Rules Guy: Can you rake a bunker before you play your shot?

Damaged bunker

Can you rake before you hit if the bunker needs it?

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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.

My ball is behind a bunker that I have to play over in order to reach the green. The bunker hasn’t been raked by a previous player, with many footprints and a big divot. Can I rake the bunker prior to my shot in case that’s where my ball winds up?
—Tim Harmer, Wendouree, VIC, Australia

Optimism isn’t exactly your long suit, is it, Tim? Alas and alack, under Rule 8.1a(3) you’re not allowed to improve any bunker on your line of play by smoothing footprints or unraked areas. A breach gets you the general penalty of two strokes in stroke play and loss of hole in match play.

Perhaps ironically, you can take care of a bunker that isn’t on your line of play to care for the course. Another thing you can do: Believe in yourself! Get that ball airborne and over the bunker, Tim! As the kids say, Let’s gooooo!

bad lie in bunker
Rules Guy: When a course has removed bunker rakes, can you smooth the sand under your ball before hitting?
By: Rules Guy

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

My approach shot landed in a greenside bunker. When I thumped my sand shot, my ball appeared to have split! In fact, there was a range ball just under the sand right behind and under my ball, which my wedge had hit. Both balls moved forward about 4 feet and remained in the bunker. Did I have the option to replay my shot? My partner said I didn’t, and it probably cost us $20, because we had four carryovers on the hole. 
—Matt Biel, Los Angeles, Calif.

I’m sorry for your loss, Matt. On the bright side, your partner knows his rules. You made a stroke at your own ball. Even though another, abandoned ball was dislodged in the process, you’re not considered to have played the wrong ball, and there is no option to replay the stroke for free. (Also on the bright side, there is no penalty, either — cold comfort, I know.)

That buried ball is a movable obstruction, so you would have been allowed to move it had you noticed it prior to making your stroke. Of course, seeing a buried object is a rather neat trick; instead, you were a victim of rather bad luck. Every golfer knows the feeling at some point.

Need help unriddling the greens at your home course? Pick up a custom Green Book from 8AM Golf affiliate 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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