the sand in order to get underneath the golf ball. The more you open the clubface, the less the club will dig into the sand.
Playing to short pins with no green to work with from crushed marble requires the same technique described in the basic flop shot. Keep these keys in mind as points of emphasis.
- Swing Steeply - With the clubface wide open on this firm surface, it is difficult to keep the club from skipping off of the sand. Make sure you are swinging down at the golf ball very steeply. It is nearly impossible to swing too steeply at this shot.
- Firm Grip Pressure - This is another big help to getting the club to dig into the sand. Imagine you were trying to cut into a steak with a steak knife. If you didn't have a firm hold on the knife, cutting into the steak would be very difficult. The same concept applies here. Grip the club firmly enough to drive it down into the sand.
- Swing Hard - In order to make sure the club gets down underneath the golf ball, you need to create speed. A soft lazy swing will result in the club skipping off the sand. Make sure you swing with enough speed to prevent this.
Shots with a lot of green to work with are a little different out of crushed marble. It is tough to take the spin off of the ball out of this type of sand. You need to anticipate the spin. If you picture a ball running after it lands you will come up short almost every time. When this shot is executed properly, it will come out at a medium trajectory, take one bounce, then check.
- Clubface less open - On virtually every type of bunker shot, setting up with an open clubface is advised. The only question is how much to open the clubface at address. As a general rule, players should open the clubface significantly less than normal when playing a long shot out of crushed marble. You can get away with the clubface being perfectly square on these shots but slightly open will probably be your best bet.
- Shallower swing - Shallow swings out of the bunker promote distance. Your swing should feel extremely wide on both sides. Feel as though your arms are fully extended away from the target on the backswing and fully extended towards the target on the follow through.
- Lighter grip pressure - This will also help you shallow out your swing. Keep your grip pressure light to make a smooth, rhythmical swing.
Beach sand literally looks like it belongs at the beach or a playground sandbox. It is extremely deep and thick. Your feet feel heavy and sink so far into it that you nearly get sand inside your shoes. The heaviness of this sand requires maximum swing speed. Your club will dig into this sand as easily as your feet do. Striking down at the ball will only increase this effect. All of the concepts described in the pebbly sand section above also apply to beach sand.
If you're playing a desert golf course and your ball wanders off the green, it can roll into dry firm desert sand. This is nothing like playing from normal sand. The ground is like concrete and the sand has large pebbles in it. Shot selection is extremely limited in this situation. Throw your basic bunker technique out the window and follow these keys to get the ball out of this mess.
- Square Clubface - The ground is so firm in the desert that opening the clubface at all will cause problems. You need the clubface to be square so it won't skip off the ground.
- Hands Forward - Unlike a basic bunker shot, you want to promote the club digging into the firm desert turf. Keeping your hands ahead of the clubhead at address and throughout the swing will help the club dig into the ground.
- Take a half Swing - The clubface is square and your hands are ahead of the clubhead at address. Both of these things have decreased the loft on your golf club. Decreased loft will make the ball come off more quickly. Swing the club half way back and halfway through to adjust for these changes in your setup.