There are three types of sand bunkers on a golf course; a fairway bunker, a greenside bunker and a waste bunker. Only in a waste bunker are you allowed to ground your club and in fact you can even drive your cart through the bunker, no raking required. In both the fairway and greenside bunkers you are not allowed to ground your club or touch the sand in the backswing this would incur a 2 stroke penalty. Only at impact are you allowed to make contact with the sand and in a greenside bunker it is the only shot where you do not want to hit the ball but rather the sand.
For our purposes let us talk about the greenside bunkers as they seem to cause the most problems for players. The type of sand is always a factor and before your round of play there usually is a practice bunker where you can take a couple of shots to get the feel. During play you can take a practice swing outside of the bunker to get the feel of how hard you want to hit the ball. When entering the trap take the shortest distance to approach the ball and have a rake handy as you have to rake your way out. A couple of tips when looking at the ball is to look slightly behind it or, imagine there is a coin or something under your ball that you want to get out. The idea is to hit the sand and not the ball splashing the sand out from underneath the ball. There is no penalty for splashing sand on the green and that is what you want to try and do. There is very little movement of the body in the back swing the arms do most the work as you want to make sure you stay steady over the ball. In the forward swing your body can move with the shot just like any other golf swing. Hit down on the ball and make sure you follow through. If you stop the swing the club will dig too deep and the ball will not come out. For wet sand close the face a little as the club needs to dig more and for soft and fluffy sand you can open the face and consequently your stance as the ball should come out easily.
Practice your bunker play because confidence is a huge factor for successful shots. It is also important to have a sand wedge the standard is a 56 degree. Sand wedges are utility clubs and designed with a wider flange to bounce through the sand rather than dig like a pitching wedge would.
by Susan Stafford, Roland Stafford Golf School