Think you know the answer to this little poser? Our rules expert has a surprise in store

We’ve covered unplayable lies and what happens if you hit one OB from a trap, but here’s a new question: Can you take practice swings and hit the sand when your ball is in a bunker?

No, you’re all yelling in unison. Rule 12.2b (1) says you can’t. You’re right, it does.

Before making a stroke at a ball in a bunker, it states that a player must not touch sand in the bunker with a club “in making a practice swing”.

Case closed, right? But what if your ball is in one bunker, and you take a practice swing and hit the sand in another nearby bunker?

Rules of Golf explained: Practice swings in bunkers

The observant among you may have already gleaned the answer, though I managed to get it wrong in more than one rules quiz when studying for my exams. You can make a practice swing and hit the sand in another bunker. Why? Here’s my take: because your ball is not in it.

Read Rule 12.2b (1) again. The restrictions on touching the sand, and when it results in a penalty, refers to before making a stroke “at a ball in a bunker”.

It then prohibits a player from touching sand in the bunker with a club. If the ball isn’t there, the restrictions don’t apply.

It’s a little bit of a surprise this is possible, given the R&A and USGA’s major rules change in 2019, which allowed players to generally touch sand when moving loose impediments for example, continued to prohibit touching the sand with a club in a bunker both for “pace of play and to avoid having large amounts of sand deposited outside bunkers (especially greenside bunkers) as a result of repeated practice swings”.

But there we are – though I’m not sure what your playing partners might think if you pull this one out on the course!

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 3 rules exam with distinction, I’ll try to help by featuring the best in this column.

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Steve Carroll

A journalist for 23 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former captain and committee member, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the national Tournament Administrators and Referee's Seminar. He has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying and the PGA Fourball Championship. A member of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap.

Handicap: 10.9

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