Rules Guy: When a course has removed bunker rakes, can you smooth the sand under your ball before hitting?
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My club has removed all bunker rakes due to Covid-19 cautions. We’re smoothing the sand with our feet and club. Now, if my ball comes to rest in a footprint in a bunker where a prior player has not tidied up properly, can I smooth the bunker surface before playing my shot without penalty? —KJ Costello, Charleston, S.C.
Mr. Choi, er, Costello, the answer depends upon the committee in charge of your course.
Last year, the USGA issued guidance as it relates to Covid matters, including the option for committees to declare such disturbed areas to be ground under repair, allowing players to take free relief from it.
The only problem is that even still, you’d be taking a drop in the sand — not raking or smoothing the area nor rolling the ball into place. There are also several other options for treating bunkers, so check in with the pro shop before you tee off.
For more bunker-based guidance from our guru, read on …
A player hits a bunker shot, which flies from the bunker but upon landing begins to roll back toward it. The quick-thinking player rakes his footprints and the adjacent sand. Sure enough, the ball returns to its original location. Does this rake job breach Rule 12.2b(3)?
—Kim from Korea, via e-mail
That depends on how quick the player — or his caddie — can move! Per the rule you correctly cite — props from Rules Guy — as long as the ball remains outside the bunker, the restrictions for a ball in the bunker don’t apply, so smooth away. But drop that rake like a hot potato before the ball is back in the bunker or it’s the general penalty of two strokes in stroke play and loss of hole in match play.
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