5 bunker-maintenance mistakes golfers make way too often

A rake in a bunker.

There's more to being in a bunker than just hitting the shot.

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How’s your sand game? Not your shot-making skills but the technique and savvy you display before and after you swing the club. If you’re like a lot of golfers, you’re prone to making errors that are bad for the course or disrespectful to other golfers. Or some combination of the two.

Here’s a look at five common bunker mistakes and how to avoid falling into them.

1. Entering from the high side

Getting in and out of the sand isn’t meant to be a mountaineering expedition. When you trample up and down the steep side of a bunker, you not only make deep footprints and trigger avalanches that take time to smooth over. You also run the risk of damaging the bunker’s grassy edges, a blow to the integrity of the hazard. The proper approach is to enter the bunker from the low side, following the same path in and out.

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2. Failing to bring the rake with you

Just as you can’t hit a shot without a club, you can’t rake a bunker without a… rake. Before going to your ball, grab a rake and bring it with you, so you don’t have to take an extra mess-making trip across the sand.

3. Lazy raking

Raise your hand if you’ve seen golfers do this. Or if you make a habit of it yourself: after striking your shot, you tromp slowly from the bunker, dragging the rake haphazardly behind you. Sorry, but that’s not going to do it. Turn around and approach the job correctly, raking back and forth to smooth over the sand while walking backwards and covering your footprints as you go. If you’ve left an especially deep footprint or ball mark, turn the rake over and use the flat side to fill the depression, then turn the rake back over to smooth out any remaining rumples.

4. Leaving the rake in the wrong place

There is no set standard for where to place a rake. Inside the bunker? Just outside it? Halfway in between, with the rake head in the sand and the handle sticking out? Preferences vary from course to course, and you should abide by them. The only other rule to follow is the law of common sense: do the best you can to minimize the chance that the rake will interfere with play. If outside or halfway is the local rule, lay the rake parallel to the direction of the hole on the side of the bunker farthest from the line of play. If inside the bunker is how the course likes it, leave the rake in a flat area of the bunker as opposed to on a slope, where a ball would be more likely to get hung up on it.

5. Forgetting to clean shoes

Sandy footprints tracked across a green are evidence of an inattentive golfer. As you step out of a bunker, tap your shoes clean with your putter head or wedge to dislodge any sand clinging to the soles. Though tracking sand onto the green does no agronomic damage (in fact, because many courses top dress greens with the same sand they use in the bunkers, you might actually be doing the turf a favor), it’s not a nice aesthetic. Nor is it nice to golfers behind you, who don’t want to have to putt through the mess you’ve left behind.

Josh Sens

Golf.com Editor

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.