The rules for what you can and can't do in a bunker have caused much confusion in the Covid pandemic. Our Rules of Golf expert takes up the mantle

Hands up those who’ll be watching Boris on Monday, praying he drops any little nugget about the return of golf in England? I’ll certainly be hoping. There’s only so many times you can re-read the rule book in lockdown.

We’ve all had a lot of time on our hands and, for some of us, this period of shutdown has proved an opportunity to contemplate some of golf’s rules questions.

Like Alan Hooper, who got in touch on email to ask: “What is the ruling in bunkers without rakes during the pandemic?

“Does your ball have to be in a footprint, or a hole, before you can place it? If your ball is on a flat bit of sand, can you still pick and place?”

Rules of Golf explained: Our expert says…

Vaccinations or not, we probably won’t have a bunker rake in our hands on a golf course any time soon.

While the R&A have not modified the Rules of Golf, last June they updated comprehensive guidance to help committees run competitions.

If rakes are removed, or if clubs have asked they not be used, clearly the bunkers may not be as well maintained as they might when they are on the course.

We were asked to go old school, using a foot or a club to smooth them as best as possible – even though that might mean someone getting a lie that was less than ideal.

“Coping with imperfect lies, whether in a bunker or elsewhere, is a normal part of the game,” the governing body said.

If that’s what your committee opted for, then tough luck if you’re in a footprint. You have to play it as it lies.

But clubs were also given two other options if, even with best efforts to smooth, the condition of the bunkers were likely to be “so abnormal that it will be clearly unreasonable for players to play the ball as it lies”.

The first was to make bunkers part of the general area and declare all of them to be ground under repair.

The second, and what a lot of clubs did, was to introduce preferred lies. This allowed players to place a ball in the bunker within one club length, or six inches if you were following CONGU rules for competitions, no nearer the hole.

You couldn’t lift the ball, smooth the bunker, and then replace it.

Clubs used Model Local Rule E-3 to get this done and, if you check it out on the R&A’s website, you might recognise it in its usual guise: winter rules.

In the clubs I’ve seen using this, few have put many restrictions on how you can take relief – outside of those already specified by the R&A, CONGU, and the limit on the size of the area.

Here’s an example of the Local Rule in place at Taunton, in Somerset…

“When a player’s ball lies in a bunker the player may take free relief once by placing the original ball or another ball within 6 inches of the original ball, but still within the bunker and not nearer the hole. Penalty for Playing Ball from a Wrong Place in Breach of Local Rule: General Penalty Under Rule 14.7a.”

But as with any local rules specific to a club, it’s always best to check on the noticeboard, or website, to see if they’re doing anything different.

Have a question for our Rules of Golf expert?

Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf at the beginning of 2019, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s level 2 rules exam with distinction, I am more than happy to help.

Click here for the full Rules of Golf explained archive and details of how to submit a question to our expert.

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