Escaping Fairway Bunkers

By Steve Silverman

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Fairway bunkers can be very intimidating. You might have hit a long tee shot, but if it strays just a bit off course, it can end up in a fairway bunker 175 to 200 yards from the green. It's hard enough to hit the ball on the green from the fairway, but the thought of hitting it from the bunker can leave a golfer in a cold sweat. But sometimes the thought of the shot is far worse than the reality.


Difficulty: Moderately Challenging
  1. Assess your lie. Most fairway bunkers do not have the depth greenside bunkers have and therefore it's a relatively flat shot. Many tee shots that end up in a fairway bunker don't get buried, either. The ball sits nicely on the sand. If you have a flat lie and the "lip" of the trap does not result in a substantial obstacle, you can take a full swing at the ball with a long iron. The rules do not allow you to take a practice swing. Step up to the ball, swing and pick it cleanly.
  2. Get the ball out of the trap if you are buried. If more than 50 percent of your ball is beneath the surface of the sand, do not try to hit a long shot. In this case, take your sand wedge to get it out. This is unusual in a fairway bunker, but it does happen. Swing behind the ball, take sand and blast the ball back into the fairway and don't worry about the lack of distance.
  3. Take the best possible angle to get out of the bunker. If you are faced with a protrusion in the bunker that will impact your ball's path down the fairway, you must take a different course. Say the lip of the bunker is in front of you and that's the most direct path to the green. You cannot take that course because the lip likely will prevent your ball from getting out of the bunker. If you have a free space to the right, take that path even if it won't get you all the way to the green.
  4. Do not try to hit a long shot out of the fairway if you think you might get caught up in it. It's not about overpowering the ball and showing everyone what a powerful hitter you are. Instead, you want to get the lowest score you can and sometimes you will have to take the path of least resistance. If there are no low spots in the front of the bunker, you might want to come out of the side of the bunker to give yourself a workable shot once you get out of the bunker.
  5. Go to the driving range where they have a bunker to practice. Fairway bunkers seem intimidating on the surface, but they often are fairly reasonable to get out of. By practicing at the range, you can get used to it quickly.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you can take a normal swing without hitting any impediment or obstruction, go ahead and do it.

About the Author

Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman authored The Minnesota Vikings: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Who's Better, Who's Best in Football -- The Top 60 Players of All-Time, among others, and placed in the Pro Football Writers of America awards three times. Silverman holds a Master of Science in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism.