October Golf Tip

Reading the Lie

Bunker Edition

By: Brandon Smith; Head Golf Pro

The fundamental rule in golf is to play the ball as it lies. Anyone who has played golf for a length of time can attest that there is an unlimited number of ways a ball can come to rest on the ground. A key to playing good golf is to be able to account for that variable and then make the necessary changes to your setup, club selection, and/or swing. This might sound like a monumental task but it’s simpler than you may think. We’ll focus our efforts to the greenside bunker.

To start, what are the keys to successfully getting the ball out of a greenside bunker?

  1. The club head must go under the ball. **The club doesn’t hit the ball directly
  2. The club head must go the appropriate depth under the ball. (not too deep or shallow)
  3. The club head must have the correct amount of loft.

Those 3 keys will be used for every lie you encounter in a greenside bunker. The lie will determine HOWyou achieve those 3 keys.

Here are a few common bunker characteristics.

  1. Deep vs Shallow sand
  2. Heavy vs Fine sand
  3. Uphill vs Downhill

Deep vs Shallow

            To determine how deep or shallow the sand is in the bunker, use your feet. You are allowed to “dig” down in the sand with your feet. Use this to your advantage in figuring out the sand depth.

Heavy vs Fine

Wet sand will always be heavier than dry sand.

Uphill vs Downhill

This is easy to identify if you are looking for it. Even a slight uphill or downhill can dramatically affect the shot if unaccounted for.

Now that we have established these keys and bunker characteristics, let’s look at a few examples.

Example 1– The ball is lying on a very slight down slope. It rained the night before, so the sand is fairly heavy. The sand depth is definitely on the shallow side. Each of the 3 reads indicate that it will be difficult to get the club head under the ball. It also indicates that it will be virtually impossible to get the club head too deep under the ball. In this situation, I will play this shot with a square clubface so that the club will dig into the sand a sufficient amount. This will ensure that Keys #1 & #2 are achieved. For Key #3, the loft of the club will be determined by the length of the shot.

Example 2– The ball is lying on a slight up slope. The sand is very fine… similar to the consistency of sugar. When I walk up to the ball my feet sink in quite deep. Each of the 3 reads indicate that it will be easy to get the club head under the ball. In fact, it will be so easy that the chances I take too much sand are high. In this situation, I will play this shot with my club face open so that the club will not dig, but will glide through the sand, limiting my chances of going too deep under the ball. Once again, the distance of the shot will determine how much loft is needed.

Most bunker shots fall somewhere in between these two extreme examples. Experimentation in the practice bunker is the best way to begin the process of reading the lie and thinking through the shot. If you’re like me, you will find one club that can handle most shots and will only change clubs in the more extreme situations.


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