By Kelsey Solan, USGA Rules Department
While you may have heard them called “sand traps” or “the beach,”
these prepared sandy areas are known under the Rules of Golf as bunkers (Rule 12). Whether in the fairway or greenside, bunkers present
an additional challenge to playing the game.
What is (or isn’t) a bunker?
Under the Rules, a bunker is a specially prepared area of sand,
often a hollow made in the ground. Common things you may see around a bunker,
such as a lip, wall or face at the edge of a bunker made of soil, grass or
stacked turf, are not part of the bunker. Additionally, sand that has spilled
over or is outside the edge of a prepared area is not part of the bunker.
Areas of desert or other naturally sandy areas, sometimes referred
to as “waste areas,” are not bunkers. These areas are not specially prepared
areas of sand.
When is your ball in a bunker?
It’s important to know when your ball lies in a bunker. That
occurs when any part of your ball touches sand on the ground inside the edge of
the bunker. This is the most common way your ball will be in a bunker: it
simply rests on the sand in that prepared area.
There are some less-common situations in which your ball is also
considered to lie in a bunker. The first situation is when your ball is inside
the edge of the bunker and rests on ground where sand would normally be. For
example, if your ball lies in the middle of a large bunker, but there is a
washed- or worn-out area where sand is no longer present, your ball still lies
in the bunker (even if may be touching ground or dirt). Additionally, if your
ball lies in or on a loose impediment, movable obstruction, abnormal course
condition or integral object that touches sand in the bunker, your ball is in
You may also be familiar with “grass islands” that are sometimes
featured in bunkers. These are areas of growing, attached grass and therefore
are not part of the bunker.
What permissions or restrictions do you have in a bunker?
Bunkers are one of the defined areas of the course, and therefore
have specific Rules that apply when your ball is located in that area. You are
restricted in how you can touch the sand in the bunker where your ball lies.
Before making a stroke at your ball in a bunker, you must not do the following
touch sand in the bunker with your hand, club or any other object to test the
condition of the sand and learn information for your next stroke.
sand in the bunker with your club:
• In the area right in front of or right behind your ball,
• In making a practice swing, or
• In making your backswing for a stroke.
Outside of the actions listed above, you are not prohibited from
touching sand in other ways, such as:
your clubs, equipment or other objects in the bunker,
on a club to rest, stay balanced or prevent a fall, or
the sand in frustration or anger.
Finally, just like elsewhere on the course, before playing your
ball in a bunker, you are free to remove loose impediments (detached natural
objects), such as leaves or stones. You may also remove movable obstructions
(artificial objects that can be moved with reasonable effort), such as rakes.
Playing from the bunker can be hard enough. It’s smart to keep in
mind the Rules that apply to avoid getting any additional penalties.
For more on the Rules of Golf, click here.