Ask the Rules Guy: Casual water and bunker badlands

Tuesday January 11th, 2011
Jason Raish

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Hey, Rules Guy: After a recent overabundance of rain, our course's 'ditches' have become lakes. The lateral hazard markers, which normally span a five-foot ditch, are in the middle of what has become a 30-yard-wide casual-water obstacle. On one hole my tee shot went into the water and landed with a visible splash. We could not be 'virtually certain' whether the ball landed in the hazard or casual water. I didn't feel like taking a swim to find my ball, but I wasn't sure how to proceed and whether I had to take a penalty.
— K.B., via e-mail

If you knew that your ball stopped outside the normal boundaries of the water hazard, you could proceed under Decision 25/2, taking a free drop in a safe location no nearer the hole. Since you admit that you can't be sure, however, you have to assume that your ball landed in the hazard itself (Decision 1-4/7). Take one stroke and a drop (Rule 26-1c) — and if dropping your ball within two club-lengths of where it entered the hazard is still too wet, drop it no nearer to the hole at the nearest point of relief. Sure you'll still have to take a penalty, but at least your shoes should stay dry.

\nEmperor of Rules: Late in the round, my friend had a long birdie putt on a green filled with small leaves. Instead of picking the leaves up, he took a golf towel and swung it like a helicopter, smacking the green clear. While he didn't do any damage, I told him there's no way that was legal. Was I right?
— Ben Sykes, Charlottesville, Va.

As you know, the Rules allow you to remove loose impediments on the putting green without penalty, but they provide no preferred method to do so. According to Decision 16-1a/8, a player may use his towel, cap, or any reasonable object to clear a path to the hole, as long as he doesn't "press down" the grass in his line of putt. And that includes swinging your towel around like a high school kid in a locker room.

\nRules Replier: I hit into a par 5 and found my ball in a bunker in front of the green. In the middle of the bunker was a 'Ground Under Repair' sign. The bunker was in total disarray and there was no obvious place to drop my ball in the hazard because the entire bunker appeared to be 'under repair.' My opponent told me I had to drop it in the bunker. After debating this issue I did just that and blasted it over the green, chunked two more shots and eventually took a 9 on the hole. Please give me peace of mind that I had other options under the wonderful Rules of Golf!
— Josh Croston, Canton, Ohio

While your buddy was correct that you were not entitled to drop your ball outside the bunker without penalty, that does not mean that staying in the sand was your only option. Rule 25-1b gives you the option of dropping your ball outside the bunker, keeping the point where your ball originally sat between your drop and the hole. It would've cost you a penalty stroke, but considering the fiasco that ensued, I think you'd agree that it probably would have been a small price to pay.

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