Monday, 17 August 2015

Stones in Bunkers and Ant Hills

Aug 2015: Jordan Spieth removes bunker stones at Chambers Bay
Jordan Spieth encountered a Rules situation during his first round at the Whistling Straights PGA Championship, when he found that his ball was lying on a stone in a bunker. The first point to note is that by definition stones are loose impediments wherever they lie. So, when a ball and a stone lie in or touch the same hazard, the stone may not be removed. However, if a Committee determines that stones in bunkers may pose a danger to players, they may implement a permanent Local Rule stating that they are movable obstructions and this was the case at Whistling Straights. I understand that some Committees grant this relief for stones throughout the course and not just to bunkers, though personally, I have not come across this extension to the specimen Local Rule in Appendix l, Part B, 5, which states:
Stones are, by definition, loose impediments and, when a player’s ball is in a hazard, a stone lying in or touching the hazard may not be touched or moved (Rule 13-4). However, stones in bunkers may represent a danger to players (a player could be injured by a stone struck by the player’s club in an attempt to play the ball) and they may interfere with the proper playing of the game.

When permission to lift a stone in a bunker is warranted, the following Local Rule is recommended:

“Stones in bunkers are movable obstructions (Rule 24-1 applies).”
Jordan was entitled to remove the stone lying beneath his ball before making his stroke from the bunker. Because the Local Rule deemed stones in bunkers to be movable obstructions, Rule 24-1b applied. This permits a player to lift their ball when it lies on a movable obstruction and remove the obstruction. Spieth’s ball then had to be dropped in the bunker, as near as possible to the spot directly under the place where his ball lay on the stone, but not nearer the hole.

Bubba Watson and the Ant Hill
As long-time readers of this blog will know, many tournament players (and their caddies) are not as aware of the Rules of Golf as they should be. Bubba Watson spent a few minutes unsuccessfully trying to persuade a Rules Official that he was entitled to relief from one of the many ant hills on the Whistling Straits course, because, a) his ball lay in a "dangerous situation", and b) ants are burrowing animals. Quite rightly the Rules Official denied Bubba relief because, a) most species of ants are clearly not dangerous, although, as the Rules Official correctly pointed out, some species, such as fire-ants, can be, but they are not present on the Whistling Straits course, and b) the definition of burrowing animals specifically excludes insects;

A "burrowing animal" is an animal (other than a worm, insect or the like) that makes a hole for habitation or shelter, such as a rabbit, mole, groundhog, gopher or salamander.
Decision 23/5 shows that ant hills may be treated as a loose impediment;
Q. Is an ant hill a loose impediment?
A. Yes. A player is entitled to remove an ant hill under Rule 23-1.
Note that if that if ants on a course are considered to be dangerous, a Committee would be justified in stating that their ant hills may be treated as ground under repair, but this would be unusual (Decision 33-8/22).

Most of the videos of this Rules incident have been taken down, but at the time of writing this link was still live. Scroll down below the Vine clip, to the video with the statement, “Just watch and learn as professor Bubba Watson teaches everyone about animals”. The video is about 5 minutes long and could take a little while to load, but I think that Rules enthusiasts will be interested in the exchange and will probably not be surprised that Watson, his caddie and the TV commentators all got the ruling wrong. Even the Rules Official (Graeme Scott from the Australian Tour), who presumably had been briefed on rulings that could arise on the course, asked for a second opinion.

As he prepared to address his ball amongst the ants Bubba joked, "Ow, It Bit Me", presumably sarcastically, in the direction of the Rules Official. As it happened he could have (should have?) saved himself, the official and his fellow competitor, Hunter Mahon, over five minutes wasted time, as he went on to birdie the hole from his 'antsy' lie.

Good golfing,


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Mr. Bean said...


in my country (Finland) it is rather customary to declare ant hills on the course as Ground Under Repair. This is to avoid people damaging them.

Barry Rhodes said...

Mr. Bean,

Let me just clarify for others that only Committees may introduce a Local Rule declaring ant hills as GUR and not players!


Andy said...

With regards to stones in bunkers. At my club (not owned but the members but an English council owned course and thus not very well maintained), we have many bunkers with known stone issues. Our club secretary has told us we can check under our ball in a bunker for stones if we suspect they are there. I am wondering if this is legal under the Rules of Golf, and of so, what are the mechanics involved/allowed?

For instance, can I mark my ball position with four tees; lift the ball, sieve the sand under the ball free of stones letting only the sand through, then drop the ball hoping to hit the area I've just sieved?

Barry Rhodes said...


I am confident that this Local Rule is not consistent with the policy set forth in Appendix l, which states "Stones in bunkers are movable obstructions (Rule 24-1 applies)." There is no provision in the Rules of Golf that permits players to lift a ball to see if there is a movable obstruction lying under it.

There is a simple precaution to avoid anyone being hurt by a flying stone, which is to ensure that no-one is standing in the vicinity of where the bunker shot is being played from.


AndyP said...

Hi Barry,

As stones in bunkers are movable obstructions (due to the implementation of a Local Rule), they can be removed. I don't see any provisions in the Rules of Golf that says the stone(s) need to be visible, merely that if they exist they can be removed. Stones in bunkers 'may represent a danger to player', therefore it is a simple precaution (at my course at least) to identify if there are stones under the ball. Flying stones are one danger, as is hitting a stone with a golf club (potential wrist injury).

Barry Rhodes said...


If stones are not visible in the bunker, how are players going to detect them without breaching Rule 13-4b?

I am not going to argue with you over this, but I do strongly recommend that you check this Local Rule with your national golfing authority before introducing it, to ensure that competitions continue to be counting for handicap purposes.