When their ball lands in a greenside bunker many players instinctively grab for their sand wedge. Did you know that a sand wedge sometimes can be the wrong club to hit out of a bunker? Tour players and smart amateurs use everything from 9 irons through lob wedges in the bunker. You should, too.

What club you hit depends on several factors:

What’s the Lie?

If the ball sits on soft, fluffy sand clubs with a lot of bounce are the preferred option. We want a high bounce so the club will slide through the soft sand and not dig too deeply. Typically, this will be a sand wedge, but other clubs such as a pitching wedge may be an option because they have nearly as much bounce and we want a shot that flies farther than our sand wedge would. Another way to add even more bounce is to open the clubface and lower the handle. A fun experiment is to try and hit a well-lofted club with the bounce exposed too deep into soft sand. It’s pretty hard to do.

If the ball is on firm, wet or hardpan sand, clubs with a lot of bounce should be avoided. The risk with firm conditions is that the high bounce-club will not slide under the ball, but rather hit the sand before the ball (as it should) and bounce up into it, blading the ball across the green (as it shouldn’t). Hence, we want low bounce club face that is just a little bit open.

When there is a mismatch between either low or high bounce and soft and hard sand, some players try and adjust by entering the sand much closer to the ball. This works if hit perfectly, but this unforgiving strategy can be a disaster if not hit exactly right. We want to make bunker play easy, consistent and predictable. Not harder. That’s why we use different clubs.

If the ball is in a buried or “fried egg” lie chances are we will want a different type of bunker shot altogether, including a “chunk and run” or a very cool specialty shot, the “two handed” axe. These can be hit with any type of club, although typically more lofted clubs are used. If the ball is in a regular lie – not too fluffy and not hardpan – we can then be free to hit any type of club.

How Far Do You Need to Fly It?

With a suitable lie we can use different clubs for different distances. A well-struck bunker shot should fly 80% of the distance and roll on the green for the remaining 20%. We can get different distances by simply using the same bunker swing with different clubs.

Here are my standard distances:

  • 60 Degree Lob Wedge: 12 Yards
  • 55 Degree Sand Wedge: 16 Yards
  • 50 Degree Gap Wedge: 20 Yards
  • Pitching Wedge: 26 Yards
  • 9 Iron: 32 Yards

Note that these are my distances from typical, not-too-fluffy, not-to-hardpan sand found at my home course. Your distances may well be different, which is just fine. For me at least it’s easier, for example to take a normal back swing and hit a Gap Wedge 20 yards, than take a much bigger swing with a Sand Wedge. On tour the average greenside bunker shot lands eight feet from the pin. If we amateurs can hit somewhere near that we’re doing well.

Does the Bunker Have an Especially High Lip?

Many players worry about playing enough loft over the bunker to get over a high lip. This fear is generally unfounded, as even a well struck 9 iron will fly high enough to get out of most bunkers. However, occasionally you may face an especially high lip (above is one the Spectacle Bunkers on Hole 14 at Carnoustie) requiring special consideration. In general, learn and practice proper technique and you will not have to worry about getting over the lip.

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