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Can You Touch The Sand In A Bunker?

Pictured above is a situation in which touching the sand in a bunker is not allowed. The golfer in this picture has contacted the sand during a practice swing, which is a clear violation of standard golf rules.
When is touching the sand permitted?When it occurs on accident or it is done to remove debris and other impeding objects
When is touching the sand not permitted?When it occurs during a practice swing or it is it deemed intentional and unnecessary for completion of the shot

Is It Illegal to Touch the Sand in a Bunker?

Under current golf rules, there are several scenarios in which golfers are permitted to touch the sand in a bunker. The first and most common instance is when there are objects (i.e. tree limbs or sticks) in the way of the ball that would negatively impact the shot if they remained in place. Under these circumstances, the golfer is allowed to grab the objects and move them out of the way with a hand or club. Incidental contact is also permitted. For example, if the golfer accidentally touches the sand with a club when trying to read the shot, there is no punishment involved.

There are, however, cases in which golfers are forbidden from touching the sand. While contacting the ground is a common occurrence during practice swings for regular shots, the sand cannot be touched as part of a practice swing. This rule makes sand shots more difficult than normal shots, as the golfer cannot take a typical warm-up swing. Illegal touching of the sand is subject to a one-stroke penalty. In other words, if the golfer is about to attempt their third shot of the hole and illegally touches the sand, the shot becomes their fourth.

Recent Rule Adaptations

Rule changes have been made in recent years that reflect more leniency and accommodations with regards to touching the sand in a bunker. Several years ago, golfers were not allowed to contact the sand under any circumstances, however adaptations were made to arrive at the current set of rules.