Golf sand shots take a different approach compared to chipping off of grass turf. You may find yourself struggling when hitting out of the bunker and are searching for help to improve your bunker play.
In golf, as with most things in life, in order to improve your bunker play you have to practice. Throwing 5 balls into the practice bunkers before you play and hitting them out doesn’t qualify as practice.
Many amateur golfers struggle getting out of a sand bunker, yet they hardly ever practice their bunker play. In order to get the best out of your bunker play, make sure that you practice sand shots with a purpose.
The following 15 drills will help to ensure that you get the most out of your sand bunker practice sessions.
Sand Bunker Drills that Build Confidence
1. Line in the sand
Majority of amateur golfers have a really hard time getting their golf ball out of a bunker and onto the green.
Two scenarios arise quite frequently and they may sound familiar to your game as well.
Scenario one is a player hits too far behind the ball, resulting in the ball staying in the bunker.
Scenario two is a player hits the golf ball too clean and it goes flying over the back of the green.
In order to hit consistently good bunker shots, it is important to hit just far enough behind the ball so that you take the perfect amount of sand when hitting the shot.
A good way to practice this is to draw a line in the sand with the toe of your club. Then place a golf ball directly in front of the line and instead of hitting at the ball, hit the line directly behind the ball.
This drill will help you be successful hitting out of the bunker by taking just the right amount of sand on every shot.
2. Tee It Up – Bottom Point Drill
Great sand bunker players have mastered getting the swing to bottom out at the low point consistently, on every shot. The ideal low point for a bunker shot is when the club is underneath the golf ball under the sand.
To get a feel for the bottoming out point in your swing, practice this drill by teeing up a golf ball high above the sand.
Make a swing trying to hit the tee out from underneath the golf ball without making contact with the ball or the sand.
After you get really good at doing this drill, go back to normal sand shots and pretend there is still a tee under the ball. Get your swing to hit down under the ball underneath the sand to blast the ball out of the bunker with control.
3. Landing spot towel drill
Bunker shots are very similar to chip shots in principle. However, the technique and the surface that you hit from are different with bunker shots.
The mindset you approach the shot with remains the same, get the ball to a landing spot on the green so that it can finish with a nice roll close to the hole.
In order to judge the speed of a bunker or chip shot it is important to establish where the ball must land in order to come to a stop close to the hole.
Once the ball has landed on the green it will react in a similar fashion to a putt. It’s important to ensure that the landing spot matches up with the required line and speed.
Choosing the correct landing spot takes some skill from being able to read greens well.
Executing the shot and hitting the chosen landing spot also takes skill and practice.
An effective way to practice hitting your landing spot is to put a towel down in the area where you want the ball to land, and to then hit bunker shots towards the landing spot/towel trying to hit it with every attempt.
Practice for several reps until you get consistent at hitting shots from the bunker and onto the towel on the green. Then move the towel to new locations and repeat the drill to learn distance control.
4. Foot Depth Drill
Practice how much to dig your feet into the sand during your setup by doing this foot depth drill.
Start off by doing a heavy dig stance where you really dig your feet down deeper into the sand. This setup will help produce a heavier golf shot that has more rollout once it lands on the green. Hit a couple golf shots to get a feel for how the ball comes out of the sand and how it rolls on the green.
Next, step into the bunker and take a lighter stance with the depth not as deep with your feet digging into the sand. Hit several shots to feel how the shot comes out of the sand and how it rolls. You should notice a lighter shot that flies higher and lands softer with more backspin, resulting in less roll-out.
5. Up and Down Bunker Drill
When practicing any area of the golf game, whether your swing, chipping, or putting, it is important to simulate “on course” conditions and situations to come prepared when it counts during competition.
Hitting shot after shot out of the bunker without any real purpose can get boring very quickly.
A fun way to avoid boredom and to get the most out of your practice session is to play ‘holes’ around the practice green.
Take 1 ball and hit 9 different shots, putt out every shot and try to get as many of the 9 shots as possible up and down.
Keep track of your best score and try to better it every time you practice from bunkers.
6. Two Line Drill
For this bunker drill, you’ll draw two lines in the sand with the butt of your golf club. Draw the lines parallel to each other and space them about 6 to 8 inches apart.
Now imagine a golf ball is sitting between these two lines in the sand, except you won’t actually use a ball for this drill.
Next, take a swing and try to get the golf club to enter the sand at the first line and exit the sand at the second line.
This bunker drill helps you build a consistent bottoming point in your swing so you can learn how to hit through sand and make consistent contact in the bunker.
7. Ladder Drill
Speed is an essential component of hitting good bunker shots.
The more speed you generate the easier it will be to get the ball out of the bunker. Speed plays a role in how far the ball carries out of the bunker.
In order to ensure that you hit your landing spot more often than not, you have to practice good feel.
The ladder drill is great for practicing feel for distance out of a bunker.
Take 3 balls, hit the first shot short, the second shot long and then try to land the third ball in between the first 2.
As your feel improves, try to get the balls as close as possible to one another where you can hit the same shot 3 times in a row. This shows signs of skill as you have built distance control and improved your consistency!
8. Hit bunker shots with different clubs
Great golfers are ones who are always looking for ways to improve. Once you have control over hitting the stock, standard bunker shot, then it is time to broaden your horizons and advance your skills to the next level.
Using different clubs like a PW or 9 iron to hit bunker shots will add another dimension to your game.
Blasting out of the bunker is one thing, but getting it all the way back of green to a back flag can be a challenge.
Using the same technique but with a different club will produce results that roll out more. You don’t have to worry about flying the ball as far onto the green if you play a club that will have more roll.
Don’t be scared to experiment with different clubs in the bunker. Adding new shots to your repertoire is essential. You never know when you might have to use that shot.
9. Circle Your Foot Drill
For this drill you’ll create a circle in the sand by tracing a circle around your foot with the butt end of your golf club.
Now place a golf ball in the center of this circle and pretend this ball is on an island.
The goal is to take the hole island with your during the swing. You’re going to move the island by striking the start of the island and letting the club splash through the sand, exiting on the other side of the island.
The circle your foot drill teaches you how much sand to take during a bunker shot and builds your enter/exit point consistency so the swing can continue on properly. Take a shallow splash and keep accelerating through the bunker shot.
Golfer’s who struggle in bunkers tend to decelerate and let the club stop or dig instead of entering and exiting the sand at two different points. This drill helps you generate the proper swing to splash the sand out along with the golf ball.
10. Changing Swing Lengths
This drill can be thought of as a “power drill” where you’ll learn how changing the length of your backswing affects the balls flight and roll.
You’ll want to practice hitting bunker shots with the same tempo of swing (acceleration through the shot), but the difference is how far you take your back swing to generate more or less power.
Start by taking a shorter back swing and hit a bunker shot. Then gradually increase the backswing length, getting longer and longer into your backswing.
Analyze how the change in backswing length changes the golf shot and how it flies out of the bunker. You’ll learn how much power to take to get consistent shots coming out of bunkers on command with ease.
This drill builds your confidence since you learn that the ball won’t go flying away over the green if you’re taking the proper splash of sand each swing.
11. Leading Edge vs Back Edge of the Club Sole
This is a great drill for golfer’s who hit inconsistent bunker shots or who find their club digging into the sand causing poor shots. The main cause of digging is when you lead the club into the sand with the leading edge instead of the trail edge (back edge).
The bounce of the club is what will help the club glide through the sand. You want to make sure the face stays open and the trailing edge is the part of the club that enters the sand.
Practice this drill by opening the face of your wedge up and focus on trying to splash the sand with the bounce or back edge of the club instead of digging into the sand with the leading edge.
Make several practice swings splashing sand out of the bunker and you’ll gain feel for what part of the club is striking the sand first.
12. One Foot Sand Shots
If you have a tendency to fall back and not get through the shot, then this is a great drill to help you correct this. When you lean back during a bunker shot, the club will dig and not fully get through the shot, causing a heavier swing. The club might even burry itself into the sand behind the ball, creating a fat shot.
To fix this, start taking practice swings on one foot, using just your front foot. Take your back leg and move your foot back so it’s on it’s toe with the heel up in the air to give some stability but you shouldn’t feel much weight on the toes of your back foot. Center your weight around your front leg, keeping balance.
As you learn to hit out of the bunker on just one foot, it will groove you to not fall back or lean back during the shot since you would fall off balance.
13. Aim Left Swing Right Setup Drill
When setting up for a bunker shot, the key adjustment we make is opening up our club face to help splash the ball up and out of the sand from increased loft and to help the shot utilize the bounce of the club better.
If we setup to a bunker shot like a normal shot with our feet pointed parallel with our swing target line, then the golf shot will go to the right of the target as a result of our open club face.
For this drill, I want you to practice different setups where you adjust your feet / stance to be pointed more left of the target for each shot. Adjust further and further left every shot, until you find the right amount of stance open-ness that creates a straight shot to the target on the green.
While your feet (stance line) are aimed more left of the target than a normal shot, giving you an open stance, you’ll still make a swing path that heads towards the target. It will feel like you’re path is swinging inside to outside since your stance is aimed left and you’re swinging right along the ball’s target line.
14. Fried Egg Bunker Drill
One of the most feared bunker shots is the fried egg, where the golf ball has plugged into the sand with the top half sticking up out of the sand and a circle around the ball making it look like an over easy fried egg.
To help ease your fear of facing this kind of bunker shot and build confidence, I suggest placing the ball into the bunker and stomping it down with your foot to really burry it into the sand so you can simulate fried egg bunker situations.
Start with level playing surface but also simulate the ball being on a slope, both upslope and downslope so you can learn how to hit all 3 shots.
To hit a fried egg bunker shot, you’ll want to use the leading edge of your sand wedge which is counter-intuitive to a normal sand shot. Position the ball back in your stance and generate some forward shaft lean. Make sure to accelerate through the shot since the club will want to dig from the leading edge of the club making contact with sand first.
It’s an aggressive swing but practice taking different backswings and accelerate through until you find the swing tempo that comfortably blasts the ball out of the plugged lie in the sand.
15. Sloped Bunker Shot Practice
You’re going to find times where your ball finishes on a slope inside the sand bunker. This can add challenge to your bunker shot if you’re not experienced with the setup this kind of shot takes.
When facing a sloped bunker shot, you want your shoulders to be level (parallel) with the slope. This will help you avoid digging the club (chunks) on upslope shots or thinning the shot on downslopes.
Make sure your feet are dug into the sand appropriately to give you some stability to make a swing.
Hit several practice shots from slopes to get comfortable with how the ball pops up out of the bunker and how it rolls on the green.
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FAQ – Golf Bunkers
Is there a penalty for touching the sand with your club?
Yes, in a sand bunker you cannot set your club down so that it touches the sand at any time before the golf swing. Only during the golf swing can the club come down and make contact with the sand as it’s making contact with the golf ball on the downswing.
If you make contact with a sand bunker before the swing, it’s a two-stroke penalty in stroke play and a loss of the hole in match play.
How often should I practice sand bunker drills?
Ideally, you should allocate at least 10% of your practice time to bunker drills. Learning how to hit sand shots takes practice. It’s not easy making consistent contact to hit the ball out of the bunker.
What if my golf course doesn’t have a practice area bunker?
If you’re ready to work on bunker practice drills but realize your golf course doesn’t have a sand bunker as part of its practice area, then I would advise finding other local golf courses that have a practice bunker and using it instead.
The other option is to get extra sand bunker practice when you’re out on the golf course playing practice rounds.
After you finish each hole, step down into a sand bunker and hit a few extra shots onto the green to get real life experience and practice. Doing this for all 18 holes will add up to some good practice reps, helping you hit out of the sand more consistently.
Golf Practice System for Lower Scores
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Nick Foy, Instructor