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Ask for a ruling with Cory Armstrong

Q This week, I saw a player hit a shot into a bunker with a lot of sand. Unfortunately, when the ball landed, it was immediately covered by shifting sand. When the player got to the bunker, he started poking his club in the sand to find the ball. Is that allowed? Isn't that considered to be testing the hazard?

- Harry (Myrtle Beach)

A Harry, you're correct that in most cases we're not allowed to ground our clubs in a hazard (see Rule 13-4 "Ball in Hazard; Prohibited Actions"). However, Rule 12-1 "Searching for Ball; Seeing Ball" gives an exception. It's a long rule, so I'll only review the pertinent information.

The rule's third paragraph says, "In a hazard, if a ball is believed to be covered by loose impediments or sand, the player may remove by probing or raking with a club or otherwise as many loose impediments or as much sand as will enable him to see a part of the ball. If an excess is removed, there is no penalty, and the ball must be re-covered so that only a part of the ball is visible. If the ball is moved during the removal, there is no penalty; the ball must be replaced and, if necessary, re-covered." Decision 12-1/1 even allows us to use a clubhead in searching.

We're also allowed to probe for a ball that's believed to be lying in water in a water hazard. Only, if the ball is moved, it must be replaced, unless we elect to take relief from the water hazard under Rule 26-1.