Friday, 15 January 2010

Loose Impediments in Bunkers (and Michelle Wie)

Many players are confused as to what they are permitted to touch and move in a bunker when their ball lies in the same bunker. I hope that I can clear this up with a number of examples.

First, let me remind you that you are permitted to move or remove anything artificial (movable obstruction) from a bunker, or water hazard, at any time; but you may not purposely move or remove anything natural (loose impediment). For a detailed explanation of this click here.

Now, let’s take this a step further. The scenario is that Mary has hit her ball into a fairway bunker, which, following a storm, contains leaves, twigs and small branches from nearby trees. Here are some situations, some of which incur a penalty and some of which do not. When a penalty is incurred it is two strokes in stroke play (2s) or loss of hole (loh) in match play.

  • Mary disturbs several leaves as she enters the bunker and walks up to her ball - no penalty.
  • Mary disturbs some leaves as she fairly takes her stance in the bunker – no penalty.
  • Mary picks up a leaf (or any loose impediment) from the bunker - penalty 2s or loh.
  • Mary steps well away from her ball and with a practice swing accidentally moves a small twig lying in the bunker - penalty 2s or loh (corrected - see next blog entry).
  • Mary prepares to take her shot and with a practice swing accidentally moves a small twig lying in the bunker - penalty 2s or loh.
  • During Mary’s backswing she moves a small twig lying in the bunker - penalty 2s or loh.
  • During her stroke (which starts with the forward movement of the club) she moves a leaf lying in the bunker - no penalty, because the restriction on touching loose impediments in the same bunker only applies before commencing the downswing of the stroke.
With regard to the penultimate example above, you may not have seen this short video of an incident involving Michelle Wie, when she touched and moved a loose piece of moss that was lying in the bunker, as she commenced her backswing. Take a look at this video clip first and then check out my interpretation below.

I hope that it all makes sense now. Let me know if you have any questions.

Happy golfing,

Barry Rhodes

For those of you that were lucky enough to get an iPhone or iTouch from Santa check out the application ‘Golf Rules Quiz’ in the Apple iStore or click here.


John said...

Now I'm really confused. First you state that the backstroke is not part of the stroke, then you say you cannot touch loose impediments during such action. Please clarify.

Barry Rhodes said...

John, I'm confused as to why you are confused! It is BECAUSE the backswing is not part of the stroke that the player incurs a penalty if they touch/move a loose impediment in a bunker with their backswing. Rule 13-4 includes these words;
"Except as provided in the Rules, before making a stroke at a ball that is in a hazard... the player must not:
...c. Touch or move a loose impediment lying in or touching the hazard."
As emphasised in my explanation of the Michelle Wie incident, a stroke starts with the FORWARD movement of the club.

I hope that this helps you understand the principle. Now check out the Michelle Wie video again.


courtgolf said...

The bunker looks like it would have been from the Women's Open at St Andrews - but I don't remember the situation or if she was penalized for moving that leaf.

Seeing that Wie said that the rules are too boring for her to read, I'm guessing she wouldn't have called it on herself.

Barry Rhodes said...


A quick Google search provided the information that the moss incident occurred at the 2006 British Open at Lytham St. Annes. Michelle was informed of the penalty of two strokes after finishing her round and entering the scorer's office.


Anonymous said...

Hi Barry,

Could you provide confirmation that the below "no penalty" situation you include is a RB interpretation and not simply your own?

"Mary steps well away from her ball and with a practice swing accidentally moves a small twig lying in the bunker - no penalty."

I have many doubts . . .


Barry Rhodes said...


Following several similar comments to yours that I have received, I too now have my doubts about relying on Decision 13-4/13 for this example.

I intend to write about this in more detail on my blog in the next day or two. There is ongoing discussion on the 'In Depth Analysis' section of the Leith Society forum and one of their esteemed members has written to the R&A for their definitive ruling. The majority (including me now) think that Rule 13-4 and Decision 13-4/28 suggest that a penalty is incurred and that Decision 13-4/13 should therefore be revised. It all revolves around the interpretation of the word 'accidentally'.

Apologies if I have confused anyone over this, but the Rules of Golf can be an inexact science!


Unknown said...

what happens if your ball is buried in the bunker and covered by leaves how do you identify it

Barry Rhodes said...

Robert Rule 12-1b deals explicitly with this issue, 'Searching for or Identifying Ball Covered by Loose Impediments in Hazard'.