Burrowing Animal Holes and the Rules of Golf

Bill Murray, the gopher and burrowing animal holes
Bill Murray in 'Caddyshack' isn't the only person who's had to deal with gophers on golf courses. The Rules of Golf cover how to handle burrowing animal holes. Orion Pictures/Getty Images

A "burrowing animal" is an animal that digs a hole or tunnel into the ground for the purposes of shelter or to more safely get from one place to another. Gophers, thanks to Caddyshack, are probably the best-known burrowing animals to golfers.

But what do burrowing animals have to do with golf, and why are we bothering to write about them?

Because under the Rules of Golf as they were in effect through December 31, 2018, "holes, casts and runways" on a golf course made by burrowing animals were classified as abnormal ground conditions.

As of January 1, 2019, the term "burrowing animal" was removed from the Rules of Golf. The rules that went into effect at that time were rewritten to remove any distinction between burrowing animals and any other animals on a golf course. Currently, the Rules of Golf provide a definition of "animal hole" and that is the term used at various points in the 2019 edition of the rules.

'Burrowing Animal' in the Old Rule Book

The official Rules of Golf are written by the USGA and the R&A, and the definition of "burrowing animal" that appeared in the rules before being superseded by "animal holes" was this:

"A 'burrowing animal' is an animal (other than a worm, insect or the like) that makes a hole for habitation or shelter, such as a rabbit, mole, groundhog, gopher or salamander.
"Note: A hole made by a non-burrowing animal, such as a dog, is not an abnormal ground condition unless marked or declared as ground under repair."

So the definition gave several specific examples of burrowing animals, and also several examples of animals that don't qualify as such.

In addition, referring to the 2015-18 Rules edition:

  • Decision 25-19.5 stated that footprints made by burrowing animals are not included in the definition.
  • Decision 25/23 clarified that molehills are included.
  • Ant hills, however, were considered loose impediments, not abnormal ground conditions, according to Decision 23/5. (Ants are insects, which are excluded from the definition of burrowing animal. However, there are circumstances when ant hills, according to Decision 33-8/22, can be classified as ground under repair via a local rule.)

'Animal Hole' in the New Rule Book

In the Rules of Golf that went into effect as of January 1, 2019, the term "animal hols" supersedes the term "burrowing animal." First, the USGA and R&A define "animal" as "any living member of the animal kingdom (other than humans) including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates (such as worms, insects, spiders and crustaceans)."

And this is the official definition of "animal hole" in the new rules:

"Any hole dug in the ground by an animal, except for holes dug by animals that are also defined as loose impediments (such as worms or insects).
"The term animal hole includes:
"The loose material the animal dug out of the hole,
"Any worn-down track or trail leading into the hole, and
"Any area on the ground pushed up or altered as a result of the animal digging the hole underground."

How do you proceed if your golf ball is affected by an animal hole? In the Rules of Golf that went into effect in 2019, dealing with abnormal ground conditions is covered in Rule 16.