What's a Bulkhead?

In golf, bulkheads are a type of retaining wall used to separate water in a water hazard or sand in a bunker from another part of the course. Most often they are used to separate the putting green from a water hazard in an effort to create a difficult condition where the water is very near to the green. They are usually made of wood and sometime constructed by using railroad ties.

By definition, a bulkhead is an obstruction and is covered under Rule 24. Normally, a player would be granted free relief from an obstruction when the ball lies on or in the obstruction or the obstruction interferes with the player’s stance or area of intended swing.

However, there are times when a player would be denied relief for interference from a bulkhead.

First, the Committee in charge of the competition has the authority to declare an obstruction to be an “integral part of the course” (Rule 33-2a). When it does so, the obstruction loses its interference properties and the player is forced to play it as it lies or proceed under an applicable Rule. The most famous integral part of any golf course is on the Old Course of St. Andrews on the 17th hole known as the road hole. The road (obstruction) right of the green is declared an integral part of the course and the players obtain no free relief. Watch for it this week!

Many professional tours as well as national, state and regional golf associations introduce a Local Rule that states that bulkheads when located inside of hazards become integral parts of the course. Check the Local Rules at your home course.

Second, a player is denied relief from the bulkhead when the ball lies in a water hazard including a lateral water hazard (Note 1 to Rule 24-2b). The premise here is that there is no get out of jail free from a water hazard simply because an obstruction interferes.

Please note that it is the position of the ball (inside or outside of a water hazard) that determines the application of this Rule. For instance, if you are attempting to play a shot from just off the green and you are standing on the bulkhead:

  • If the ball lies in grass that is just across the line and in the lateral hazard you get no relief.
  • If the ball lies in the grass but just outside the lateral water hazard you would get free relief.

Remember, it pays to know the Rules. Knowing the Rules of Golf can help you save strokes and enjoy the game of golf.

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