by Joyce McCann, 18ers Rules Chair.

The official tournament season has begun at Rossmoor. Inevitably, situations arise when there is uncertainty or disagreement about how to apply the Rules in a particular situation. Fortunately, the Rules include specific procedures to follow when these situations arise (Rule 20.1). These procedures are different depending upon whether your round is stroke play or match play. In this article let’s look at a situation that arose in April, during an East Bay Team Play 4-ball match. The next article will look at a situation that arose during a regular 18er Thursday stroke play event.

Match play (Rule 20.1b). A player’s ball landed in temporary water (used to be called “casual water”) in a bunker near the front of the 15th green. Temporary water is an abnormal course condition (as are ground under repair, immovable obstructions, and animal holes). Rule 16.1c indicates how to take relief from an abnormal course condition in a bunker. The player can either take free relief in the bunker, or under penalty of 1-stroke, relief outside the bunker. To take free relief, the player first finds the nearest point of complete relief that is still in the bunker. If there is so much water that it is not possible to take complete relief, the player finds the nearest point of maximum available relief in the bunker. The other option the player has is to take 1-penalty stroke, and go as far back outside the bunker as she wants on a line extending from the flag through the point where the ball lies in the bunker.

The uncertainty that arose in this situation was that the player thought she could consider the entire bunker ground under repair (GUR) because it had been so impacted by the rain. In that case, the player would be able to take free relief outside the bunker. The player was wrong about this (see below), but at the time she didn’t know she was wrong.

Rule 20 specifies two options for resolving this issue. First, if the player and her opponents really don’t know what the proper procedure is (i.e., as long as they don’t agree to violate a Rule they know applies), they can agree to proceed under whatever scenario they think is fair, even though it may be shown later not to conform to the Rules! This is because what they do affects only their match, not the rest of the field. Second, if the player and her opponent cannot come to an agreement about the course of action to take, the player will have to take some action, and then if the opponent disagrees, the proper procedure is for her to state that she will request a ruling from the Committee when their group finishes the round. On the EBTP website (, the “Committee” consists of a WGANC/NCGA Rules Official and two members of the EBTP Steering Committee who are not involved in the dispute.

What actually happened? While the 4 players in the match were deliberating about the best way to proceed, a passerby pointed out that the player could not designate the bunker GUR because it hadn’t been marked as such, and, for free relief, she had to drop the ball in the bunker. Since the passerby was neither a part of the match nor an official referee, the players could have ignored her advice (which happened to be correct), and could have agreed to follow the player’s initial inclination to designate the bunker GUR and take a free drop outside the bunker. However, they did take the passerby’s suggestion and continued play. Then, since the player and her opponents had agreed on a procedure, they did not need to request a ruling from the Committee after completing their round.

[The correct application of the rules according to the definition of GUR: A player cannot decide that a bunker, whether or not filled with temporary water, is GUR. The definition of GUR requires that an area be defined by the Committee as GUR, either by marking it on the course, or by announcing it is GUR prior to play. There are a few conditions that can be considered GUR by the player even if they have not specifically been defined by the Committee, but those few exceptions do not include temporary water in a bunker. Therefore, under the Rules, the only free relief option available to the player in this case was to find the maximum available relief still in the bunker.]

Key points to remember if you’re uncertain how to apply a Rule during Match Play. 1) You and your opponent(s) can resolve any issue when it arises before you tee off on the next hole, whether or not how you decide to proceed conforms to the Rules (provided you don’t agree to waive a Rule you know applies). 2) The only outside advice about how to proceed that you must follow is from a Rules Official. 3) If your opponent(s) do not agree with how you decide to proceed, they should announce that they will request a ruling from the “Committee” when the round is completed. 4) If you want to request a ruling, inform your team captain, and she will contact the appropriate Committee members.