In 2018, there are (or were) a number of actions a player must not do when their ball is in a bunker but which are permitted elsewhere on the course. With exceptions (which always seem to make the rules more complex) the player must not:

  • Test the condition of the bunker, touch the ground in the bunker with a hand or club.
  • Touch or move loose impediments that are in the bunker.

Unusually, the ruling bodies permitted the use of a Local Rule that granted a change of status of stones from Loose Impediments to Movable Obstructions. This was originally done for safety reasons.

In 2019, the player may touch or move loose impediments and will generally be allowed to touch the sand with a hand or club. 

But again there are exceptions. The player must still not:

  • Touch the sand in a bunker with a hand, club, rake or other object to test the condition of the sand to learn information for the stroke.
  • Touch the sand in a bunker with a club in making a practice swing, in grounding the club right in front of or behind the ball, or in making the backswing for a stroke.

The removal of some of the original prohibitions provides consistency all around the course, including penalty areas (as will be seen in a later post).

Skill is required to play from a variety of types of sand and this should not be affected by the miscellaneous debris often found in bunkers. So it can all be removed. But take care! When moving a loose impediment you may not allow your ball to move.

Also, a stone is now always a loose impediment. It seems the danger from flying stones is no longer an issue but I guess that not many (sensible) people stand forward of a player in a bunker. Incidentally, the USGA/R&A have stated that a local rule changing the status of a stone is not permitted.

There are also prohibitions which continue in 2019:

  • Testing the sand and taking practice swings can dilute the test of skill. These actions are not allowed.
  • Placing the clubhead adjacent to the ball or touching the sand on the backswing could possibly reduce the challenge of playing from the sand, and is also not allowed.

P.S. I found it interesting that the rules makers’ referred to multiple practice swings affecting pace of play and depositing large quantities of sand from greenside bunkers onto the green or fringe. I wonder if, had those things not been a reality, they might have leaned toward allowing practice swings from a bunker.