In the past, it was against the rules to test or touch the sand in a bunker or to remove natural loose impediments that might get in the way of swing. The old, stern restrictions change somewhat in 2019.
Players will be able to remove loose impediments such as stones, leaves or twigs without penalty. Players should simply pick them up and move them, and there is no penalty if the player touches the sand while moving a loose impediment so long as the player didn’t intentionally test the sand to see how a shot might best be played.
However, a player is not allowed to move a loose impediment if that action results in the ball moving. Simply put, if your ball comes to rest on a leaf in a bunker and removing the leaf would result in the ball moving, you can’t move it. Causing the ball to move while tidying up any loose impediments is still a one-stroke penalty anywhere except on a putting green or teeing area.
Players still are not allowed to touch the sand or dig in directly in front of or behind their ball using their hand, a club or any other object to test the condition of the sand for their next stroke. Players still are not allowed to take practice swings that touch the sand, and they cannot touch the sand on their backswing.
But in other situations, players are allowed to touch the sand under the new rules. Players can still dig in with their feet as they prepare to make a stroke. They can place their clubs, bag or other equipment in the bunker before making a stroke, and they can lean on a club to prevent a fall. And if a player is measuring, marking, lifting a ball or replacing it while taking actions under a rule, there is no penalty for touching the sand. Players are even allowed to strike the sand in anger, so long as they are not testing the surface before a stroke.