When removing a loose impediment or a movable obstruction from a bunker, sand is often moved as a result of removing the object, and there is no penalty if this improves conditions affecting the stroke if the actions taken to remove the loose impediment or movable obstruction were reasonable (Rule 8.1b(2)).
For example, a player removes a pine cone near his or her ball and improves the conditions affecting the stroke by dragging the pine cone away in a way that also removes a mound of sand from the area of his or her intended swing.
The player could have used a less intrusive way to remove the pine cone (such as lifting the pine cone straight up without dragging it behind the ball). Because his or her actions are not reasonable in this situation, the player gets a penalty for a breach of Rule 8.1a (Improving the Conditions Affecting the Stroke).
Under Rule 12.2b(3), a player may smooth sand in a bunker to care for the course without penalty under Rule 8.1a (Actions That Are Not Allowed) after a ball is played out of that bunker. The term “played out of the bunker” in Rule 12.2b(3) also includes taking relief outside the bunker.
For example, a player decides to take unplayable ball relief outside a bunker for a penalty of two strokes under Rule 19.3b (Back-On-the-Line Relief). Before dropping a ball using the back-on-the-line relief procedure outside the bunker or, after dropping a ball but before making his or her next stroke,the player smooths footprints in the bunker on the line of play. Rule 12.2b(3) applies and there is no penalty.
Provided that the player intended to take relief outside the bunker, there would be no penalty even if the player smoothed the bunker before dropping the ball outside the bunker.
If a player’s ball lies in a bunker on or near a mound of sand that is part of an animal hole, the restrictions in Rule 12.2b(1) apply to touching that mound of sand.
However, the player may take relief from the animal hole (which is an abnormal course condition) under Rule 16.1c.
8.1a/7 confirms that a player may probe anywhere on the course (including in a bunker) without penalty to determine if tree roots, rocks or obstructions might interfere with his or her stroke, as long as the player does not improve the conditions affecting the stroke.
For example, when a player’s ball comes to rest near a drain in a bunker, the player may use a tee to probe the sand to determine the extent of the drain and whether it will interfere with his or her stroke.
However, if the purpose of the probing is to test the condition of the sand, the player is in breach of Rule 12.2b(1).
If a player has lifted the ball from a bunker to take relief under a Rule, but has not yet decided which relief option to use, the restrictions in Rule 12.2b(1) continue to apply.
For example, if a player’s tee shot is unplayable in a bunker and he or she is deciding whether to go back to the teeing area to play again under penalty of stroke and distance, take relief in the bunker or take back-on-the-line relief outside the bunker, the player is in breach of Rule 12.2b if he or she deliberately tests the condition of the sand in the bunker or hits the sand with a practice swing.
However, just as Rule 12.2b(1) no longer applies after the player has played a ball and it is outside the bunker, Rule 12.2b(1) does not apply after the player decides to take relief outside the bunker so long as relief is actually taken outside the bunker.