Can You Ground Your Club in a Bunker? Bunker Rules in Golf

One area of the game that is advantageous for all golfers to learn has nothing to do with the swing or the putting stroke. That area is the rules of the game itself.

Can you ground your club in a bunker? No, you can not ground your club in a bunker. This means you can’t touch the sand with your club, hit a practice shot, or move the sand in any way. This applies to your backswing and practice swings, which would give you an unfair advantage over the competition. The penalty for breach of the rule is the loss of a hole-in-match play or two penalty strokes in stroke play.

In this article, I will focus solely on the rules regarding the bunker. Items to cover include:

  • What is grounding the club in a bunker?
  • Can you ground your club in a bunker?
  • Situations where grounding the club is allowed
  • Other golf sand trap rules golfers you need to know

What Is Grounding the Club in a Bunker?

The definition of grounding your club in a bunker refers to when a golfer touches the sand with their club, hits a practice shot, or moves the sand on their backswing.

Your ball is considered in a bunker when it touches the sand inside the parameters of the bunker. Additionally, suppose a ball is inside the parameters of the bunker but lies in a washed-out area, where sand typically is. In that case, it is considered in the bunker, according to USGA rule 12.1.

Furthermore, if a ball lies in the bunker and on a loose impediment, or moveable obstruction, it is considered in the bunker. As some may not know what those two items are, the following video explains loose impediments and moveable obstructions.

What about when your ball is lying on grass or another growing natural object inside a bunker? If you ball is not touching the sand, then it is not in the bunker. Therefore, the rules don’t apply.

More From Golf Span: Do You Need a Sand Wedge?

Can You Ground Your Club in a Bunker?

According to USGA rule 12.2b, you can not touch or “ground” the sand in the bunker with your club. This includes both your backswing and practice swings.

Additionally, you can not touch the sand in a bunker with your hand, a rake, or any other object in an attempt to get a feel for the consistency of the sand.

If you break this rule, the penalty is a loss of the hole-in-match play or a two-stroke penalty in stroke play.

Read More: How to Hit a Bunker Shot – A Step-By-Step Approach

Situations Where Grounding the Club is Allowed

While grounding your club in the bunker is not generally permitted, there are some situations where grounding your club in a bunker will not result in a penalty. According to the USGA, in the following cases, you can ground your club in a bunker in 2024:

  • After a shot, smoothing the bunker to care for the course.
  • Leaning on a club to rest, stay balanced, or prevent a fall.
  • Or even striking the sand in frustration or anger after a shot.

Essentially, what it boils down to in the bunker, is that you are prohibited from testing the surface of the sand to gain an advantage or try to improve your lie.

Golfers with disabilities may use an assistive mobility device (like a walking stick or wheelchair) without penalty for any reason besides learning more about the sand.

Other Sand Trap Rules Golfers Need to Know

Golfers should know a few other bunkers rules, including Rule 12.2a and Rule 12.3. Additionally, there are a few new bunker rules in 2024 which include Rule 25.2f and Rule 25.4l.

Rule 12.2a covers the removal of loose impediments and movable obstructions. These items may be removed in many situations as long as they are by USGA Rules 15.1 and 15.2

Basically, you may remove loose twigs, sticks, rocks, and weird grass chunks if they’ll affect your shot without penalty. However, there are some exceptions to this general rule. You can’t remove an obstruction if it would cause the ball to move. 

Rule 12.3 also states you can take relief if there’s an abnormal course condition, a dangerous animal condition, or an unplayable ball. Basically, you can move your ball if there are obstructions like gopher holes, damaged ground, or water puddles from recent rain.

Check This Out: Different Types of Golf Shots – Explained in Detail for You

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Ground Your Club in a Fairway Bunker?

You cannot ground your club in a fairway bunker. This applies to practice swings and your backswing. You can only ground your club after your backswing, meaning contact is permitted for your follow-through or after your shot to smooth the sand. The only caveat to this rule is using your golf club for balance.

Why Is Grounding the Club Prohibited in Certain Situations?

Grounding the club is considered to be gaining an advantage while in a bunker. This is because getting a feel for the sand through additional means helps you play a better shot. Like other hazards on the golf course, a bunker's purpose is to challenge a golfer, and grounding the club would lessen that challenge.

What Are the Penalties for Grounding the Club in a Bunker?

The penalty for grounding a club in a bunker is a loss of the hole in match play and a two-stroke penalty in stroke play. This is otherwise known as the General Penalty.

Can You Ground Your Club in a Waste Bunker?

Waste bunkers are large natural sandy areas, usually found on links and tropical courses. They are not considered bunkers, according to the USGA Rule Book.
Unlike with bunkers, you are permitted to ground your club in a waste bunker. You can also remove loose impediments from the area around the ball.

Can You Ground Your Club in a Sand Trap?

A “sand trap” is the colloquial term for a “bunker.” As previously mentioned, grounding your club in such an area before taking your shot breaches the rules (except for a few scenarios).

Conclusion

Golf is a highly exhilarating sport for the millions that participate in it. It offers fun competition, camaraderie, and so much more. This is despite the fact that the game is very complex. There are countless aspects to learn and become proficient in so you can play a respectable game.

Knowing the rules, whether it’s can you ground your club in a bunker? Or indeed, any other part of the course is key to ensuring everyone is on a level playing field. So remember, grounding your club in a bunker is broadly a non-no! Even on your backswing. You can only do it for specific circumstances, like leaning on your club for balance.

If you want to learn more about interpreting such rules, consider reading The Decisions on the Rules of Golf. This book is now referenced as The Clarifications to the Rules. The Clarification to the Rules covers hundreds of situational circumstances that could arise.

Of course, you don’t need to read this book. A better resource for most folks is the Rules 101 document. This is provided by the USGA online for free and breaks down the key rules of the game.

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Brendon is Class A PGA Professional and founded Little Linksters, LLC, and its nonprofit arm, the Little Linksters Association for Junior Golf Development. He won 25+ prestigious industry honors, including the 2017 PGA National Youth Player Development Award. He graduated from the PGA of America Management Program and has a handicap index of 7.8.

He has played golf for over 40 years and currently plays twice a month at the Eagle Dunes Golf Club near Sorrento, Florida. He loves Srixon clubs and plays a ZX5 driver with Z 585 irons. He's written over 60 articles on GolfSpan and specializes in sharing tips to improve your golf game. You can connect with Brendon at LinkedIn, X, IG, FB, his website, or BrendonElliott@pga.com.

  • Best score: 69
  • Favorite driver: Srixon ZX5
  • Favorite ball: Srixon Z Star
  • Favorite food at the turn: Turkey and cheese on white

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