Is someone’s bunker mess blocking your path to the hole? Our Rules of Golf expert looks at when, and where, you can remove sand on the course

Greenside bunkers – they’re tricky to get out of but that’s not the only time they can cause a menace to your game.

The problem with splashing sand about is that it gets everywhere and it’s not uncommon to see a green splattered with the stuff.

Wet sand, in particular, can cause havoc with your putts if it’s blocking your line to the hole and I’m often asked whether you can clear sand away and what the rules also are if there is plenty of it on the green but your ball isn’t.

So, get out your buckets and spades, we’re about to see if we can shift a mini sandcastle…

Rules of Golf explained: Can I clear sand on the green?

First things first. Can you remove sand, or loose soil, from the putting green? Yes. Rule 13.1c (1) says sand and loose soil on the green can be ‘removed without penalty’.

You can do that ‘no matter whether the ball is on or off the putting green’. Careful, though, when carrying out that husbandry.

Say your ball is off the green. While you can remove sand and loose soil on the putting surface, Rule 13.1c (1) also says you can’t do it anywhere else on the course.

So if you start clearing away yellow stuff that’s not on the green, you’ll fall foul of Rule 8.1a (4) if you’ve improved the conditions affecting your next stroke.

Those cover a whole range of areas including the lie of the player’s ball at rest and the player’s line of play.

If this happens, you can’t avoid a penalty even if you then try and restore those conditions under Rule 8.1c, which is obvious when you think about it. How are you going to put every grain of sand back in place? That moment of madness is going to cost you the general penalty – two strokes or loss of hole in match play.

If your ball is at rest and the conditions affecting the stroke are worsened, for example by another player splashing out of a bunker and spraying it with sand, Rule 8.1d (1) allows you to “restore the original conditions as nearly as possible”.

An interpretation to that rule gives example of when restoration is allowed, including when “a player’s lie or area of intended stance or intended swing is worsened when another player’s stroke creates a divot or deposits sand, soil, grass or other material on or around his or her ball.”

Have a question for our Rules of Golf expert?

Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf at the beginning of 2019, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s level 2 rules exam with distinction, I am more than happy to help.

If you’ve sent me an email and are yet to hear back from me, I will try to answer your query. I’m still inundated with requests and trying to get through them.

Just to reiterate, I continue to receive emails from players hoping I can intervene in a club rules dispute. For fairly obvious reasons, I can’t do that and would direct those players either to their county or to the rules department at the R&A for a definitive judgement.

Click here for the full Rules of Golf explained archive and details of how to submit a question to our expert.

This article was edited on October 29 to add in references to restoring conditions worsened after ball came to rest.

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