!Practice swings are permitted on the fairway, in the rough, even in a penalty area and of course on the tee, but the Rules of Golf strictly prohibit taking a practice swing in the bunker. There is one perfectly legal loophole though.

The Rule Hack: When You Can Take a Practice Swing

Rule 12.2b prohibits you from touching the sand when making a practice swing in the bunker. Taking a practice swing could tell you about the condition and depth of the sand, developing a feel for the speed of the swing required, etc. Likewise, you can’t touch the sand with the explicit purpose of testing the conditions with your hand, say. (In 2020 a US Amateur finalist lost the final hole and match when his caddy touched the sand with his hand to test it.) Finally, we also can’t ground our club in the bunker or push sand away during our backswing. While we can glean information on the condition of the sand when shuffling our feet to take a stance, this is still not as useful as a practice swing would be. But the rules are clear though and taking a practice swing is a two-stroke penalty. Except… There is a “hack” that allows you to take a practice swing in the bunker. To be more specific, the rules prohibit you from taking a practice swing in the bunker, where “the bunker” is the bunker where your ball lies. The rules do not prohibit you, however, from taking a practice swing from another nearby bunker. Under the rules, that other bunker is not “the” bunker. Matter of fact, you can walk to another bunker and take practice swings, touch it with your hand, etc. Often the conditions in greenside bunkers are similar, and if you go to another bunker this can provide some useful information.

Some caveats or course. First, be mindful of not delaying the game. The rules do discourage undue delay and walking to another bunker and taking a minute on a practice swings and then walking back to your original bunker is borderline delay of game. Perhaps more important, if other players are waiting this this delay is poor etiquette. If you are playing alone and no one is behind you, or if you are waiting for a farther-away player to hit, then making your way to a nearby bunker is ok. Next, of course rake both the bunker you took the practice swings from as well as the actual bunker you hit your ball from. A good practice is to leave the bunker in better shape than you found it. Finally, you can take a practice swing in a nearby bunker, you cannot of course drop a ball and take a practice shot.

Another Hack: Remove Loose Impediments

In 2019 the rules changed, and players are allowed to remove loose impediments from the bunker. This includes leaves, unattached branches, sticks, pinecones and stones. Perfectly legal to pick them out of the bunker. Also remember that we have always been able to remove man-made obstructions such as rakes (if your ball is sitting on the rake, mark it, move the rake, and place the ball back to where it was), candy wrappers, cigarette butts and anything else that gets in the bunker.

And Another Hack: Completely Buried Ball

If your ball plugs into a bunker and is completely buried, you are allowed to dig it out to the extent you need to identify it as your ball. Then your need to restore it to its original lie except you can leave a small part of the ball exposed. Something is better than nothing.

Any Yet Another Hack: Your Ball Get Sand Splashed by Another Player

What happens if another player lands in the bunker behind you, and in the process of hitting his shot your ball gets covered with sand? The rules say that a player is entitled to the condition of the bunker when the ball entered the bunker. If sand from another player falls on top of your ball after it entered the player, you are allowed to recreate your original lie by removing the sand hit by the other player that fell onto your ball.

Touching the Sand Not for the Purpose of Testing It or Taking a Practice Swing

The 2019 rule changes provided a common-sense update that allows players to use their club a walking stick or support when entering the bunker, or if you bring multiple clubs into the bunker and drop the unused clubs in the sand while you take your swing. So long as these actions are not intended to test the sand, there’s no penalty

And a Final Bunker Rule Hack: In the Hole of Castings of a Burrowing Animal

If your ball or stance lies on the castings of a burrowing animal (think squirrel hole) in the bunker, you are allowed free relief within one club length no nearer the hole.

Good players know that rules can be used to your advantage. Use these rules in the bunkers to help you save strokes.

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