So You Hit Into a Bunker Full of Water: Now What?

Can you get a free drop out of the water? Can you drop outside the bunker?

Michelle Wie picks up her ball after hitting into casual water in a bunker during the 2006 Women's US Open
Even the pros - this is Michelle Wie during the 2006 US Women's Open - sometimes have to deal with water in a bunker. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

What are the options for a golfer who hits a ball into a bunker that has standing water in it? Do you have to play the ball out of the water? Do you get a free drop outside the bunker?

The scenario is this: You're playing on a golf course that has some water on it - after a rain, or after the sprinkler system busted. Whatever. There's standing water in various places around the course. You play a stroke and, whoops, your ball winds up in a bunker.

So you trudge up to the bunker to play a sand shot, only to discover that the bunker has water in it, and your ball is in that water. Do you get to drop outside of that bunker?

Only if you're willing to take a 1-stroke penalty. You can drop, without penalty, in another part of the same bunker, but a drop outside the bunker will cost you a penalty stroke.

Standing Water In a Bunker Is Casual Water

The water pooled in that bunker is casual water under the Rules of Golf: "...  a temporary accumulation of water on the course that is not in a water hazard and is visible before or after the player takes his stance."

Options for Relief When You Hit Into Casual Water Inside a Bunker

If your ball comes to rest in casual water within a bunker, you may drop without penalty at the nearest point of relief within the bunker, no nearer the hole. That applies no matter what the condition is of the rest of the bunker.

If the rest of the bunker is dry, great. But even if the entire bunker contains water, the same rule applies - if you drop, you must drop within that bunker to avoid penalty. So if the bunker is completely filled with water, your only option to improve the situation without penalty is this, according to the USGA Web site:

"... the player may drop the ball in the bunker at a point that provides maximum available relief (i.e., in 1 inch of water rather than 5 inches)."

If you are unwilling to drop inside the bunker, then you can assess yourself a 1-stroke penalty and drop outside the bunker, no nearer the hole.

In the rule book, these options are covered in Rule 25-1(b), which addresses relief from abnormal ground conditions (casual water falls under the abnormal ground condition label). Basically, a free drop out of casual water is available on the putting green, on the teeing grounds and through the green. And also if you lift your ball out of casual water in a bunker but drop it within the bunker.

So why penalize a golfer when the option to drop on dry sand within a bunker doesn't exist because the entire bunker is full of water?

Well, bunkers are hazards. You're supposed to avoid them, even when they are in perfect condition. Dropping outside the bunker would be an advantage for most golfers, so you don't get to do it scot-free.

Moral of the story: Avoid bunkers - especially after a heavy rain.

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