Dealing With Soft and Fluffy Sand
One of the advantages of playing the PGA Tour is that the bunkers are maintained to consistent texture and firmness from event to event, for the most part. Watch enough golf on TV and you’ll notice that these guys get very few plugged lies and the ball is almost always sitting up nicely on sand that is firm and a little packed. That does make it easier for them to hit these marvelous shots that seem to just hunt the hole. Now, you all know that I am highly respectful of these guys’ short game skills, but bunker play is a helluva lot easier if the bunkers are like they get to play week-in and week-out.

We, on the other hand, play courses that have a variety of sand textures from track to track, and often from hole to hole. Some are firm and/or have little sand, while others have sand that is so fluffy, the ball always sits down or plugs. So, today, I’m going to try to help you deal with one of these realities of recreational golf, triggered by a question from James V., who noted that his course is rebuilding all their bunkers and replacing the old sand with very loose and deep sand. Jim expressed his frustrations and asked;
“Do you have any advice on how to play this stuff, besides welding a super bounce on my sand wedge?”
Well, James, I can empathize with your plight, as our course is doing the same thing. And like your course superintendent, ours says this sand will “settle in” over some time . . . but until it does, it presents a tough challenge. My first course of action is to avoid them like they are water hazards. Bunkers that present the probability of a plugged lie are going to result in at least one lost stroke nearly every time, and often two or more. My personal strategy is to play away from them, to be honest.

But when you find yourself in one, here’s how you can go about improving your odds of escape without disaster:
1. Set realistic expectations. Unless you are an excellent bunker player, accept that you are facing a tough shot and be happy with getting out of the bunker and somewhere close enough to two-putt from.

2. Gauge the texture. As you dig your feet into a stable stance, try to feel how much resistance the sand is going to give to the sole of your sand wedge as it makes contact. Very soft, fluffy sand does not “reject” the club like more firmly packed sand will.

3. Analyze the lie. If the ball is plugged, you will have to get more under it to extricate it. The positive side of that is that the soft fluffy sand will not be as hard to move as heavier stuff.
a. For plugged lies, only open the face of the club a little, and play the ball slightly further back to help you make a more descending blow behind the ball. Pick a spot 4-5” behind the ball, rather than closer like you might on firmer sand or a cleaner lie. And realize that the ball is probably coming out lower, hotter and with very little spin. Allow for that.

b. For a cleaner lie, play the ball where you would for any normal sand shot, but realize that you still won’t get the spin you can from firmer sand.
4. Set up more open. A more open stance allows the club to move shallower as it goes through, which is your desired swing path.

5. Open the face more. You need more bounce on a shot like this, so open the face of your wedge more than normal to accent the bounce that it has built in.

6. Lighten your grip. This will help you make a smoother swing.

7. Swing “wide”. Think of taking the club back on a lower arc going back and come through the same way.

8. Practice. If this is what your bunkers are going to be like, the only way to get the feel of them is to spend time in there. A half hour or so of bunker practice on one of the “real” bunkers will give you the feel of what you have to do to become proficient from them.
So, James, these are my tips for playing these soft, fluffy bunkers. If you develop a skill for getting out of them effectively, it will help your bunker play no matter what kind of sand you encounter.

But if you still have trouble, and the bunkers do not “settle in” over time, your idea of getting a sand wedge with a “super bounce” is not a bad one. Those clubs are very limited in their use, but if you have to have one, then you have to have one.

As always, I invite all of you to chime in to lend your ideas to James and the rest of us for how to handle this light, fluffy sand.


photo source
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[ comments ]
mjaber says:
When I hit my first bunker, I was given the advice of "blasting" out. The process was very simple and straight-forward. Hit behind the ball, swing HARD, and let the sand push the ball out. It's not pretty, but it works if your goal is simply to get yourself out of the bunker. You don't get much distance, so you're best bet is to aim for the closest edge. It's not pretty, it's hard to judge how far the ball will go, but it's always worked for me.
2/23/10
 
mantajim says:
Wow, a blast of sunshine in my e-mail box this morning. Thanks Terry for choosing my question. Can hardly wait to put my new 'Eidolon' wedge to work. Woohoo!!
2/23/10
 
lcgolfer64 says:
Congrats on the new wedge James!
I've struggled(as I'm sure other have from time to time) with sand shots. I've tried blasting out as mjaber has and that worked at times. But more often found myself being inconsistent, personally (high up - digging down.) I'd end up taking way too much sand and being too far behind the ball and not getting the affect I pictured I would.
Just my thoughts - I really like Terry's suggestion of swinging wide - especially around the greens. I figured this out later in the season unfortunately, but it was more effective and less work!
2/23/10
 
mantajim says:
Thanks Icgolfer64
The swing "wide" is a change I'll be trying. I've been swinging too steep, trying to make that 'thump' sound. I'd be out on the course working on it right now, but it's snowing in East Texas again!!
2/23/10
 
Century1 says:
As far a swinging wide, are you are talking about a more shallow back swing angle, as with the driver?
2/23/10
 
wedgeguy says:
Yes, think of your sand wedge bottom as a stone you are trying to skip across the surface of a pond. You throw "low" right? That allows the bounce to work to perfection. And to those of you having trouble, check the amount you lay the face open. I see golfers all the time trying to hit bunker shots with a square face -- doesn't work.
2/23/10
 
Century1 says:
Thanks, I have been opening up the face a bit but hitting with a fairway pitching
wedge motion. I get out about 75% of the time but my aim, and distance isn't all that great. At least I don't skull it too often. I need to watch a couple of videos, I'm more of a monkey see, monkey do kind of guy.
2/23/10
 
lcgolfer64 says:
Great way to think about it, Terry.

@MantaJim - Yeah what's up with all that snow down there?! Saw it on the news this morning - you guys are getting it again, ouch.
2/23/10
 
mantajim says:
Don't feel sorry for us. It's true this is the heaviest snowfall year for East Texas in more than 30 years, but I've got 23 rounds in so far this year. It can't be all bad.
2/23/10
 
lcgolfer64 says:
Nice! I'm only slightly behind you then by ...23 rounds! I'll try some catch-up in Florida in the coming days.
2/23/10
 
Century1 says:
23 rounds,,, thats tough, I haven't seen the grass under the snow for months. I am installing a heater in my garage and will be puting in a net etc, so I can take out my frustration on a golf ball next winter.
2/23/10
 
Bryan K says:
Ya...I actually DROVE 2,000 miles round trip to get in a few holes a couple of weeks ago!

That said, it seems like the soft fluffy sand is the stuff I have the most success and consistency hitting out of. As long as the ball isn't plugged, anyway, I usually do what I was told when I first started....open the club face...open my stance...try to imagine a credit card sitting behind the ball, and try to hit the leading edge of the credit card with my club. It works okay. Obviously, I only had two sand saves in about 170 rounds last summer, so it needs some work. I'm going to try to integrate the more shallow swing.
2/24/10
 
Bryan K says:
Truth is...if it wasn't for that pesky rule about not being allowed to ground one's club while in the sand, I would be pretty good hitting out of the sand.
2/24/10
 
KVSmith59 says:
Great post. Seems like most of the traps my friends and I get stuck in are the complete opposite...like hitting off limestone..a few scattered grains of sand sitting on top of sand so compacted it's like hardpan...what do you suggest for those types of bunkers?
2/24/10
 
wedgeguy says:
That shot needs to be approached just like a shot off of a tight lie. Focus on the edge of the ball toward the hole, and make a clean downward swing. The ball will come out hotter and lower, but with more spin. Don't open the face much at all, and choose your lower bounce wedge (if you don't have EIDOLONs).
2/26/10
 
Bryan K says:
Thanks for that. It's the medium to hard stuff that I tend to have trouble hitting out of, and in the past, I've always just tried to treat them like they are sitting on the fairway will very little success. I tend to do okay when I'm close enough to use a chipping swing, but anything that needs any loft causes problems. It appears as if I've been swingning too flat on these hard lies and using the wrong club.

Great article and great thread. Thank you.
2/26/10
 
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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