Ask the Rules Guy: Rock Problems

The Rules Guy

I hit my approach shot into a greenside bunker during my last round. As I was entering the hazard, I kicked a pretty good-sized rock into the sand. Without really thinking about it, I picked up the stone and chucked it back out of the bunker. My opponent immediately called foul, claiming that I had committed a penalty. Is that even possible? Not only was the rock not originally in the bunker, but it was nowhere near my ball at any time (and I didn’t improve my lie or feel the sand in any way). I ignored him and didn’t take any penalty. Even though I’m sure I did nothing wrong, I could use your expert reassurance.
—Geoff Larkins, Summit, NJ

I would love to tell you that you are right, your opponent was wrong and your scorecard remained intact. Unfortunately, the Rules Mom didn’t raise a liar. According to Rule 13-4c, before playing their shot out of a bunker, players are prohibited from touching or moving loose impediments (like your rock) that are lying in or touching that hazard. In your case, it makes no difference that the rock never came anywhere near your ball, or that it was only there because of your own clumsiness—it still constitutes testing the condition of the bunker. Instead of giving yourself a free pass, you should have taken two strokes or forfeited the hole in match play. Next time, either pay more attention to where you’re stepping, or just let sleeping rocks lie. 
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