What You Need to Know About Putting Your Club Down in Bunkers and Penalty Areas.
What You Need to Know About Putting Your Club Down in Bunkers and Penalty Areas.

Some of the rules about bunkers and penalty areas (which used to be called “water hazards”) were loosened in different ways when the big 2019 Rules changes went into effect. Because of the new rules, you can now move loose objects from pits and penalty areas as long as you don’t move the ball. This is a big change from the old rules. But the answer is different for bunkers and penalty areas when it comes to putting your club down.

To begin, what does “grounding the club” mean in the Rules? Rule 8.1b has the answer for you. This includes the things that can be done to get ready for a stroke. You may do what Rule 8.1b(4) says.

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A small touch with the club should be made right in front of or behind the ball. You should “ground the club lightly” by letting the grass, soil, sand, or something else on or above the ground support the club’s weight.

But this doesn’t let you:

  • Press the club down on the ground, or
  • You can touch the sand right in front of or behind a ball that is in a hole (see Rule 12.2b(1)).
In a hole, you will still lose points if you touch the sand in front of or behind your ball.
In a hole, you will still lose points if you touch the sand in front of or behind your ball.

In a water hazard (now a penalty area), you couldn’t hit the ground or water with your club or hand before. You also couldn’t take a practice swing that touched the ground. You can now, just like you can anywhere else on the golf course.

It's okay to practise swings that hit the ground in a penalty area as long as you don't move the ball.

But as the above Rule says, you still can’t touch the sand with your club right in front of or behind your ball before you play in a hole. Before you play, you can’t practise swings that touch the sand in the hole where your ball is, and you can’t touch the sand with your club on your backswing either. The punishment would be the one in Rule 12.2.

But it’s interesting that you can now practise swings that hit the sand in any bunker except the one where your ball is (as long as you don’t stop play for no reason), even in a bunker right next to the one where your ball is.

It's okay to practise swings that hit the ground in a penalty area as long as you don't move the ball.
It’s okay to practise swings that hit the ground in a penalty area as long as you don’t move the ball.

Once we get back to the penalty area, one thing you can’t do is ground your club and make the ball move. Rule 9.4b still says that will get you a one-stroke punishment. Then you have to put the ball back where it was before the game. So, always be very careful around your ball in a penalty area (or anywhere else!) when the lie looks a little unstable. That way, you won’t get a penalty for moving your ball while grounding your club, practicing your swing, or removing a loose obstacle.

As with other places in the area, you can’t do anything that might be seen as making the conditions better for your stroke. For example, you can’t push long grass down right behind your ball, which is against Rule 8.1b(4), as we already said. See Rule 8.1a for the full list of things that are not allowed.

Finally, the Rules do also adopt a common sense approach with regard to bunkers, so while you may not ground the club in preparing for your shot, there would be no penalty for a club touching the sand when: * Smoothing the bunker to care for the course * Placing clubs in the bunker (whether by throwing or setting them down) * Measuring, marking, lifting, replacing or taking other actions under a Rule * Leaning on a club to rest, stay balanced or prevent a fall.

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