How to Play From the Fairway Bunker

By Steve Silverman

golf ball on tee
Many golfers feel their hearts sink into their stomachs when they are forced to play from the bunker. This is particularly true of the fairway bunker, because you may be 175 to 225 yards from the green. The inexperienced golfer thinks that it's hard enough to get the ball to the green when playing from the fairway or short rough and that playing from the hazard is all but impossible. It's not if you study your shot and keep your cool.


Difficulty: Moderate
  1. Assess the lie you have in the hazard. Fairway bunkers are much different than the bunkers around the green. They are usually nowhere near as deep, and the ball is more likely to sit on top of the sand rather than get buried because of the angle of entry. If you don't have an imposing lip of the bunker to go over and the ball is sitting up, you should be able to hit an aggressive shot.
  2. Take a 4-iron if you have a great lie and you don't have an obstacle in your way when trying to leave the bunker. You cannot take a practice swing and you cannot ground your club in the bunker. However, you can hit an aggressive shot. Take a slightly wider stance than normal and dig your spikes in a bit, but not like your would if you were in a deep greenside bunker. Turn your hips to the right and then make solid contact with the ball.
  3. Do not take sand from the fairway bunker if you have a clean getaway. However, if you have a poor lie in the trap--more than half of your ball is below the surface of the sand--or if the fairway bunker has a high lip, you must take sand. In that case, you will take a 7-iron, hit 2 inches behind the ball and let the sand blast the ball out. You will still be left with a fairly long shot to the green, but you will be out of the hazard.
  4. Hit the ball through the low side of the bunker if you have a high exit wall in front of you. Sometimes, the course designers test the golfers by putting them in positions that can best be described as impossible. Many stubborn golfers will say that they will go for the green under all circumstances, even though the lip of the green makes it impossible. Just get the ball out of danger and live to hit your next shot.
  5. Work on your bunker play when you go to the driving range or golf course. Many courses have practice bunkers just so you can work on extricating yourself from difficult situations. This will give you confidence when you have to confront these situations in a match or a tournament.

Tips & Warnings

  • Hit the ball cleanly from the fairway bunker when you have a good lie and the lip of the trap is low.