The Cans and Can’ts of Bunker Play

Remember these handy tips to make your time in the sand easier.

Can: Smooth footprints before a shot for the sole reason of tidying (as long as it doesn’t improve the lie, stance, swing, or line of play).
Can’t: Rake or smooth sand before hitting a shot if you’re trying to get a feel for its consistency (wet, fluffy, etc.).

Can:  Sweep away enough sand to identify a buried ball, though the original lie must be re-created before hitting. If completely buried, you may leave a small part of the ball visible before hitting.
Can’t: Sweep away sand around your ball in a bunker because you can’t see it very well, if at all. You’re not necessarily entitled to see the ball when making a stroke.

Can: Lean on your club to prevent yourself from falling while trying to get in or out of a bunker (provided that you don’t improve the lie of your shot or test the condition of the sand).
Can’t:Touch the sand or loose impediments (stones, leaves, etc.) until the forward motion of the club with the intent to strike the ball begins. This includes leaning on your club while waiting to play.

Can: Dig in with your feet, even to make a practice swing. You can do this more than once to prepare for the shot.
Can’t: Kick the sand in anger before playing a shot or fill footprints from a previous stance.

Can: Remove man-made objects from the bunker such as chocolate wrappers, water bottles and rakes, even if you have to touch part of the bunker to do so.
Can’t: Remove natural objects from the bunker such as twigs, insects, pine cones, leaves, even a discarded piece of fruit obviously left by another golfer.

Can: Take free relief inside a bunker from a pool of casual water in the hazard (provided it interferes with the lie of your ball, stance or swing).
Can’t: Take free relief outside a bunker, even if the hazard is completely covered by casual water. If you drop outside, it’s a one-stroke penalty.

In or out? The Rules on rakes
When it comes to whether rakes should be placed inside bunkers or left near the edges, we’re throwing our hands up. The Rules of Golf says “there is not a perfect answer for the position of rakes,” though there is “less likelihood of an advantage or disadvantage to the player if rakes are placed outside bunkers.” The recommendation is to leave rakes outside of bunkers in a place where they are least likely to affect the movement of the ball.

Q: A golfer has to mark his ball in the sand so another shot can be played without interference. When he marks his ball, the lie is slightly improved. Does that golfer have to restore the original lie before playing?

A. No. It’s accepted that the lie of a ball might change as a result of marking. Regardless of whether the new lie is better or worse than the original, the golfer must accept the result and continue play (decision 20-1/15.5).