Every so often, I will get a question that goes something like this: “I hit my ball into a sand bunker and I don’t know how to hit out of a bunker. Can I declare my ball unplayable and go back to the spot where I last hit to replay the shot”. A player who is terrified of the sand might think that a one stroke penalty is worth it to get out of the sand. Professional golfers would not think that way because they are not willing to take the penalty stroke.
A player can declare any ball unplayable, at any time, for any reason, and anywhere on the course other than in a water hazard. The penalty is one stroke with three options to proceed under. Those options are:
*Return to the spot of the previous stroke and play again
*Drop within two club lengths, not nearer the hole
*Drop behind the spot, going back as far as you would like, keeping the original spot between the hole and the new place where you drop
If you declare a ball unplayable and use the second or third option, you must drop in the bunker. The player is the sole judge as to whether his ball is unplayable. For a more extensive explanation, read over Rule 28 Ball Unplayable.
Frank Guastella, PGA Master Professional
Michigan PGA Rules Official
Staff Writer for Mike Fay Golf