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Rules: Defining Naturally Sandy Areas Vs. Bunkers at Pinehurst May 26, 2017 | Far Hills, N.J. By Jamie Wallace, USGA

Players competing this week at Pinehurst will need to know the difference between a bunker and natural sandy areas like the one pictured. (USGA/Russell Kirk)

The 3rd U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship is being played at the Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2 this week. The No. 2 course is well known to most golfers as it has hosted a number of major tournaments, including the 1999 U.S. Open won by Payne Stewart, the 2005 U.S. Open won by Michael Campbell, the 2008 U.S. Amateur won by Danny Lee and the 2014 U.S. Open won by Martin Kaymer. The course is also well known due to some of its unique features, including the difficult-to-hit crowned greens, the shaved run-off areas surrounding those greens, and the naturally sandy areas found all over the property. Let’s take a closer look at those sandy areas and how they will affect the Four-Ball competitors from a Rules perspective.

In the Rules of Golf, there are certain recognized parts of a golf course – the teeing ground and putting green of the hole being played, all bunkers on the course and all water hazards on the course (red and yellow). Everything else within the boundaries of the golf course is called “through the green.”

This creates a clear distinction in the Rules between a naturally sandy area, like the one shown in the image above, and a bunker, which is defined in the Rules as a “prepared area of ground … from which turf or soil has been removed and replaced with sand or the like.” On most golf courses, it is very clear exactly what is a bunker and what is not. On a course like Pinehurst, though, that distinction can be a little less clear. However, it is very important because of the different ways the Rules of the game treat these areas.

If your ball is in a bunker, you are not allowed to take practice swings that touch the sand, ground your club or move loose impediments. On the other hand, if your ball lies in a naturally sandy area, it is on a part of the course that the Rules treat as “through the green,” which also includes areas like the fairway or the rough. This means that none of the above restrictions apply. You can take practice swings, move loose impediments, and even ground your club lightly behind the ball. However, you will still need to be careful when playing from a sandy area. In grounding your club, you must be careful not to improve the lie of your ball by pressing down sand, which would be breach of Rule 13-2. You also can’t move or remove the sand since it is only classified as a loose impediment (and thus, movable) when it is on the putting green.

Players in the Four-Ball championship will have to navigate Pinehurst No. 2’s many challenges, and will be served well by knowing the differences between bunkers and naturally sandy areas under the Rules of Golf.

Jamie Wallace is a manger, Rules education and digital content, Rules of Golf and amateur status for the USGA. Email him at