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Rules Guy: Is it permissible to check a bunker’s depth with a tee?

January 7, 2020

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.

Our course has a few refurbished bunkers built with an Astroturf base and revetted faces of stacked Astro­turf. Some of the bunkers only have a thin coating of sand, which can produce bladed shots when the wedge’s bounce hits that Astro­turf base. I know the new rules don’t allow you to test the surface with your hand or club, but what about checking the sand’s depth with a long tee? —JIM CUMBERBATCH, VIA E-MAIL

Stacked Astroturf … it sounds like the club hired Old Tom Morris as the architect and Sanford & Son as the contractor! In point of fact, the Rule number — 12.2b(1) — may have changed but this Rule hasn’t, namely, players are prohibited from touching the sand in a bunker to glean information about it for the next stroke. No hand, no club, no tee, no rake, no garden shovel.

The penalty also remains the same — the general penalty of two strokes in stroke play and loss of hole in match play. More commonly, should you come across a bunker with little to no sand not staked as ground under repair, you can: Play two balls, one as it lies and one taking relief, and get a ruling later from the commit­tee (stroke play only); play under stroke and distance, replaying from the prior spot with a one-stroke pen­alty; or, under the new ball-unplay­able rule, drop outside the bunker, using back-on-the-line relief, for two penalty strokes. Also, if they replace the greens with shag car­peting, find a new course.

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