Ball Embedded in the Face of a Bunker

More common in the winter when the ground is a bit softer. It is possible for a ball to embed (plug) in a steep soil or stacked turf face above a bunker. Depending on how you proceed you may be able to leave yourself a much easier shot than if you took relief without thinking.

Firstly – do check that there isn’t a local rule in place limiting embedded ball relief to areas mown to fairway height or less, or not allowing free relief from soil or stacked turf faces above bunkers.

Secondly – if any part of your ball is touching the sand, then your ball is in the Bunker and not in the General Area, so embedded ball relief is not allowed.

When embedded ball relief is allowed, your reference point is immediately behind the ball and you Relief Area is:

  • within 1 club length of the Reference Point, and
  • not nearer the hole than the Reference Point, and
  • in the General Area

If there is nowhere that satisfies all these conditions your only options are to play the ball as it lies or take Unplayable Ball Relief under penalty of 1 stroke. (Most likely back-on-the-line and you can choose to drop in the bunker or further back).

It may be that your entire relief area is on the very steep face of the bunker – even if the ball has no chance of coming to rest when dropped on this face you must drop it into the Relief Area and then re-drop it before trying to place the ball where it first contacted the course on the re-drop. If the ball will not come to rest on this point you must then find the nearest position to this point which is:

  • in the General Area, and
  • not nearer the hole, and
  • where the ball will stay at rest

This point may be some way away and is likely to be on the very edge of the bunker or the steep bunker face. For this reason you need to think carefully about where you attempt your drops into your first relief area as this may determine where you will need to place your ball – have a look at the diagram below showing a plan view of a bunker with a steep soil face.

The brown area is a steep turf face down into the sand, so a left handed player will find it easier to play if they redrop at the right hand extremity of their relief area (A), while a right handed player would be better using the left hand extremity (B).

12 thoughts on “Ball Embedded in the Face of a Bunker

  1. Stuart, I would also recommend a comment with respect to the clarification 16.3b (12/2018) , as this could affect your options !

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    1. Thank you Nigel. Its always good having fellow referees keeping me on my toes and making sure that these posts are accurate and not misleading.

      The clarification is as follows:
      “16.3b/C1 Clarification: Player Not Always Allowed to Take Embedded Ball Relief
      If a player’s ball is embedded in the general area but neither the reference point nor any part of the course within one club-length of the reference point is in the general area, the player is not allowed to take free relief under Rule 16.3b.

      For example, free relief is not allowed if:
      – a ball is embedded at the very base of the lip, wall or face above a bunker,
      – the spot right behind the ball is in the bunker and
      – within one club-length of and not nearer the hole from that reference point, there is no part of the relief area that is in the general area.”

      This is what I was trying to describe in my scenario 2b. However, I would clarify that if any part of the ball is touching the sand when it is “embedded at the very base of the lip” then that ball is in the bunker and not teh general area so embedded ball relief is not available.

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  2. As explained by Nigel Duda, 16.3b has been ignored within your first sketch thus points in the sketch “nearest point to place ball at rest” are totally wrong.

    Golf Rules Guru should delete or amend this web page. Sketches are a good way to explain golf rules but they need to be correct.

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    1. Hi Barrie, thank you for your comment.

      I am uncertain as to what you believe to be incorrect within the diagram and how this relates to 16.3b.

      In the diagram we are looking vertically down on a steep turf face (the brown area). The ball is embedded in this steep turf face so is in the general area . Applying 16.3b we have a relief area with a reference point immediately behind the embedded ball, within one club length of that point, and within the general area. However, because the face is steep, when dropped and re-dropped the ball does not come to rest within that relief area and so we need to apply Rule 14.3c which is as follows:

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      1. 14.3c(2) What to Do if Ball Dropped in Right Way Comes to Rest Outside Relief Area. If the ball comes to rest outside the relief area, the player must drop a ball in the right way a second time.

        If that ball also comes to rest outside the relief area, the player must then complete taking relief by placing a ball using the procedures for replacing a ball in Rules 14.2b(2) and 14.2e:

        – The player must place a ball on the spot where the ball dropped the second time first touched the ground.
        – If the placed ball does not stay at rest on that spot, the player must place a ball on that spot a second time.
        – If the ball placed a second time also does not stay on that spot, the player must place a ball on the nearest spot where the ball will stay at rest, subject to the limits in Rule 14.2e.

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      2. While you should work your across the steep face trying to get the ball to be placed at rest, you are likely to end up on the flatter piece of land just off the steep face.

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  3. What is wrong with the diagram is that it mentions “nearest point to place ball at rest” locations. These locations are never an option because of 16.3b.

    The implication of the diagram and wording of the text, that accompanies the diagram, is that you pick redrop A or Redrop B location because you know that dropping at either of these locations will result in the ball not coming to rest within one club length of the nearest point of relief and thus you pick A or B depending upon whether you are right handed or left handed. All irrelevant because of 16.3b.

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    1. Hi Barrie
      Thank you again for your comments. You are correct that the sensible choice of trying to drop at Redrop A or B may depend on whether you are left or right handed. However I think you are reading too much in to 16.3b which I will reproduce here for convenience:

      “16.3b Relief for Embedded Ball
      When a player’s ball is embedded in the general area and relief is allowed under Rule 16.3a, the player may take free relief by dropping the original ball or another ball in this relief area (see Rule 14.3):
      Reference Point:
      – The spot right behind where the ball is embedded.
      Size of Relief Area Measured from Reference Point:
      – One club-length, but with these limits:
      Limits on Location of Relief Area:
      – Must be in the general area, and
      – Must not be nearer the hole than the reference point.”

      I assume that you are looking at the phrase “take free relief by dropping …[a]… ball” and have inferred from this that it is not allowed to subsequently place a ball. However, we need to apply
      Rule 14.3 as referenced in 16.3b above and the particular section here is 14.3c(2) which states:

      “14.3c(2) What to Do if Ball Dropped in Right Way Comes to Rest Outside Relief Area. If the ball comes to rest outside the relief area, the player must drop a ball in the right way a second time.

      If that ball also comes to rest outside the relief area, the player must then complete taking relief by placing a ball using the procedures for replacing a ball in Rules 14.2b(2) and 14.2e:

      The player must place a ball on the spot where the ball dropped the second time first touched the ground.
      If the placed ball does not stay at rest on that spot, the player must place a ball on that spot a second time.
      If the ball placed a second time also does not stay on that spot, the player must place a ball on the nearest spot where the ball will stay at rest, subject to the limits in Rule 14.2e.”

      The limits in Rule 14.2e referred to are:
      – The spot must not be nearer the hole.
      – Original Spot in General Area. The nearest spot must be in the general area.

      Note that in this context the “original spot” for 14.2e is the point where the ball dropped a second time first touched the ground and also that there is no limitation on how far away from this original spot the nearest spot where the ball will stay at rest happens to be.

      All this means that if you can not get your ball to stay at rest on the steeply sloped soil or stacked turf face above a bunker (which is in the general area and not in the bunker), then your nearest point where you can place the ball at rest is likely to be close to point A or B.

      I hope this clarifies things for you.

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      1. I am getting confused.

        In your 16 December reply you include the following:

        “16.3b/C1 Clarification: Player Not Always Allowed to Take Embedded Ball Relief
        If a player’s ball is embedded in the general area but neither the reference point nor any part of the course within one club-length of the reference point is in the general area, the player is not allowed to take free relief under Rule 16.3b.“

        The key words within this for me being within this being “within one club-length of the reference point.”

        Yet in your reply of 1 March you talk of “no limitation” from the original spot.

        And thus are you saying that a right handed player would ultimately be able to place the ball at point B on your sketch, which is more than one club length from the reference point, without penalty?

        But in your 1st March you state that

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  4. Hi Barrie

    We are looking at 2 different scenarios here and it might be worth you having a look at the video again as a refresher.

    The comment posted on the 16th December refers to the situation where the bank is so steep, or the ball embedded so low in the bank, that the reference point immediately behind the ball is in the bunker and not the general area. If the bunker extends more than a club length in all directions (further from the hole) from this reference point then the complete relief area is in the bunker and so there is nowhere that the player can legitimately drop their ball to take free relief from the embedded ball. (This is scenario 2b in the video and the clarification mentioned by Nigel Duda).

    The more recent discussion is about scenario 1 from the video. Here, the reference point and part of the relief area are in the general area and so the player is entitled to free relief by dropping in this relief area. If the ball lands and stays within that relief area then the ball is back in play and the player can carry on. However, if the player drops and then re-drops within the relief area, but the ball rolls out of it, the original reference point and relief area become irrelevant and we are now dealing with a ball which needs to place at the point where it first touched the ground on the second legitimate drop (lets call this point X which is different to the original reference point). If, after 2 attempts to place the ball at point X, the ball will not stay there, they then need to find the nearest position to point X, which is not nearer the hole than point X and within the general area, where the ball can be placed and it stays at rest.

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  5. Thanks for the clarification.

    So in summary, the need to take relief within the relief area is removed (because the ball will not stay in position when placing).

    And I assume for a wide bunker this could mean that the nearest point is behind the bunker (and here the ball would be placed and not dropped thus giving even more advantage – within the rules)

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    1. In essence, Yes!
      But you do need to go through the process of dropping and re-dropping in the relief area and then placing and re-placing to demonstrate that the ball won’t stay at rest – even if it is obvious that this is the case.
      Also, the point were the ball can subsequently be placed is the nearest point, so if it is behind the bunker you are likely to have one foot in the bunker if you want to play straight towards the hole – it isn’t the nearest place where you can take a nice stance and make an easy stroke, it could be amongst tree roots, in heather or under the branches of a bush!

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