No Free Relief - Is Flooded Bunker Or Integral Road Harsher?

Which is harsher when it comes to 'no free relief' scenarios in golf - a flooded bunker or a road classed as an integral object?

No free relief from a completely flooded bunker
No free relief
(Image credit: Getty Images)

GM regulars Fergus Bisset and Jeremy Ellwood debate whether a fully flooded bunker or a road classed as an integral object presents the harsher 'no free relief' scenario.

'No Free Relief' Scenarios - Is Flooded Bunker Or Integral Road Harsher?

Flooded bunker
says Fergus Bisset

To start with, I should say I’m very much in favour of bunkers being proper hazards. The flat, perfectly manicured ‘traps’ like we often see on the PGA Tour are a haven for reasonable players rather than a tricky challenge as they should be. Although bunkers should be penal, one should have a chance to escape from them without penalty.

When a bunker is totally flooded, with no place whatsoever to take relief within it, a penalty drop is the only option. This is extremely harsh as far as I’m concerned and particularly when the bunker in question is greenside. Imagine the scenario; in challenging conditions (it likely will be for bunkers to be flooded), you play a reasonable shot into a green. But it falls fractionally short and finds sand. Not a disaster, up and down for a gritty par. But you walk up to find your ball stranded in a temporary swimming pool.

A completely flooded bunker

If there's nowhere in the bunker to drop not nearer the hole, you'll have to drop out under penalty

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Not only are you forced to take a penalty drop, but you’ll also still likely face a testing up-and-down to save bogey, possibly even having to play back across the watery grave you’ve just fished your ball from. That seems way too harsh. Bunkers are not penalty areas – they are supposed to provide a stiff golfing challenge but, if they’re flooded, my view is you should be entitled to free relief.

A road classed as an integral object road may put a scuff on your 7-iron, but a competent player can purposefully catch the ball a little thin and limit the damage – at least they can make progress without penalty.

Find a road classed as an integral object and you have a chance to escape without hurting your score; find a totally flooded bunker and you don’t. The latter must be golf’s harshest 'no free relief' scenario.

'No Free Relief' Scenarios - Is Flooded Bunker Or Integral Road Harsher?

Road classed as integral object
says Jeremy Ellwood

One or two Rules of Golf seem to give us a bit of a hard time - quite literally in the case of the roads or pathways that a tiny minority of committees choose to class as ‘integral objects’ for some unfathomable reason. If you’re on it, you either play it or take a penalty.

Road behind the 17th green at St Andrews

if you're on the road behind 17 at St Andrews you'll either have to play it or take a penalty drop

(Image credit: Getty Images)

This seems both unfair and a tad irresponsible in an era when few would opt to inflict serious damage on their expensive clubs with a full swing off a rock-hard surface. We are forced to choose between risking harm to either ourselves or our clubs, or taking a penalty drop and handing our opponent the advantage when 95+ per cent of courses would deem such surfaces immovable obstructions, allowing free relief.

David Howell playing from integral road on 18 at St Andrews

The road on 18 at St Andrews is integral so part of the course

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Nowhere brings this into focus more than the 18th on the Old Course at St Andrews, where the sparks sometimes fly as players attempt to pick a short or mid-iron off Grannie Clark’s Wynd, which crosses the fairway at about 240 yards. Even if you have the pleasure of knocking it on, you’ll be heading straight back to your club pro to get the loft and lie checked, and those irritating scratches filed down.

The penalty drop from a waterlogged bunker does at least have an element of fairness about it. Yes, it’s annoying when your ball plops into a flooded trap, but to escape scot-free would be to grant you a full pardon your errant shot simply doesn’t deserve.

Maybe in golf’s earlier days people weren’t overly fussed about the appearance of their gear. But in today’s world of high-tech, expensive equipment, most golfers definitely are. So perhaps those earlier days are where the integral road rule really belongs now?

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?