For anyone that has played the game for any length of time you will encounter “Sand Traps” and “Waste Bunkers” on a golf course. So, what is the difference between the two? Both have sand, most are surrounded by grass, water, fairway, rough, etc. For those of us that play weekend golf and find ourselves in one of these conditions the question is simple, can you ground your club or not? In other words, before you play the shot can your golf club come in contact with the sand or playing surface? Or, do you need to hover the club above the ball before you play the stroke? In a traditional Sand Trap, you cannot ground your club because the sand trap is considered a “hazard”. Meaning your golf club cannot come into contact with the surface prior to playing the stroke. Okay, what the h_l does that mean? In a nutshell, when addressing the golf ball, in your golf stance, you cannot have the golf club touch the ground. Sounds simple enough, eh? Not so fast because the sand you find yourself in may be a Waste Area, not a Sand Trap, so a different rule applies.
In a Waste Area you can ground your golf club. You can even take a practice swing that has the club come into contact with the ground. Also, when you go to play your stroke you can have the club rest behind the ball on the ground before you play the stroke.
So, you can see how an occasional or casual golfer could be confused. However, a touring pro such as Dustin Johnson should know different. I raise the point because at last weekend’s PGA Championship Dustin made the mistake of not knowing he was in a sand trap on the 18th hole. As he played the stroke, he grounded his club, incurred a two shot penalty for the infraction and after the round was completed he was assessed a two stroke penalty. Because of this penalty it knocked him out of the playoff with Kaymer and Watson. What makes this worse is that the PGA of America provided each player with a “local rules” sheet explaining the condition. So, Dustin and his caddy had plenty of notice prior to even starting the event that the local rules apply. Furthermore, the PGA of America Rules Officials placed the sheets throughout the locker room basically telling the players that if you are in “sand” that you should consider it a hazard no matter where you are on the golf course. Dustin felt that since he was in an area outside of the ropes and people had been walking through it, that it was not a hazard.
What makes this more amazing is that each group has a “PGA Official” following them and the players can easily ask the Official what the ruling is before they play the shot. After all, they were on the 18th hole of the Championship so delaying the field was a non factor. You see it each week on tour whereby the players ask the Officials for the most basic of rulings. Let alone on the 18th hole of a major when you are tied for the lead. Dustin stated that he did not think he was in a sand trap/hazard. All I can say to that is “C’mon Man” to borrow a phrase from the ESPN NFL coverage.
In the end, the rules of golf are complex, they apply to every player in the field and even the best players in the world are not exempt from them.