Rules Guy: Is it legal for my partner to smooth the sand in my bunker?

Rules Guy bunker

What do the rules say about a playing partner smoothing sand in your bunker?

Getty Images

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.

Under Rule 8.1a(3), you can’t improve any bunker on your line of play by smoothing footprints or unraked areas. Yet you can smooth out a bunker that isn’t on your line of play “to care for the course.” So, can you ask your partner to improve the bunker you’re in if it’s not in his line of play? —Gabriel Stoilov, Oslo, Norway 

Well, good try, but Rule 1.3 prevents you from having another player do something that would be a penalty were you to do it yourself — in this case, breach Rule 8.1. 

When a partner is involved, Rule 23.5 comes into play. Any action taken by the player (let’s call him Gary) concerning the ball or equipment of his partner (let’s call him Gabriel) is treated as having been taken by the partner.

So, if Gary improves Gabriel’s conditions affecting the shot for Gabriel, it’s treated as if Gabriel did it — so Gabriel would be on the hook for the penalty. Got it?

Rules Guy: Do you have to take a penalty for *every* swing that touches sand in a bunker?
By: Rules Guy

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

Is a patch of grass that’s not mowed to fairway height but within the perimeter of a big bunker, considered in the sand bunker — meaning that you can’t ground the club? —JD Masur, via email

A lawyerly question from a JD — how appropriate!

The definition of bunker tells us that soil, or any growing or attached natural object inside the edge of the bunker, is not, repeat not, part of the bunker. Thus, you could indeed ground your club on the grass itself.

Caveat! If it’s a small patch of grass, make sure the ball isn’t touching any of the sand in the bunker, which brings in a host of complex issues around Rule 8 and lightly touching the sand while grounding the club that would probably wind up in a 5-4 decision at the Supreme Court.

As you don’t want me to bill you my hourly rate, let’s leave it at that.

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.

Exit mobile version