Applying the Rules of Golf to the dynamic landscape of a golf course is always going to present some challenges. Recognizing this fact, some of the recent changes to the Rules were designed specifically to address common course conditions, and to provide facilities with greater flexibility in how courses are maintained and set up. This flexibility can translate into more efficient golf course management and a better golf experience for all of us.
Moving loose impediments in a bunker is now permitted.
In the past, you were not allowed to touch or move loose impediments in bunkers except to find your ball. This included stones, leaves, sticks and any other natural objects. The restriction on moving loose impediments created some potentially frustrating situations for golfers and put pressure on superintendents to keep bunkers free of debris, which is very costly and almost impossible to achieve at certain times of year.
Finding stones in a bunker is a common occurrence at many golf courses, including some of the world’s best. USGA agronomist Paul Jacobs visits golf courses that have struggled with stones in bunker sand and hears concerns from golfers on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the options for addressing this situation are limited.
“Once stones are present in bunker sand, it is almost impossible to completely remove them without an expensive bunker renovation project that can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Jacobs. “That is simply out of reach for many golf facilities. It’s also unnecessary if the stones are having a relatively minor impact on playability.”
While there was a Local Rule that allowed golfers to move stones in bunkers, many facilities did not utilize the Local Rule and many golfers were not necessarily aware whether that option was available at the course they were playing. The resulting confusion led to playability concerns and potential Rules infractions.
Jamie Wallace, the USGA’s manager of Rules education and digital content, explains how the new rule is different:
“Under the new Rules of Golf, all loose impediments, including stones, can be removed from a bunker at any time. There is no need for a Local Rule. However, you still need to be careful when removing a loose impediment in a bunker as a penalty will apply if you cause your ball to move.”
Jacobs sees benefits for golfers and superintendents with this change. “Even when the maintenance staff cleans bunkers in the morning, debris may collect throughout the day. This change in the Rules gives golfers added flexibility to address these situations, which leads to better playability and allows the superintendent to allocate resources more efficiently.”