When Is A Bunker Not A Bunker?

When Is A Bunker Not A Bunker?
When Is A Bunker Not A Bunker?

A bunker is not a bunker when it is not a hazard but a waste bunker (or waste area). This makes a big difference to how the Rules of Golf apply. The USGA says the term “waste bunker” is one of the “Top 10 Misused Terms in Golf.” The Rules of Golf do not even mention waste bunkers or waste areas.


A bunker is a hazard and defined by the USGA Rules of Golf as a “prepared area of ground, often a hollow, from which turf or soil has been removed and replaced with sand or the like.” The key word is “prepared.” Usually it is obvious when a course designer has built a bunker, because it is well-maintained, raked and smooth. A waste bunker is an area on a golf course that is typically sandy, usually very large, that might also have rocks, pebbles, shells or various types of vegetation in it. Unless otherwise covered by a local rule, a waste bunker is not a hazard under the Rules of Golf. Generally, they are unmaintained natural areas installed by modern-day course architects to add another test for golfers to negotiate (or to reduce maintenance costs), and are simply ‘through the green’. The absence of rakes to smooth the surface is another clue. There are a number of local courses which feature waste bunkers including Springfield, Black Mountain and Imperial Lakeview. The first thing you are likely to notice is vegetation of some sort growing within a large sandy area. Some scorecards will specifically comment on the location of these areas; a highly recommended practice. Even professional golfers have been known to be confused about the status of some areas.

When in doubt?

First, check the scorecard and with your marker and playing partners. If possible even a committee member or match referee. Second, something I would not usually recommend is to consult the caddie; not recommended because they are likely to give you the most favorable best option! If doubt still remains, best to play it as though it is a bunker. This is unlikely to really increase the difficulty of the shot but will avoid the prospect of a later penalty.

The photo to the left show a large area of waste.

How Are The Rules Different?

Being in a waste bunker is no different from being in the rough, it’s just ‘through the green’ and most importantly you can ground the club and remove loose impediments.

Most of us are aware that the Rule disallow touching the sand with our club before making a stroke from a bunker. However there are other considerations that you are less well known.

– You may not touch any sand in the bunker on your backswing before making your stroke. This can sometimes be very difficult when your ball lies at the back of a steeply-sloped bunker.
– You may not touch any loose impediments in the bunker with your club other than when you make your stroke. Loose impediments are anything natural, including divots, loose moss, leaves, twigs or stones, But, you may touch any grass, bush, tree or other growing thing with your club at any time, Providing you do nothing to test the condition of the bunker, no penalty is incurred if you touch the sand or loose impediments in a bunker as a result of or to prevent falling,
– You may touch the sand in a bunker when removing an obstruction (e.g. a rake).
– You may lay a club, or clubs, in a bunker whilst you are playing out of it.
– You may smooth sand in the bunker, providing this is for the sole purpose of caring for the course, not to improve the lie of the ball or your stance..
– You do incur a penalty if you casually lean on your club while waiting for another player to play.