Rules Column: Pat Campbell

Bunker problems? Make sure to assess the situation first

The player found herself in a steep bunker with steps inside it to access the bunker safely. Her ball was in a position that she would have interference from the steps if she wanted to make a stroke at her ball. She correctly determined she was entitled to free relief from the steps, dropped her ball within the one club length free relief area no closer to the hole and frowned. She now had no room for a backswing as she was very close to the steep back bank of the bunker. The accompanying photos show her predicament both before and after dropping her ball.

Her response, “I’ll just take a one stroke penalty under the new rules and drop outside the bunker,” caused me to wince. There was both good and bad news here. Yes, she could drop outside the bunker, but it was going to cost her more than one stroke. The reason? Once she dropped the ball under the correct rule of interference from an Immovable Obstruction, her ball was now in play. A ball in play cannot be picked up or moved without applying a Rule of Golf. She was now required to declare it unplayable for a one stroke penalty, select the option of dropping outside the bunker for a second penalty stroke and then proceed.

Is there any way she could have avoided getting a total of two penalty strokes while still getting what she wanted; in this case, a drop outside the bunker? Yes, there is. Upon declaring that she wished to take relief from the steps, she could have immediately gone outside the bunker and dropped the ball outside for a one stroke penalty.

It must be dropped on a line behind the spot where her ball originally lay and where the hole is located, often referred to as back-on-the-line relief. A careful assessment of the situation might have shown the likelihood of the difficult shot from the free relief drop in the bunker.

The moral of the story is….assess first, then pick up your ball. Above all, if you have already picked it up, know that you are committed.

If it is already in your hand, hang on to it until you are sure of what you can do for the least number of strokes.

The new Rules of Golf sound like you get a few freebies, but you really don’t. Check out the videos on the USGA.com website for more interesting situations and applications. It may save you a stroke and we all appreciate that!