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Purpose of Rule: Rule 12 is a specific Rule for bunkers, which are specially prepared areas intended to test the player’s ability to play a ball from the sand. To make sure the player confronts this challenge, there are some restrictions on touching the sand before the stroke is made and on where relief may be taken for a ball in a bunker.

Playing Ball in Bunker

Improvement Resulting from Removing Loose Impediment or Movable Obstruction from a Bunker
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 their 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 their 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 their 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).
Rule 12.2b Applies to a Mound of Sand from an Animal Hole in a 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.
Whether Player May Probe in Bunker
Clarification 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 their 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 their 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).
Rule 12.2 Continues to Apply When Player Has Lifted Their Ball from Bunker to Take Relief but Has Not Yet Decided Whether to Take Relief In or Out of Bunker
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 they are 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 they deliberately test the condition of the sand in the bunker or hit 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.