When is a bunker not a bunker

I expect most of us think that we know a bunker when we see one, especially after the Dustin Johnson ‘bunker-gate’ at Whistling Straights in 2010. Well, it may not be quite as simple as you think. Let me start by referencing the Definition of Bunker;

A “bunker” is a hazard consisting of a prepared area of ground, often a hollow, from which turf or soil has been removed and replaced with sand or the like.

Grass-covered ground bordering or within a bunker, including a stacked turf face (whether grass-covered or earthen), is not part of the bunker. A wall or lip of the bunker not covered with grass is part of the bunker. The margin of a bunker extends vertically downwards, but not upwards.

A ball is in a bunker when it lies in or any part of it touches the bunker.

There are several points to note here;

  • The ball in this photo is not in the bunker, because it lies on grass covered ground within the bunker.
  • A stacked turf bunker face (also known as a revetted bunker face) is not part of the bunker.
  • A natural, earth wall of a bunker is part of the bunker, even though there may be no sand left on it.
  • An artificial wall of a bunker (e.g. lined with wooden sleepers) is an immovable obstruction, unless a Local Rule makes the construction integral to the course.
  • A ball that enters an abnormal ground condition (e.g. a hole made by a burrowing animal) in a bunker, rolls underneath and past the margin of the bunker, is not in the bunker, because it is outside the margin, which extends downwards.
  • A ball that partly touches grass that is outside the bunker and sand that is inside the bunker is in the bunker.

Some Decisions on bunkers reveal further points;

  • Sand that has spilled over the margin of the bunker is not part of the bunker, Decision 13/1.
  • A ball lies that lies on the edge of the bunker, overhanging the lip but not touching the sand, is not in the bunker, because the margin does not extend vertically upwards.
  • A ball that is completely embedded in the vertical lip of a bunker that is not grass-covered is in the bunker, so there is no relief for an embedded ball, Decision 13/4.
  • A ball that is lying on any type of obstruction in a bunker (e.g. a rake, or exposed plastic lining) is in the bunker, Decision 13/5.

Finally, many modern golf courses have unmaintained, natural areas that are incorrectly referred to as ‘waste bunkers’, whereas they should properly be referred to as waste areas, because they are not bunkers within the Definition (as above). These waste areas typically have a sand, gravel or crushed shell surface area. They are sometimes designed by modern-day course architects as another difficult condition for golfers to negotiate, or more often, to reduce maintenance costs. In the Rules of Golf these waste areas are simply ‘through the green’.

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