My friends and I ventured out for ten holes on Saturday afternoon.  We had to contend with some rain, however it didn’t put a dampener on the craic or the fun.  Unfortunately I had several opportunities to try out the tips I’d picked up during a bunker lesson I’d had last month (I thoroughly recommend lessons with our Pro, Sean Morrison – he’s great!) as my ball seemed to be drawn towards the sand!  As we were playing casual golf I lifted a few stones out of the way, as I didn’t want to scrape my sand wedge, and we got into a discussion about whether or not such action is permissible when competing.  We reckoned that a player couldn’t lift stones from bunkers, unless it was a local rule – but my friends were happy with my actions as we weren’t playing seriously.

Later on, I thought I’d look up the Rules of Golf and was surprised to see that we were wrong – this was one of the rules that was changed in 2019!

Rule 12.2a states:

Removing Loose Impediments and Movable Obstructions

Before playing a ball in a bunker, a player may remove loose impediments under Rule 15.1 and movable obstructions under Rule 15.2.

This includes any reasonable touching or movement of the sand in the bunker that happens while doing so.

Click here to watch a short video on the R&A’s Rules website outlining this rule.

“Loose impediments” are:

Any unattached natural object such as:

  • Stones, loose grass, leaves, branches and sticks,
  • Dead animals and animal waste,
  • Worms, insects and similar animals that can be removed easily, and the mounds or webs they build (such as worm casts and ant hills), and
  • Clumps of compacted soil (including aeration plugs).

Such natural objects are not loose if they are:

  • Attached or growing,
  • Solidly embedded in the ground (that is, cannot be picked out easily), or
  • Sticking to the ball.

A moveable obstruction is:

An obstruction that can be moved with reasonable effort and without damaging the obstruction or the course.

In conclusion, you can move stones, leaves, rubbish etc from bunkers without penalty, however, you can’t ground your club or touch the sand during a practice swing, as before.

Rule 12.2 b states:
Restrictions on Touching Sand in Bunker

(1) When Touching Sand Results in Penalty. Before making a stroke at a ball in a bunker, a player must not:

  • Deliberately touch sand in the bunker with a hand, club, rake or other object to test the condition of the sand to learn information for the next stroke, or
  • Touch sand in the bunker with a club:
    • In the area right in front of or right behind the ball (except as allowed under Rule 7.1a in fairly searching for a ball or under Rule 12.2a in removing a loose impediment or movable obstruction),
    • In making a practice swing, or
    • In making the backswing for a stroke.

There isn’t a penalty if you use your club to stop you from falling over, or to help you get into the bunker, as the next part of the rule state when it is permissible:

  • Digging in with the feet to take a stance for a practice swing or the stroke,
  • Smoothing the bunker to care for the course,
  • Placing clubs, equipment or other objects in the bunker (whether by throwing or setting them down),
  • Measuring, marking, lifting, replacing or taking other actions under a Rule,
  • Leaning on a club to rest, stay balanced or prevent a fall, or
  • Striking the sand in frustration or anger.

Hopefully you’d never strike the sand in anger!!!