2019 rules changes to know: Escape an unplayable lie in the bunker

On Jan. 1, more than 30 changes to the Rules of Golf — some small, others significant — will take effect. To get you ready, this holiday season GOLF.com is rolling out a series, “The 12 Days of Rules Changes,” to ensure you always play by the rules, starting with your opening round of the year.

The Topic: How a drop from an unplayable lie in a bunker could help you (and speed up play)

The Old Rule: No relief outside of the bunker other than playing from where the golfer’s last stroke was made under the stroke and distance provision.

The New Rule: If a player deems a ball unplayable in the bunker, they now have an option to remove their ball from the sand without going back to the spot of their previous shot. Players can take relief outside of the sand on a line from the hole to where the ball came to rest in the bunker, but at a cost of two penalty strokes (Rule 19.3b). Players are still allowed to drop in the bunker within two club-lengths of the ball, or, behind the ball on a straight line from the hole, for one penalty stroke. But if they want to go out of the sand, under the new rules addition, it will cost an additional stroke.

A golfer takes a drop out of the bunker.

Come 2019, players can take relief outside of the sand on a line from the hole to where the ball came to rest in the bunker.

Why It Was Changed: Some bunkers, especially those with steep walls, can be nightmares. Giving players the option to drop out of the bunker also improves their chances of finishing the hole and speeding up play. The penalty of two strokes is also severe enough that this practice won’t become a common exercise for players who are easily able to escape the sand.

How It Can Help You: Let me tell you how this rule could have helped me as I try to explain how it could help you. Last fall I was finishing up a round at Old Macdonald at Bandon Dunes when I came to the par-5 15th. My drive found the fairway and I had to decide between a 3-wood that, if hit pure, would maybe roll onto the green or a layup to give me a wedge in. As you probably guessed, I chose a 3-wood, hit it thin and landed in the one place I didn’t want to be — the mammoth bunker on the right side of the fairway about 70 yards short of the green (pictured below). It’s complete with a huge lip and railroad ties, and my ball was tight up against the front. My lie was terrible. From there it was a disaster — swing after swing kicked up sand…but my ball never escaped. I’ll hold back on the details of my score, but if this rule existed a year earlier I could have taken advantage. Removing my ball from the sand and back onto the fairway would have left me about 90 yards to the green. Hitting on and two-putting would have allowed me to escape with a double bogey. If you are in a similar situation next time you’re on the course, remember this rules change could help you, too.

The 15th hole at Old Macdonald at Bandon Dunes.

The fairway bunker on the 15th on Old Macdonald at Bandon Dunes (middle) is no joke.