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embedded ball in bunker

My ball is embedded in the face of a bunker – can I take relief?

Can you extract it without penalty and how on earth are you going to drop it? Don’t fret, our Rules of Golf expert is on hand to help

 

If I had a top 10 of emails I get on rules subjects, this one would be in it – a ball embedded in a bunker, whether that’s the wall, lip, face, or revetted edge.

Not only does the sight of your ball crushed into soil seem to send many of you into a quiver, but there is also the obvious question: ‘if I can take relief, where do I?’

Do you have to drop into the bunker? What if you can’t get the ball to remain in its relief area?

Never fear golfers. I am hoping the next few paragraphs will help clear your mind and deal with a situation that we can see relatively frequently out on the course.

Golf ball embedded in bunker

If the ball is embedded in sand, tough luck. If, though, it is embedded in the “lip, wall or face” then rejoice.

These are not part of a bunker, says the definition: “A lip, wall or face at the edge of a prepared area and consisting of soil, grass, stacked turf, or artificial materials”.

So where is it then? It’s in the general area and you can take embedded ball relief under Rule 16.3b.

There is a caveat. If you’re at a links course in particular, make sure to look at the Local Rules on the back of the scorecard or in the clubhouse. It’s not uncommon for clubs to refuse free relief for a ball embedded in the stacked turf face or soil above a bunker. The R&A do this at their championships, including The Open, and so do England Golf.

If you’re not stymied in this way, though, then you can have free relief. Your reference point is the spot right behind where the ball is embedded and you drop in a one club relief area.

That relief area can’t be closer to the hole then that reference point, must be in the general area, and the ball has to come to rest in the relief area.

official guide to the rules of golf

The latter of which begs the question, ‘what if it doesn’t?’ If you drop and your ball lands in the bunker, for instance, you are dropping again. If you do it that and it still doesn’t stay in the relief area then you need to try and place it.

Maybe you can get it to stick in a stacked turf face but, for most of you, you’re not going to be able to place it either. But you’ve got to try.

You do it twice and then, under Rule 14.2e, you “must replace the ball by placing it on the nearest spot where the ball will stay at rest” that is in the general area and no nearer the hole.

Let’s go back. You also know that to take embedded ball relief, you use the spot immediately behind the ball that’s in the general area. What if there isn’t such a spot?

What if it embeds in the wall or face right above a bunker, and there is nothing below it but sand? There is a clarification to Rule 16.3b that reveals what to do.

You are required to find the nearest spot in the general area that “is not nearer the hole to the spot immediately behind where the ball embedded, and this spot becomes the reference point for establishing a relief area”.

The clarification says that, often, this will be very close to the spot behind where the ball embedded. But it also allows for the possibility that it could be “some distance away” and you might have to move either left or right to find that spot that isn’t closer to the hole.

Got a question for our expert?

Despite the changes to the Rules of Golf in 2019 and 2023, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. I’ll try to help by featuring the best of your queries in this column.

What do you think about this ball embedded in bunker rule and bunker rules in general? Let me know by leaving a comment on X.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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