There are many hazards on most golf courses – some watery and some sandy. Most golf courses have at least a few bunkers; some have considerably more than others. However many there are where you play, even the straightest of hitters will find themselves in the sand at some stage, so knowing what you can and can’t do is essential.
Without going into all the finer intricacies, here are the essential golf bunker rules ‘do’s and don’ts’ for when you find yourself in the sand.
Most golfers know you can’t ground your club in a hazard, nor touch the sand with your hand (Rule 13-4b).
However, touching or brushing the sand with your club on your backswing is also a breach of Rule 13-4b.
All breaches under Rule 13 incur a two-stroke penalty in stroke play and loss of hole in match play.
However, if you aren’t certain which club you’re going to use, and take two or more into the bunker, you may lay the extra clubs down in the sand once you’ve decided, provided nothing is done to test the condition of the hazard or improve the lie off the ball.
Equally, you can take your bag, or even trolley, in with you, and while that may sound a little silly, on modern courses with vast expanses of sand, it could be a time-saver.
But you’ll probably attract comment from other golfers, and suspicious looks from greenkeepers, so while it’s perfectly legal, we wouldn’t recommend it generally.
When it comes to what you can and can’t pick up and remove from a bunker, you need to tread very carefully, for you are only allowed to remove ‘movable obstructions’ (i.e. anything artificial or manmade such as scorecards, gloves, headcovers etc) and not anything classed as a ‘loose impediment’ (i.e. natural objects such as twigs, leaves, cones and branches).
The potential stumbling block is stones, for while they are classed as ‘loose impediments’ under the Rules (so you aren’t allowed to touch them), many clubs have Local Rules reclassifying them as ‘movable obstructions’ so you can then remove them from bunkers under Rule 24-1, primarily for reasons of safety and to prevent club damage.
However, always doublecheck before automatically removing stones, for if no such Local Rule exists, you will be penalised for a breach of Rule 13-4c.
If you stumble as you enter a bunker and use a club to prevent yourself from falling, that is fine, and anyone who tries to penalise you for grounding your club in such circumstances should be politely pointed towards Exception 1a to Rule 13-4.
Finally, Exception 2 to Rule 13-4 permits you to smooth sand in a bunker at any time – even before playing from the same bunker – providing it is for the sole purpose of caring for the course, and that you do nothing to improve your lie, area of intended stance or swing, or line of play in contravention of Rule 13-2.
Finally, if sand play still proves an issue despite a sound knowledge of the Rules, you can always check out the Golf Monthly website for a host of bunker play advice from Peter Uihlein and others!
You’ll also find more great Rules advice in our dedicated Rules section, with more videos in association with The R&A in the pipeline.