Most golfers like to think that however their ball is lying, there must always be some way of making a stroke at it even if they can only move it a few feet. Such positive attitudes are admirable, but as every golfer will also be able to testify, there are occasionally times when it is simply impossible, impractical or inadvisable to make any stroke at the ball. But what about the unplayable ball in bunker?

First, it’s worth reiterating that under Rule 28, the player is the sole judge as to whether or not his or her ball is unplayable, and may deem it unplayable anywhere on the course other than in a water hazard or lateral water hazard.

Most golfers probably know that there are then three options available under Rule 28 – Ball Unplayable, which, under penalty of one stroke, allow you to:-

  1. Play a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played (see Rule 20-5); or
  2. Drop a ball behind the point where the ball lay, keeping that point directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind that point the ball may be dropped; or
  3. Drop a ball within two club-lengths of the spot where the ball lay, but not nearer the hole.

Let’s go back to the bunker and the sand now, and that ball perhaps lodged firmly under the lip, tight against a steep back edge, or right next to a steep wall or bank that would render any form of stance impossible or virtually impossible. How does the ‘unplayable ball in bunker’ differ from elsewhere on the course?

The first thing to stress is that all three options remain available to you, with one important distinction – if you go for options (b) or (c) under Rule 28, the ball must be dropped in the bunker. The only option to drop the ball outside of the bunker is to proceed under option (a), provided you last played the ball from outside the bunker!

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This may well cast a very different light on your final decision, as we all know that a golf ball has an infuriating tendency to plug when dropped from shoulder height into sand. You will need to decide whether the risk of a plugged or semi-plugged ball is preferable to going back and playing what may have been a very difficult shot again from some distance away.

Related content: other essential bunker ‘do’s and don’ts’

One final thing – if your ball is so buried that you can’t even see it, you may touch or move the sand in order to locate it without penalty, as long as you recreate the lie as nearly as possible afterwards by replacing any sand moved (Rule 12-1a)… and you are allowed to leave a small part visible should you then decide it’s playable enough to warrant having a go after all!