We’ve all encountered the following situation: playing a round following a torrential downpour, several of the bunkers are partially or completely full of standing water. Despite all efforts to the contrary, inevitably, we flub, shank, fly, or roll a shot into one of these sandy bowls of Cholera tea.
What happens next? We probably use the rake to try to retrieve our ball from a watery death, depending on how far into the center of the bunker you think your ball may be. Your partner, in all his benevolence, might tell you, “what a mess, just drop next to the bunker, no penalty.” So, you drop a ball and go about your business of trying to win that $2.00 Nassau.
Did you know that if this scenario sounds familiar, you’ve just violated a whole slew of rules that you’ve probably never even read? Apparently, bunkers have failed to drain as long as bunkers have existed, so golf has a very specific rule for this very situation.
I didn’t know the correct rule and possible relief scenarios until Thursday, when J.B. pointed out the absurdly unfair result of Rule 25-1(b)(ii) while I duffed my way around one of my favorite courses, Champions Trace.
Rule 25-1 is one of those painfully deliberate Rules wherein the USGA tried to think of every possible scenario that could befall the golfer, then parse each possibility and apply a sub-rule and result for each parsed circumstance.
There is the basic Rule (25-1(b)(i), then the exception to the Rule (b)(ii), both of which contain no fewer than a half-dozen defined terms.
And kudos and a gold-star to you if you even know to look in the Rules for “Abnormal Ground Conditions” and don’t mis-identify the situation into some other Rule silo.
So here is the basic rule, which seems eminently fair:
25-1. Abnormal Ground Conditions
Except when the ball is in a water hazard or a lateral water hazard, a player may take relief from interference by an abnormal ground condition as follows:
(i)Through the Green: If the ball lies through the green, the player must lift the ball and drop it, without penalty, within one club-length of and not nearer the hole than the nearest point of relief. The nearest point of relief must not be in a hazard or on a putting green. When the ball is dropped within one club-length of the nearest point of relief, the ball must first strike a part of the course at a spot that avoids interference by the condition and is not in a hazard and not on a putting green.
Unfortunately for J.B., bunkers are hazards and warrant special attention and an exception to the general rule.
25-1. Abnormal Ground Conditions
(ii)In a Bunker: If the ball is in a bunker, the player must lift the ball and drop it either:
(a) Without penalty, in accordance with Clause (i) above, except that the nearest point of relief must be in the bunker and the ball must be dropped in the bunker or, if complete relief is impossible, as near as possible to the spot where the ball lay, but not nearer the hole, on a part of the course in the bunker that affords maximum available relief from the condition; or
(b) Under penalty of one stroke, outside the bunker keeping the point where the ball lay directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind the bunker the ball may be dropped.
J.B. had hit is ball into a bowl-shaped green-side bunker that was full of water. It was so full, that only an inch or two of sand were visible on the high side of the bunker. Thus, there was literally no place to drop the ball within the bunker, as is required by the Rule.
So, his only point of relief was outside of the bunker, no nearer to the hole. And his reward for compliance? A one stroke penalty, through no fault of his own, basically because a deluge moved through the area the night before and the bunker no longer drains as designed.
I’m sorry, I know he theoretically gained an advantage by removing his shot from the bunker, but this result seems to tilt far to the “unfair” side of the ledger.
Other than hitting a slightly errant shot (or not….maybe he has a great sand game; I’ve seen pros aim for bunkers countless times), he incurs a one stroke penalty for ending up in a peculiar circumstance over which he had no control.
Give me a break. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, a bunker is a hazard, blah, blah, blah. Perhaps “bunkers” were something totally different 100 years ago and this Rule made sense at that time. But on golf courses all across the world, this same situation plays out every time a storm rolls through.
The Rule is fine except that the penalty is unnecessary. Perhaps, in theory, you could manipulate the Rule by going so far back from the bunker that an extra advantage is gained, and thus the need for the penalty.
But why not split the difference and require the drop outside the bunker within one club length, no nearer the hole. Then, in J.B.’s situation, he has to carry a bunker and land the ball on the green, a challenge in and of itself. Wouldn’t this make more sense and eliminate the need to penalize the player?
The Rules of Golf never cease to amaze me.