Golf is a tricky game, and one of the most challenging shots is getting out of a sand trap.
It’s easy to get stuck in the sand and end up with a shot that goes nowhere, adding precious strokes to your scorecard.
While sand traps may seem daunting and we try our best to avoid them, the reality is everyone, including professional golfers, eventually ends up in one. Therefore, learning how to hit out of the sand reliably is essential for advancing your game to the next level.
But don’t fret – sand traps don’t have to be feared on the golf course.
With the right approach and know-how, you can escape the sand consistently like the pros in no time – which is where we come in to help!
In this article, we’ll guide you through how to hit out of the sand trap reliably so you can embrace the hazard with confidence next time your ball lands in the sand!
The sand trap explained
First things first, let’s establish what a sand trap is.
A sand trap, also known as a bunker, is a hollowed-out area on the golf course filled with sand.
These traps come in various shapes, sizes, and depths and are strategically placed near greens and fairways to challenge golfers along the way to their next shot.
They’re known as traps because escaping from them can be a notoriously tricky task that results in extra strokes from failed attempts and lost ground.
To make a reliable exit from the sand, it’s essential to understand how the sand affects your ball and club differently than grass.
When you hit from a sand trap, the sand creates a cushion between your club face and the ball, which reduces the speed at which energy is transferred from the club head to the ball. This, in turn, causes a slower and shorter shot.
The sand also creates a high amount of friction between your ball and club face which can cause the ball to spin more, typically resulting in greater backspin, a higher flight, and a softer landing.
As much as we shy away from them, sand traps are a core feature of the golf course and add another layer of strategy to every hole. They ultimately challenge us to become better players so it’s important to learn how to tackle them!
How to hit a reliable sand trap shot – 5 Steps
Hitting a successful shot from the sand is one thing, but mastering the skill and being able to do it consistently is the ultimate goal for improving your game and overcoming any fears or doubts.
The key to a reliable sand trap shot is to develop a correct approach and mindset you can bank on that will get you out.
Since the sand is a unique surface to play from, a different technique and mindset is required from your normal swing on grass.
The main objective in a successful sand trap shot is to hit the sand first rather than the golf ball.
The idea is to make contact with the sand just behind the ball so that the club can cut underneath it and create a cushion of sand for the ball to launch off of and lift out of the bunker.
Here are our step-by-step tips to help you put this mindset into practice and hit reliable sand trap shots!
#1. Assess the shot
before any ball is struck
The best shots in golf require some reading and judgment before the ball is played, and the sand trap is no exception.
Not all sand traps are the same and the lie of your ball will vary depending on the height and angle your ball enters the sand.
It’s crucial to assess your bunker scenario to figure out the ideal approach to take.
Assess your shot by considering:
- The lie of the ball
- How compact the sand is
- The lip height of the bunker
- The distance to the pin
These factors will determine your sand trap shot options, including what kind of club and technique to use.
A buried or lip-side ball may require a more cautious and strategic approach, while a more forgiving lie such as flatter sand will provide more shot flexibility.
Once you’ve evaluated your situation, you can work out the ideal approach to take and avoid adding extra strokes from making wrong decisions in the sand.
#2: choice of club
The next decision you need to make for a reliable sand trap shot is selecting the right tool for the job.
Typically, the most successful way to hit from sand is to use a high-lofted club, such as a wedge or, indeed, a sand wedge.
The sand wedge usually has between 54 – 56 degrees of loft.
High loft is ideal to glide through sand and get your ball airborne to exit the trap.
As the name suggests, the sand wedge is designed to do the job, as it has a wider sole and a high lofted face, making it easier to slide through the sand and get the ball airborne.
The lip is a big factor: if the lip is high, then you’re going to want to choose the most loft as possible.
If the lip is minimal, and you’re in a fairway sand trap, you might get away with taking more club in the bunker if you want to generate distance, but you should normally prioritize a reliable exit from the bunker over generating any kind of distance.
#3: Adjust your setup
Setting up correctly in the sand provides the foundation for a reliable sand trap shot.
Start by adopting a wide stance, and firmly anchoring your feet in the sand by wiggling in position for balance.
This not only provides a stable base for the shot but also helps you get a sense of the sand’s texture.
Next, sink your body a tad into your knees for added control.
For a successful bunker shot, you should position the ball in the front-middle area of your stance, about a couple of inches in front of center.
Placing the ball too far forward may make it difficult to scoop enough sand, while placing it too far back will make it tricky to achieve any kind of elevation on the shot, leaving your ball trapped in the sand.
Distribute your weight so that 80% is on your front foot and 20% is on your back foot.
This weight distribution will assist a steep attack angle required to cut through the sand. Avoid shifting your weight as you would in a standard swing on grass.
Lastly, grip up an inch or so on your club shaft and lighten your grasp on the club.
Gripping further up the club effectively shortens its length and grants you additional control. Bunker shots require a level of feel and finesse to execute well, so a lighter grasp avoids the risk of getting too ridged with the shot and burying the ball further in the sand!
#4: Set the club face
The orientation of your club face during the swing ought to vary according to the texture of the sand in the bunker.
Generally, on a dry day, the sand in bunkers should be light and fluffy.
In this case, an open club face is preferable. This exposes the bounce on the club head, allowing it to skim through and displace the sand high in the air.
To do this, rotate your club shaft a few degrees clockwise. Note, you may want to also open your stance a little to counterbalance the open face so that your shot remains on target.
This technique amplifies the loft of the clubface, allowing it to lie flatter on the ground which helps the club cut underneath the golf ball and throw up a cushion of sand with the shot.
In contrast, if the bunker is more compact on a wet day, for example, you won’t be able to slice through the grains of sand as evenly or as easily.
On this occasion, a slightly squarer club face can help you punch the ball out of the sand when the sand is more compact.
#5: swinging technique
When playing a sand trap shot, being hesitant with your swing won’t do you any favors.
It’s important to have faith in your setup, fully commit to your swing, and execute it with confidence in order to get out of the sand reliably.
To combat the deceleration of your club head when it impacts the sand, you’re going to want to swing with pace.
Failing to maintain proper swing acceleration can cause the ball to remain stuck in the bunker, resulting in frustration and the need to retake the shot.
Take the club back more vertically, hinging your wrists to extend the club steeply, with the butt of your club shaft pointing down to the sand rather than out.
During the downswing, let the club drop and direct your swing to aim for that spot within the sand approximately two inches behind the ball.
The goal is to strike that spot with pace, allowing the club to glide underneath the ball through the sand.
The more compact the sand is, the closer to the golf ball you’re going to hit, but the less power you’ll require.
This technique should cause the ball to pop out of the bunker, accompanied by the sand you hit, and land securely on the green or fairway.
Since usually a small distance is required to escape the sand traps, you aren’t looking for excessive power, as such, but rather, control and fluidity.
Failing to maintain proper swing acceleration can cause the ball to remain stuck in the bunker, resulting in frustration and the need to redo the shot.
It’s essential to note that sand will impede the clubhead’s movement, requiring a forceful and swift swing to lift the ball out of the bunker. Thus, achieving optimal swing speed and acceleration is crucial.
Sand trap Swing drill
Let’s finish with a great swing drill for improving the reliability of your sand trap shots:
- Draw a circle in the sand around your golf ball about 4 inches wide: This sets the boundaries for your shot and helps you visualize your target area for entering the sand.
- Your task is to remove all of the sand inside the disc: The goal of this drill is to displace the sand, not just hit the ball. By removing the sand inside the circle, you are effectively creating a platform for the ball to launch off of and pop out of the trap.
- This helps coach your club to enter the sand before the golf ball and exit the sand after the shot: The club should exit the sand after the shot, completing the swing and allowing you to follow through.
- Sand should land on the green along with the ball: Aim to get the ball and some sand onto the green. By landing the sand on the green, you are reducing the risk of the ball stopping in the sand and giving yourself a better opportunity to save par on the hole!
- Repeat this process with a few balls until you’re pulling up a consistent amount of sand every time: This will help you become more confident in your sand trap shots and will improve your overall golf game.
There’s no doubt that sand traps can be a frustrating obstacle on the golf course, but they’re an essential part of the game. They ultimately challenge us to become better golfers, so it’s time to embrace them!