The second in a series of monthly Rules explanations from PGA of SA rules official Theo Manyama to help readers get more familiar with the problems they might encounter on the course
Any golfer will tell you that bunkers can be a nasty business. But it’s not just the golfers who have to be wary of these hazards. The same goes for rules officials. On Tour player and rules official have to really be careful when it comes to decisions regarding a ball in a bunker, and that’s what I’d like to clarify this month.
Bunkers fall under the general rule, 13-4, regarding a ball in a hazard. So, if your ball comes to rest in a bunker, what can and can’t you do as a player?
For a start, you may not remove any loose impediment in that bunker. Except one, which I’ll get to later. But let’s first clarify what a loose impediment is. It is defined as all natural things. So it does not matter whether that loose impediment is interfering with your stance or your intended area of swing. If you move it, you will incur a two-shot penalty.
So what can you remove from a bunker if it is interfering with your stance or intended area of swing? Any obstructions that are man-made. This includes anything from an empty cooldrink tin to a cigarette butt, or even the bunker rake. But be careful. You have to mark the position of your ball first so that if when you remove the obstruction and your ball moves, there is not penalty. You simply replace the ball.
Now, to get back to the exception when it comes to loose impediments.
Stones have been excluded from this and all tours now treat stones in bunkers under local rules. You are allowed to move a stone that is maybe resting behind or in front of your ball, or which will interfere with your stance or intended area of swing.
The reason for this exception is that a stone can hurt either the golfer or spectators if it is hit. So a stone in a bunker is classed as a moveable obstruction.
But because golf specialises in some absurd moments when it comes to the rules, let’s take another example.
What happens if there is a greenside bunker with an overhanging tree, and during a tournament round there is a strong wind and a branch falls into the bunker. A player’s ball lands in the middle of this branch and leaves. What does he do? Well, he either takes a penalty shot or he tries to play it out of there. But he may not move that branch.
However, if he hits his ball into this same greenside bunker, and while walking to his ball a strong wind comes up, dislodges a branch and it falls onto the ball, what can he then do?
Well now he is entitled to relief because he is entitled to his original lie.
Water in a bunker?
Why am I clarifying this now? Well, I can tell you that every single day during a tournament we deal with breaches of this rule by the professionals. A player often thinks he is entitled to remove a twig or some loose grass, or even a divot that a previous player made outside the bunker and the divot flew into the bunker, obstructing the next player’s ball in the bunker. These are all loose impediments that may not be moved.
Bunkers are hard enough to get out of, so make sure that you’re not in even more trouble just when you step into one.
Theo Manyama has long been one of world golf’s most respected rules officials.
In 2015, Manyama completed his “Grand Slam” of having officiated at every single Major when he was invited to officiate at the PGA Championship.
He also received the Minister’s Excellence Award at the annual South African Sports Excellence Awards, awarded to him by the Minister of Sport and Recreation, the Honourable Fikile Mbalula.
As a tournament director and rules official, Manyama is respected worldwide by players and officials alike.
Manyama has officiated at 16 Masters, nine US Opens, 19 Open Championships, and one PGA Championship, as well as countless World Golf Championship and regular tour events.