Rules Guy: Can you take free relief from an animal hole in a bunker?


What do the rules say about taking free relief from an animal hole in a bunker?

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The Rules of Golf are tricky! Thankfully, we’ve got the guru. Our Rules Guy knows the book front to back. Got a question? He’s got all the answers.

I was playing an early-morning round and hit a low liner into a fairway bunker. Because the sand was still wet, it rolled around the front top edge of the bunker and then stopped in what I’m sure was dirt ejected from a gopher hole—a common occurrence at this course. I had no shot going forward and needed to play out sideways. Could I have taken free relief since it was the dirt from a burrowing animal? —Keith Roberts, Ventura, Calif.

Keith, we realize that this question was designed for us to reference Carl Spackler in Caddyshack, noting that a gopher is a varmint, yada yada. We will not shoot all the fish in that proverbial barrel. (Indeed, they might lock us up and throw away the key.)

As far as the Rules are concerned, the term “animal hole” includes the loose material the animal dug from the hole; assuming that’s what this was, you were indeed entitled to free relief under Rule 16.1c and Definition of Animal Hole.

From your description it sounds like the ball was still in sand in the bunker, and thus free relief would be in the bunker, one club-length from the nearest point of complete relief.

golf ball in tree
Rules Guy: Can you take free relief from an animal hole in a tree?
By: Rules Guy

For more animal-related guidance from our guru, read on …

As my friend and I were approaching his tee shot in the fairway, a fox trotted out of the woods, sniffed the ball and then urinated on it. Is my friend allowed to clean or replace the ball? —David Cole, via e-mail

Well, presumably unlike the now “marked” golf ball, the rules here are cut and dried.

In equity, the player is entitled to the lie present when the ball came to rest. Thus, your friend may lift and clean the ball.

If there is, um, “casual water” present, the player can take relief under Rule 25-1, which also allows the ball to be cleaned (and disinfected). 

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Got a question about the Rules? Ask the Rules Guy! Send your queries, confusions and comments to We promise he won’t throw the book at you.

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