Playing the bunkers perfectly just takes a minor adjustment
The red cinder bunkers of Aspen Lakes are perhaps the single most identifiable feature of any golf course in Central Oregon. The way Aspen Lakes’ emerald green bentgrass turf contrasts against the red of the hazards is unmistakeable.
Aspen Lakes is particularly proud of its calling card. More than just aesthetics, the origin of the bunkers come from an ingenious use of resources: The crushed red cinder comes from the nearby property of the Cyrus family, which owns Aspen Lakes.
Still, Aspen Lakes knows that the truly unique bunkers take a little getting used to. Knowing just how to play the bunkers is part of the experience of playing Aspen Lakes. Indeed, the cinder is a heavier, more coarse sand than what most golfers are accustomed to playing.
The adjustments are minor, though. And once a golfer gets a feel for them, well, many end up actually preferring Aspen Lakes’ unique feature.
It does not take long for the uninitiated golfer to figure out that the bunkers present a different feel. But it is a mistake to overcompensate.
“Don’t be afraid of them,” says Rob Malone, Aspen Lakes’ director of instruction. “Once you are used to the material, you get more bounce and requires less swing than the fluffy white stuff.”
Most of the rules of proper sand shots apply at Aspen Lakes, most importantly accelerating through the ball and following through.
The most significant adjustment a golfer must make is where to make contact with the sand on the swing. In conventional bunkers, most golfers set up to hit about 2 inches behind the ball. But at Aspen Lakes it makes sense to set up to hit about an inch behind the ball.
This helps prevent the sand wedge from digging into the sand, allowing the bounce of the club to loft the ball out of the hazard.
“To play these shots effectively you really need to rely on the bounce of the club,” says Howie Pruitt, Aspen Lakes’ PGA director of player development. “If you’re a digger, it isn’t going to go anywhere. But if you effectively play the bounce of the club, because Aspen Lakes’ bunkers tend to be a little firm, the bounce of the club becomes much more effective.”
Such an adjustment is easy for most any golfer.
Pruitt also suggests making a very slight adjustment to the club face.
“You don’t need to open the club face as much as you do with soft sand,” Pruitt says. “If the bounce does what it is supposed to do, you don’t have to open the face to try to create more loft. Just a regular ol’ standard 56-degree sand wedge works great.”
Important to note
One thing: There is no truth to the rumor that the cinder damages the face of the club. In fact, we put the rumor the test just recently.
“I took a brand new club and I hit 10 sand shots,” Malone says. “We looked at the club afterward and there was nothing other than a barely noticeable surface scratch just like you would see in any sand trap.”
Once you get the bunkers down, you may agree with Pruitt about the playability of the cinder, too.
“I think they’re easier to hit out of personally,” Pruitt says. “The beauty of these bunkers in general is the consistency of them. The sand here doesn’t blow away. The sand doesn’t wash away. They don’t pile up in one spot where the drain should have been.”
Take a swing at the bunkers yourself.
Private and group lessons, classes and clinics are all available through the Aspen Lakes PGA Learning Center. And Pruitt has designed some special programs this season. Call the Aspen Lakes pro shop at 541-549-4653 for more information.