Can I Take A Drop From A Bunker?

Well, to answer the question. Yes. You have four options available to you and each are governed under Rule 19 – Unplayable Ball. We’ll outline them for you here so you know what to do when the situation arises

Michelle Thompson in "Hell," Curtis Cup 2008
(Image credit: David Cannon, Getty Images)

We’ve all heard the phrase “take your medicine”. Of course it’s much easier said than done but when face to face with a difficult lie in a bunker, or positioned directly beneath a lip the likes of which would make even Houdini quiver, it’s good to know your options.

Ask Jack Nicklaus. Even the GOAT, at least as Major count is concerned, has fallen victim. In the opening round of the 1995 Open Championship, he took four shots to get out of the aptly named “Hell” bunker on the 14th at St Andrews. He would sign for a ten and crush any hope of reclaiming the Claret Jug. What is perhaps most frightening is that he later claimed he was trying to just get the ball out.

Whilst the rules have changed a lot since those days, and indeed since 2019, there are four options available should you wish to take a drop from a bunker.

Option 1 – Stroke and Distance

Think of this as the out of bounds rule, although it’s correct name is “stroke and distance”. At any time, including when the ball rests in a bunker, a player may take relief by adding one penalty stroke and play from where the previous stroke was made. Basically, replay your last shot. Using Nicklaus as the example, it would have been some 220 yards away.

Option 2 – Back-On-The-Line Relief (Within the Bunker)

Similar to how you would approach a yellow staked penalty area. Take an imaginary line from the flag which runs through your unplayable ball and beyond. You are then permitted to drop the ball on said imaginary line as far back as you wish, providing it remains within the bunker. This will cost you a one stroke penalty. Keep in mind when dropping in the bunker that you're likely to get a less than perfect lie. 

Option 3 – Two Club Lengths

Just as you would should you declare a ball unplayable in the rough or behind a tree, you can do so in a bunker. For a one stroke penalty, you are permitted to drop within two club lengths of your unplayable ball providing it is no nearer the hole and remains within the bunker.

Option 4 – Back-On-The-Line Relief (Outside the Bunker)

As of 2019, you now have the option to drop outside the bunker. Whilst it gets you out the bunker, it comes with the penalty of two strokes. Consider that imaginary line running through the flag and your ball, as mentioned in option 2, but extend it outside of the bunker. You can go as far back as you wish before ultimately deciding where to drop the ball. 

The R&A also provide a nice image of each of the four options. 

R&A Unplayable Lie - Bunker

(Image credit: R&A)

Whilst we're talking bunkers, check out our instructional video of all bunker rules that each golfer needs to know.

James Hibbitt
James Hibbitt

James joined Golf Monthly as a content contributor having previously written for other online outlets. He is obsessed with all areas of the game – From tournament golf, to history, equipment, technique and travel. He is also an avid collector of memorabilia; with signed items from the likes of Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Colin Montgomerie, Ernie Els and Johnny Miller. As well as writing for Golf Monthly, James’ golfing highlight is fist bumping Phil Mickelson on his way to winning the Open Championship at Muirfield in 2013. James grew up on the east coast of England and is the third generation of his golfing family. He now resides in Leeds and is a member of Cobble Hall Golf Club with a handicap index of 1.7.