Rules Guy: If you get a bad lie in a bunker, can you take an unplayable and rake the area before dropping?

What do the rules say about raking the bunker after taking an unplayable?

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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.

We have the world’s most unfair bunker fronting our 17th green. It’s seven feet deep, but that’s the easy part. Shaped like a funnel, there’s only .001 inches of sand sitting at the base. When I find myself in this abyss, can I lift my ball as unplayable, rake sand into the base from the walls and then drop my ball for play, one penalty stroke poorer? Thanks for listening. — Bill Herrick, East Moriches, N.Y.

Rules Guy always tries to be a sympathetic ear, and we were with you for a moment there — when you wanted to treat the ball as unplayable and take penalty relief. That’s kosher.

But like the sand in your cruel bunker — “world’s most unfair” surely is stretching things a bit — your request eroded once you contemplated raking the sand where you plan to drop the ball, which, by improving your relief area, is verboten.

You need to simply drop the ball under one of the four options in Rule 19.3, three of which (stroke and distance, back on the line inside the bunker, lateral relief inside the bunker) cost one penalty stroke and the other (back on the line of relief outside the bunker) two penalty strokes.

Other options: Try a sand wedge with less bounce or find a new home course.

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.

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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