Where to Drop If You Hit a Golf Ball Into a Bunker Full of Water

Can You Drop Outside the Bunker? Is There a Penalty?

Michelle Wie picks up her ball after hitting into casual water in a bunker during the 2006 Women's US Open
Even the pros - this is Michelle Wie during the 2006 US Women's Open - sometimes have to deal with water in a bunker. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

What are the options for a golfer who hits a ball into a bunker that has standing water in it? Do you have to play the ball out of the water? Do you get a free drop outside the bunker?

The scenario is this: You're playing on a golf course that has some water on it, after a rain, for example, or after the sprinkler system busted. Whatever. There's standing water in various places around the course. You play a stroke and, whoops, your ball winds up in a bunker. So you trudge up to the bunker to play a sand shot, only to discover that the bunker has water in it, and your ball is in that water. Do you get to drop outside of that bunker?

Only if you're willing to take a one-stroke penalty. You can drop, without penalty, in another part of the same bunker, but a drop outside the bunker will cost you a penalty stroke.

Standing Water In a Bunker Is 'Temporary Water'

The water pooled in that bunker is called temporary water (prior to 2019 it was called "casual water") under the Rules of Golf:

Any temporary accumulation of water on the surface of the ground (such as puddles from rain or irrigation or an overflow from a body of water) that:
*Is not in a penalty area, and
*Can be seen before or after the player takes a stance (without pressing down excessively with his or her feet).

Options for Relief When You Hit Into Temporary Water Inside a Bunker

If your ball comes to rest in temporary water within a bunker, you may drop without penalty at the nearest point of relief within the bunker, no nearer the hole. That applies no matter what the condition is of the rest of the bunker.

If the rest of the bunker is dry, great. But even if the entire bunker contains water, the same rule applies: If you want free relief, you must drop within that bunker to avoid penalty. So if the bunker is completely filled with water, your only option to improve the situation without penalty is this, according to the USGA Web site:

"... the player may drop the ball in the bunker at a point that provides maximum available relief (i.e., in 1 inch of water rather than 5 inches)."

If you are unwilling to drop inside the bunker, then you can assess yourself a one-stroke penalty and drop outside the bunker, no nearer the hole (back-on-the-line relief).

In the rule book, these options are covered in Rule 16-1c, which addresses relief from abnormal ground conditions (temporary water falls under the abnormal ground condition label) inside a bunker.

So why penalize a golfer when the option to drop on dry sand within a bunker doesn't exist because the entire bunker is full of water?

Well, bunkers are hazards. You're supposed to avoid them, even when they are in perfect condition. Dropping outside the bunker would be an advantage for most golfers, so you don't get to do it scot-free.

Moral of the story: Avoid bunkers—especially after a heavy rain.