Rules in Focus - Flooded Bunkers

Rules in Focus

Flooded Bunkers

BunkerThe past 12 months were the second wettest on record in the UK, according to data released by the Met Office.  It is little wonder that flooded bunkers have become a common problem on golf courses in the UK and elsewhere due to inclement weather. The damage that flood water causes leaves many bunkers requiring renovation. This month, we take a look at your frequently asked questions pertaining to bunkers. 


What is the status of a recently renovated bunker that has been marked as ground under repair?

Currently, by default, if the entire bunker is defined as ground under repair (GUR) by the Committee, it loses its status as a hazard and is treated as “through the green” (see Decision 25/13).   Consequently, Rule 25-1b(i) applies when there is interference from a bunker defined as GUR.

As the ball is considered to lie through the green, for relief purposes under this Rule, the player must lift the ball and drop it, without penalty, within one club-length of, but not nearer the hole, than the nearest point of relief. The nearest point of relief will therefore be outside of the area marked as GUR (i.e. outside of the bunker).

Do I have to drop the ball behind the bunker and play back over it?

It is a common misconception that it is compulsory for the player to play back over the bunker when taking relief but this is not always the case.  The key is to find the nearest point of relief, which may be to the side or behind the bunker, depending on the ball’s original position and which point is closest.  The ball is then dropped, within one club-length of, but not nearer the hole, than the nearest point of relief.

Is it compulsory to take relief from a bunker that has been defined as GUR?

Relief is optional under Rule 25-1b(i).  However, if the Committee in charge wishes to protect the bunker and allow it time to repair, free from any play, it must stipulate in the Local Rules that the bunker is ground under repair from which play is prohibited.  As a result of prohibiting play from the GUR, the player must take relief when he has interference. So check the Local Rules before playing.

What are my options if my ball lies within a bunker completely flooded with water?

Under the Rules, the player has the following options when there is interference from casual water that has completely flooded a bunker:

  1. Drop the ball in the bunker without penalty at the nearest point, not nearer the hole, where the depth of the casual water is least – Rule 25-1b(ii)(a);
  2. Drop the ball behind the bunker under penalty of one stroke – Rule 25-1b(ii)(b);
  3. Deem the ball unplayable and proceed in accordance with Rule 28.

BunkerIt is worth noting that only Option 1 provides free relief from the casual water.  Of course, the player can always elect to play the ball as it lies if he does not want to incur a penalty.  This was something both Keegan Bradley and Rory McIlroy had to consider during the second round of The Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 2012.   

McIlroy chose to take free relief within the fairway bunker at the 17th and dropped the ball within a club-length of the nearest point of relief before playing out and then onto the green – Rule 25-1b(ii)(a).

However, Bradley chose to play his ball as it lay in the greenside bunker at the 15th hole, despite the interference from the casual water.  Bradley may have decided to do this for a number of reasons.  As the sand was damp, the ball may have plugged in the sand when dropped or the dropping area may have been close to the face or edge of the bunker leaving the player with a much more difficult stroke.  

Consequently, selecting to play the ball from its original lie can sometimes be the best option in these circumstances. 

What can a Committee do when it is known that some bunkers are flooded?

In terms of flooded bunkers, the Committee may not make a general Local Rule providing that all flooded bunkers are ground under repair.  Such a Local Rule waives a penalty imposed by the Rules of Golf and would be contrary to Rule 33-8. 

However, in exceptional circumstances, where certain bunkers are known to be flooded with casual water and there is no reasonable opportunity for the condition of these bunkers to improve, the Committee may introduce a Local Rule providing relief without penalty from these specific bunkers.

The Committee must be satisfied that the circumstances are exceptional and that providing relief without penalty from these particular bunkers is more appropriate than applying the normal Rules (Rule 25-1b(ii)). 

By introducing a Local Rule and declaring the bunker to be ground under repair, this automatically takes away the hazard status of the bunker and allows for relief to be taken without penalty in accordance with Rule 25-1b(i), i.e. through the green.

The following wording is suggested for such a Local Rule:

“The flooded bunker on [insert the location of the bunker(s); e.g. left of 5th green] is ground under repair.  If a player’s ball lies in that bunker or if that bunker interferes with the player’s stance or the area of his intended swing and the player wishes to take relief, he must take relief outside the bunker, without penalty, in accordance with Rule 25-1b(i).  All other bunkers on the course, regardless of whether they contain water, maintain their status as hazards and the Rules apply accordingly.”

Where should you place the rake after raking a bunker?

BunkerThere is no hard and fast rule.  In practice, players who leave rakes in bunkers frequently leave them at the side or at the back of the bunker where it is easy to place the rake.  This tends to stop a ball rolling into the flatter part of the bunker, resulting in a much more difficult shot than would otherwise have been the case.   

If rakes are left inside the middle of the bunker, the only way to position them is to throw the rake into the bunker and this causes damage to the surface.   Also, if a rake is left in the middle of a large bunker, it is either not used or the player is obliged to rake a much larger area of the bunker after retrieving the rake, resulting in unnecessary delay.

Therefore, whilst it can be argued that a ball could be deflected into the bunker when the rake is placed outside of it, on balance it is recommended that rakes should be left outside of the bunker in an area where they are least likely to affect the movement of the ball.

This is just a recommendation of The R&A.  Ultimately it is for the Committee in charge of the course to decide on a policy if desired.