Can I Get Free Relief from a Flooded Putting Green or Bunker?

Bunkers Filled with Temporary Water

Under normal circumstances Rule 16.1c deals with the problem of Temporary Water in Bunkers.

However, on some occasions, when the amount of water is great and a bunker is flooded, it may not be enough to ensure fair play.

A Committee may, under these circumstances choose to treat that bunker as Ground Under Repair (GUR) in the General Area from which, free-relief would be allowed outside the bunker.

This they may do under a Local Rule, but should only use this rule on a case-by-case basis; it is not permitted to to make a Local Rule that would declare all flooded bunkers as GUR.

Model Local Rule F-16).

Bunker Filled with Temporary Water

Purpose. If a bunker is flooded, free relief under Rule 16.1c may not be sufficient to allow for fair play. A Committee can choose to treat that bunker as ground under repair in the general area from which free relief is allowed outside the bunker.

The Committee should only use this Local Rule on a case-by-case basis and is not authorized to make a Local Rule providing generally that all flooded bunkers are ground under repair. See Model Local Rule F-16.

Model Local Rule F-16

“The flooded bunker on [insert location of bunker; for example, left of 5th green] is ground under repair in the general area. It is not treated as a bunker during the round.

If the player’s ball lies in or touches this ground under repair or the ground under repair interferes with the player’s stance or area of intended swing, the player may take free relief under Rule 16.1b .

All other bunkers on the course, whether they contain temporary water or not, are still bunkers for all purposes under the Rules.

Penalty for Playing Ball from a Wrong Place in Breach of Local Rule: General Penalty Under Rule 14.7a.

Should a Committee not adopt this Local Rule, when necessary, then Rule 16.1c must apply, which can lead to some confusion when a bunker is flooded.

I was asked recently to clarify the ruling on relief from flooded bunkers following a player’s recent experience which he describes as follows:

‘The green-keeper forgot to put GUR in a bunker that was 95% under water.
There was a very small bit of dry sand at the edge but I would have had to stand in the water to hit the ball.
I Ended up taking a penalty shot outside the bunker.
Should I have had a free drop?
The rule book is not very clear’.

I understand the problem and agree that the rule, especially in the Players’ Edition is too concise and not clear on how you may take relief in these situations.

We all understand that, normally, when taking relief from an abnormal course condition we must play from an area that provides us with complete relief from that condition, and this applies to position of the ball, stance and area of swing.

In the situation described, in order to have had free relief, the player would have had to have played his ball from within the bunker, either as it lay or by dropping it in the only dry area of sand; but he knew he could not play a stroke when his stance would still be in the abnormal course condition without incurring a General Penalty of 2 Strokes, you must take full relief from the temporary water.

Under the circumstances the player chose a quite reasonable option which, unfortunately, carried a 1-stroke penalty.

However, when your ball comes to rest in an abnormal course condition, as his did in temporary water, in a bunker or on the putting-green and there is no ‘nearest point of complete relief’, the Rules of Golf allow another option in these situations where you can still get free-relief and play your ball from or take a stance at a point that offers the least interference from the abnormal course condition, which could still be in the abnormal course condition.

This is where confusion can arise because not many players know about this option nor, if they do, understand its application fully.

This option is known as taking ‘the Nearest Point of Maximum Available Relief’ and is defined in the Rules of Golf as:

‘The reference point for taking free relief from an abnormal course condition in a bunker (Rule 16.1c) or on the putting green (Rule 16.1d) when there is no nearest point of complete relief.
It is the estimated point where the ball would lie that is:
• Nearest to the ball’s original spot, but not nearer the hole than that spot,
• In the required area of the course, and
• Where that abnormal course condition least interferes with the stroke the player would have made from the original spot if the condition was not there.
Estimating this reference point requires the player to identify the choice of club, stance, swing and line of play the player would have used for that stroke.
The player does not need to simulate that stroke by taking an actual stance and swinging with the chosen club (but it is recommended that the player normally do this to help in making an accurate estimate).
The point of maximum available relief is found by comparing the relative amount of interference with the lie of the ball and the player’s area of intended stance and swing and, on the putting green only, the line of play. For example, when taking relief from temporary water:
• The point of maximum available relief may be where the ball will be in shallower water than where the player will stand (affecting the stance more than the lie and swing), or where the ball is in deeper water than where the player will stand (affecting the lie and swing more than the stance).
• On the putting green, the point of maximum available relief may be based on the line of play where the ball will need to go through the shallowest or shortest stretch of temporary water.

Therefore in the situation described, the player could have dropped his ball in the small area of dry sand, taken his stance in the temporary water and played his ball, without penalty.

In my opinion, there are six relevant points that you should bear in mind about taking ‘Maximum Available Relief’:

1. This option only applies to situations where there is no ‘nearest point of complete relief’ from an abnormal course condition on a putting-green or in a bunker.

2. Estimating this reference point, where that abnormal course condition least interferes with the stroke you would have made from the original spot if the condition was not there, requires you to identify the choice of club, stance, swing and line of play you would have used for that stroke.
You do not need to simulate that stroke by taking an actual stance and swinging with the chosen club (but it is recommended that you normally do this to help in making an accurate estimate).

3. There is a difference between the options for on the putting-green and in a bunker; in a bunker the reference point must be in the bunker not in the General Area, whereas on the putting-green the reference point could be in the General Area, because in this situation line-of-play comes into play.

4. If you take maximum available relief, you will still have interference, although hopefully reduced, from the abnormal course condition and if you are still not happy with the lie, you still have the option to take back-on-the-line relief with 1-stroke penalty. If you do this the reference point for taking this relief is where your ball came to rest after taking the maximum available relief.

5. If you drop your ball in an area that provides the least possible interference to your stance or stroke and the ball rolls back into an area of the abnormal course condition that does not provide the same level of relief, then you may re-drop your, should it again roll into the abnormal course condition then you may place it where it contacted the ground on the second drop.

6. If you take maximum available relief from temporary water, for example, and drop your ball in a shallow part of the temporary water, say a depth of ¼ inch, and your ball rolls into a deeper part of the temporary water, say ½ inch, you may lift and re-drop your ball, if it again rolls into the deeper water then you may place your ball at the point where it was last dropped.

I hope this helps to clarify the situation of dealing with relief from flooded bunkers and putting-greens.

Enjoy your golf.

Best wishes


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2 Replies to “Can I Get Free Relief from a Flooded Putting Green or Bunker?”

  1. I find it hard to believe that you have to place your ball in and putt through water on the putting green when it is saturated with surface water. I would expect the comittee to deem the course unplayable if this issue was a problem on several holes!

    1. Quite understand your problem, but for Club competitions a Committee member is not always available to make a decision and temporary water on a few holes may not necessarily be regarded as a reason to deem a course unplayable and so prevent players from completing a round of golf.

      Extreme adverse weather conditions that present themselves once a competition has started are a challenge for any Committee and one that affects golf clubs worldwide.

      If a competition has a Committee in attendance then decisions relating to play when certain adverse weather conditions prevail can easily be made, but in most club competitions no committee member may be available and players will have to fall back on the Rules of Golf in order to cope with certain situations in order to complete their round of golf.

      Committee Procedures on the Rules of Golf 5A(8), 6E(4) and 6E(2) provide some assistance but much of this guidance relates to competitions played over more than one round i.e. 36 or 72-hole competitions, when there is usually some flexibility to suspend play and resume the following day or, if absolutely necessary, reduce the number of rounds in order to complete the competition on schedule.

      At club level problems more frequently relate to 18-hole club stroke play events and one-day open competitions; there is rarely an opportunity to extend these events over to the following day although sometimes completely rescheduling the competition is a possibility.

      A Committee may have to make a judgement based on the particular situation but as far as the Rules of Golf are concerned, some important points must be borne in mind:

      1. The Rules of Golf are written with the underlying assumption that all players in the field will be able to complete their stipulated round (excepting for Disqualification or No Returns etc); if that is not possible the round will be cancelled.
      2. There is no authority within the Rules of Golf for a Committee to determine that a competition result will be declared if a certain percentage of the field e.g. 50% / 75% have completed their rounds.
      3. The Committee has no power to reduce the number of holes of a stipulated round once play has commenced on that round (Committee Procedures 5A(8) ).

      Ultimately the Committee must determine the procedures for any given situation and must try to be as fair as possible to all competitors in any competition field and within reason allow competitors to complete their round and post a result.

      No one solution fits all situations and for many club events there will not be any Committee representative in the clubhouse and the players will be left to play on or discontinue as they see fit, seeking relief or otherwise according to the Rules of Golf, with the Committee left to sort out the situation retrospectively.

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