Rules Guy: Is it legal to take a practice swing that touches the sand in a bunker if your ball isn’t inside it?

golfer in bunker

What do the rules say about taking practice swings in 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.

If my ball is close to the green in the general area and there is a bunker in line with the hole, can I go into the bunker and make a practice swing touching the sand, before I play my ball? —Kenneth Samuel, via email

Kenneth, you are not exactly brimming with confidence in your wedge play. At least you can be confident in the relevant Rules.

You can practice in the sand: Rule 12.2b applies only to the bunker your ball actually lies in.

If your ball doesn’t lie in a bunker, you’re limited only by Rule 8.1, which prohibits improving your line, not testing/practicing/touching sand. You would, however, be prohibited from cleaning up your mess if you make the line of play worse, under Rule 8.1d.

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

Our best advice: Go practice high-lofted pitch shots.

For more bunker 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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