This week I was asked if a golfer who had gone onto the course to rake some bunkers, prior to starting their competition round, had incurred any penalty. The answer, which may surprise some readers, is that there is nothing in the Rules of Golf that penalises a player from testing the condition of a bunker before playing a stipulated round, providing they do not make a stroke at a ball. The common misunderstanding probably arises from the fact that you may not test the surface of a putting green before commencing a round. Part of Rule 7-1b states;
Before a round or play-off on any day of a stroke-play competition, a competitor must not practice on the competition course or test the surface of any putting green on the course by rolling a ball or roughening or scraping the surface.In fact, there is nothing to stop players testing the surface of a bunker at any time, providing their ball is not at rest in a bunker and they do not unduly delay play. So, for example, a player drives their first tee shot to the side of the fairway. While they are waiting for a fellow competitor to make their second stroke they may walk into a bunker, make a practice swing with their club that disturbs the sand and then rake the bunker, without incurring any penalty. The restriction for testing the surface of a bunker only applies when your ball is in a bunker. Part of Rule 13-4 states;
Except as provided in the Rules, before making a stroke at a ball that is in a hazard (whether a bunker or a water hazard) or that, having been lifted from a hazard, may be dropped or placed in the hazard, the player must not:Those of you that regularly follow my blog will know that since 1st January 2012 there has been a further relaxation of the Rules relating to raking bunkers, but in this case it only applies to actions that are for the sole purpose of caring for the course and are not for the purpose of testing the condition of the bunker. Exception 2 to Rule 13-4 states;
a. Test the condition of the hazard or any similar hazard; …
At any time, the player may smooth sand or soil in a hazard provided this is for the sole purpose of caring for the course and nothing is done to breach Rule 13-2 with respect to his next stroke. If a ball played from a hazard is outside the hazard after the stroke, the player may smooth sand or soil in the hazard without restriction.This means that in the photo above a player may walk into the bunker to pick-up the rake, smooth the area where the rake was lying, smooth footsteps and other irregularities as they leave the bunker, lay the rake down and then make a stroke at their ball in the bunker. The only restrictions are that they must not do this if their purpose is in any way to test the condition of the bunker and they must not improve the position or lie of their ball, the area of their intended stance or swing or their line of play. In short, do not make the mistake of raking any sand between your ball and the hole.
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