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

Rules Guy bunker

What do the rules say about touching the sand multiple times 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.

During a men’s league match, my opponent wasn’t aware of the rule against grounding his club in the bunker. He took three practice swings into the sand before blasting out. Is there a penalty for each infraction or just one? Also, does it make a difference if it’s match play or stroke play? — Douglas Lind, Lewiston, Idaho

In our humble estimation, there should be a penalty for taking three practice swings anywhere, let alone in a bunker.

Regardless, under Rule 12.2b, it’s the general penalty of two strokes in stroke play and loss of hole in match play for touching the sand in a bunker with a practice swing.

So, in match play, if you make a ruling request about the infraction in time, your opponent loses the hole, no matter if he did it one or a dozen times.

In stroke play, the question of how many two-stroke penalties he gets depends on whether there was an intervening event. Did you tell him he couldn’t do so after the first time and he did it again anyway, or was there no discussion or stroke in between?

If the former, essentially the penalty is multiplied based on when the intervening event occurred; if the latter, it’s a one-time two-stroke sanction.

Player hitting from bunker
Rules Guy: If your ball goes in a bunker, is it legal to take practice swings that touch the sand in a different bunker?
By: Rules Guy

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

I was at the bottom of a steep greenside bunker. Immediately after hitting my shot, I smoothed the sand with my foot — only to then look up to see the ball hadn’t cleared the trap and was rolling back to me. Of course, it stopped exactly in the spot I’d smoothed. Was this a penalty? — Tom Metzner, via email

Loyal readers of Rules Guy know that, in addition to favoring the third-person plural when referencing ourselves, we often underscore the notion that being aware of what’s going on around you, like knowing the Rules of Golf, generally works to one’s advantage…except, that is, when the opposite is true.

This is a case of the latter. Firstly, were the ball outside the bunker when you were smoothing, there is no issue at all, even when the ball is going to roll back into the bunker. Now, when the ball is indeed in the bunker, regardless of whether it ever left, things can change.

If you smoothed the sand deliberately to affect the ball in motion, that would be the general penalty of two strokes in stroke play or loss of hole in match play under Rule 11.3.

If, however, you were blissfully unaware and simply smoothing to care for the course, there is no penalty involved, skirting the prohibitions under Rule 12.2b.

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