Golf's Rule 12 Goes Over Bunkers

Golfer plays out of a bunker, which is covered in golf's Rule 12.

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In the Official Rules of Golf, jointly written and maintained by the United States Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Rule 12 is titled "Bunkers."

The purpose of the rule, as excerpted from the rule book, is this:

"Rule 12 is a specific Rule for bunkers, which are specially prepared areas intended to test the player’s ability to play a ball from the sand. To make sure the player confronts this challenge, there are some restrictions on touching the sand before the stroke is made and on where relief may be taken for a ball in a bunker."

It is the responsibility of golfers to know the rules, and the USGA and R&A have tons of resources on their respective websites to help us learn and understand. These are links directly to the text of Rule 12 that is found on the governing bodies' websites:

Summarizing Rule 12: Bunkers

In our Quick Intro to the Rules of Golf, we summarize Rule 12 as follows:

  • A bunker is a prepared area containing sand. 
  • Before playing, you may move loose impediments or movable obstructions, but don’t touch the sand near your ball.

There are three sections within Rule 12: Rule 12.1 is titled "When Ball Is in Bunker"; Rule 12.2 is "Playing Ball in Bunker"; and Rule 12.3 is "Specific Rules for Relief for Ball in Bunker."

Rule 12.1 states that your golf ball is in a bunker when it touches sand inside the bunker or lies on ground where sand that might have been blown away or washed away would normally be; it is not in a bunker if the ball "lies on soil or grass or other growing or attached natural objects inside the edge of the bunker without touching any sand." (There is a diagram in the rule book to help explain.)

Rule 12.2 clarifies golfers are allowed to remove loose impediments and movable obstructions before playing a ball in a bunker. And the rule includes these actions that are and are not allowed in bunkers (excerpt from the condensed Player's Edition of the rules):

Before making a stroke at your ball in a bunker, you must not:
*Deliberately touch sand in the bunker with your hand, a club or rake or any other object to test the condition of the sand and learn information for your next stroke, or
*Touch sand in the bunker with your club: a) in the area right in front of or right behind your ball ...; b) in making a practice swing, or c) in making your backswing for a stroke.
Except as covered in the two bullets above, the following actions are allowed:
*Digging in with your feet to take a stance for a practice swing or the stroke,
*Smoothing the bunker to care for the course,
*Placing your clubs, equipment or other objects in the bunker ...,
*Measuring, marking, lifting, replacing or taking other actions under a Rule,
*Leaning on a club to rest, stay balanced or prevent a fall, or
*Striking the sand in frustration or anger.

Be sure to read the full Rule 12, interpretations of Rule 12, and definitions of important terms either on USGA.org or RandA.org.