Watching your errant shots land in hazards (water hazards and bunkers) can make for a trying day on the links. Knowing what you may or may not do when your ball lies in a hazard can avoid compounding your misery with penalty strokes.
Grounding your club in a hazard (other than during your stroke, which is the downward motion of the club) will cost you two strokes (or In Dustin Johnson’s case, the PGA championship). In a grassy area within a hazard, you are considered to have grounded your club if the grass is compressed to the point where it supports the weight of the club. Touching the surface of the water in a water hazard is prohibited. If your ball lies outside the hazard and your stance is in the hazard, you may ground your club in the hazard.
While loose impediments (stones, twigs, leaves, branches, etc.) may be removed on other parts of the course, touching or moving a loose impediment in a hazard will cost you two strokes. An exception applies if it is necessary to move loose impediments to identify your ball but they must be replaced prior to making your stroke. Be careful: if your ball moves while moving the loose impediments, then you will incur a penalty stroke. You are not penalized if you accidentally move a loose impediment.
It is also impermissible to “test the condition of a hazard.” This rule is intended to prevent any action by which a player might gain information about the hazard that would aid him in making his stroke, such as sticking an object into sand or soil, smoothing a bunker or kicking the ground. Digging into the sand with your feet while taking a normal stance is not considered testing the condition of the hazard. A new exception to this rule clarifies that a player may smooth sand or soil in a hazard at any time, even before making a stroke, provided it is for the sole purpose of caring for the course and such action does not improve the lie of the ball, the area of the player’s stance or the line of play. So, you may smooth footprints you make in a bunker while walking to your ball as long as they are not on your line of play.
What if both your ball and your opponent’s ball lie in the same bunker and your opponent’s stroke splashes sand and alters your lie or stance? A rules decision explains that principles of equity entitle you to restore the bunker to its original condition by raking or other means.
Jack Ross completed an intensive PGA/USGA rules workshop and has officiated at state amateur competitions. Rules inquiries may be directed to RossGolf@charter.net.