Rules Guy: Is it legal to remove gravel from a bunker?


What do the rules say about removing gravel from a bunker?

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The Rules of Golf are tricky! Thankfully, we’ve got the guru. Our Rules Guy knows the book front to back. Got a question? He’s got all the answers.

My course just hosted a U.S. Open local qualifier … which got me thinking about its bunkers. Most are fine, but a few are about a 50-50 mix of sand and gravel. Not little pebbles — the kind of gravel you’d see on a driveway. One shot could easily wreck your wedge grooves; my group has a mutual understanding to just pull our balls from those bunkers and play from behind them. Is there any such possible relief in tournament play? —Jordan James, via email

Rules Guy believes you are referring to what’s known in the gravel trade as Item 4. Its constant presence in Rules Guy’s mudroom led to our paving the driveway, at considerably more cost than putting new sand in a few bunkers, we would wager. But we digress.

No, such relief isn’t really possible. That would be making the entire bunker ground under repair, which while technically allowed, is not something the Committee in charge of the competition would do for this particular reason. Those stones are loose impediments and can be moved so long as you’re careful not to move your ball. If that sounds like a Sisyphean task, only with way smaller boulders, our apologies, and good luck.

bunker stairs
Rules Guy: My ball landed on bunker stairs. Can I take relief outside of the sand?
By: Rules Guy

For more bunker-related guidance from our guru, read on …

On a steep slope, my partner’s ball was stopped from going into a sand trap by a rake. When he removed the rake, the ball rolled into the trap. Does he play it from the trap or replace it back on the hill? —Steve Glusman, Boynton Beach, Fla.

One day in the not-too-distant future, golf ball manufacturers will come up with a virtual parking brake on their products that will nip this situation in the bud. Or perhaps it will involve AI. (Rules Guy, as you may have suspected, was an English major back in the day, and understands almost nothing of technology, save perimeter weighting.)

For the moment, we have the rules of golf to guide us. Under Rule 15.2, the rake is a movable obstruction, and so when a ball at rest moves as a result of moving a movable obstruction there is no penalty and the ball must be replaced. It goes back to that spot on the hill … while the search for a golf ball with a parking brake continues.

Need help unriddling the greens at your home course? Pick up a custom Green Book from Golf Logix.

Got a question about the Rules? Ask the Rules Guy! Send your queries, confusions and comments to We promise he won’t throw the book at you.

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