Bunker Blues

By Scott McNevin
Everyone loves sand and shovels on a beach, but when it comes to sand and clubs in a bunker that’s usually a different story When a player’s ball lies in a hazard (bunker or water hazard), a player is restricted on what he can and cannot do. He must not (1) test the condition of the hazard or any similar hazard, (2) touch the ground in the hazard or water hazard with his hand or a club; or (3) touch or move a loose impediment lying in or touching the hazard. (Rule 13-4)
So what happened with Stewart Cink at the recent Zurich Championship in New Orleans? Cink walked into a fairway bunker to survey his next shot. His ball was lying outside that bunker (on grass, through the green). He proceeded to hit his shot into a greenside bunker. Cink’s caddie then raked his footprints in the fairway bunker.

What was wrong with that action? Why did it result in a two-stroke penalty and his subsequent disqualification?
The first thing to ask yourself is “Where’s the ball?” In this situation, Cink walked into the bunker to consider his options for hitting the ball, but the ball itself was in grass outside the bunker. Before making his stroke he or his caddie could have raked the bunker with no penalty. However, once he hit his shot into the greenside bunker, Rule 13-4 kicked in.
One of the restrictions we mentioned above states that while your ball lies in a bunker, you cannot test the condition of that hazard or any similar hazard. The bunker in the middle of the fairway is considered a similar hazard. When his caddie raked that bunker while Cink’s ball was in the greenside bunker, he incurred a two-stroke penalty.
To make things worse, Cink did not realize he had incurred a penalty until the next day. As a result, he returned a score card with a score lower than he actually had and was consequently disqualified.
How could Cink have avoided the penalty? He could have walked forward 150 yards, played the shot and then returned to rake the fairway bunker or, alternatively, one of the other players or caddies could have raked the bunker for him.
Subsequent to this incident, the USGA and R&A came out with a position statement removing the penalty for this situation. A portion of that statement reads as follows:

“It is not the intent of Rule 13-4a to prohibit players from practicing the proper etiquette of the game when more than one bunker is involved. Therefore, when the player’s ball lies in a bunker, it would not be a breach of the Rules if the player were to smooth the sand in another bunker, provided (a) the smoothing is for the purpose of tidying up the bunker, (b) the smoothing does not breach Rule 13-2 (Improving Lie, Area of Intended Stance or Swing, or Line of Play) with respect to his next stroke and (c) there is not a reasonable possibility that the smoothing could affect a following stroke by the player.”

For the complete statement, go to