4 basic bunker rules that every golfer should follow
I hate calling out beginner golfers — especially when everyone’s just trying to have fun on the golf course — but it’s important for new players to understand some basic rules. One of the most crucial? Bunker rules.
Let me break down a recent scenario.
Just the other day, I was playing a round with my friend. Great guy, new golfer, really eager to learn the game. Unfortunately, he still lacks basic rules knowledge.
So when he was standing in a fairway bunker and hitting sand with each practice swing, I cringed. I knew he should be penalized two strokes for each swipe, but instead, I turned the other cheek, ignored his breaches and allowed him to get comfortable before hitting his shot.
I didn’t want to stress him out or clutter his mind with rules, but the problem with me ignoring the issue is that he’ll continue to make the same mistake until someone does school him. And I’d really hate for that to happen when one day he finds himself in a pivotal moment in a big match.
So take heed, newbie golfers! Here’s what you need to know when playing from the sand:
Understanding proper bunker rules
If you’re more of a visual learner, I’d recommend you check out this recently released United States Golf Association (USGA) video that explains bunker dos and don’ts. If you prefer words, keep scrolling and you’ll soon do away with any of the confusion or awkwardness that I encountered this past weekend.
What is a bunker?
As the USGA’s video explains, bunkers are “prepared areas of sand with a few special restrictions that serve to maintain the challenge of playing from them.” While they don’t act as a hazard like water does — where a player gets penalized for going in and taking out their ball — they do present an obstacle, and can make a course more difficult. But you will not be penalized for hitting into one.
Bunker rule No. 1: No touching the sand
When your ball’s in a bunker, it’s important to remember not to touch the sand with your hand before your shot. Some players do this to test the condition of the sand, wipe away footprints from previous players or to find an easier spot from which to play from (which is a whole new category of broken rules).
Bunker rule No. 2: Do not touch the sand with a club before your shot
This is what my friend was doing the other day — hitting the sand with each practice swing. This is a no-no. Players must avoid making any contact between their club and the sand before hitting a shot.
The only time it’s OK to touch the sand before a shot is when you’re not testing the condition — i.e., if you’re using a club as support to enter a bunker.
Bunker rule No. 3: It’s OK to move loose impediments and movable obstructions
If there’s a leaf up against your ball, go ahead and remove it — so long as your ball doesn’t move. Similarly, it’s OK to clear out pebbles, twigs, leaves, etc., from the area around your ball before setting up for a shot. Just be careful not to touch the sand or move your ball at all.
Bunker rule No. 4: Rake up your tracks
As a former “bunker bum” during my days working on the maintenance crew at several courses, it always irks me when a player exits a bunker without tidying up. Sure, we’re all frustrated from being in the sand, but it’s proper etiquette to help maintain the course for other players. This means raking your footprints and any divot you made from your bunker shot.
While there are plenty of other things golfers need to remember when playing from the sand, these basic bunker rules are a good start for playing the game the right way.