Dealing with Water Hazards

It is apparent to me that many golfers have played the game for years without properly understanding what to do if their ball lies within the margin of a water hazard.

If you are amongst them I think that you will find this summary of the main issues helpful;

1. When is a ball definitely in a hazard? A ball is in a water hazard when it lies in or any part of it touches the water hazard, including when it touches a stake that defines the margin (Definition of Water Hazard).

2. Yellow stakes and/or lines designate water hazards, where the player has three options;

  • Play the ball as it lies.
  • Play a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played (see Rule 20-5).
  • Drop a ball behind the water hazard, keeping the point at which the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind the water hazard the ball may be dropped (see Rule 26-1b).

3. A lateral water hazard is a water hazard so situated that it is not possible, or is not practicable, to drop a ball behind the water hazard in accordance with Rule 26-Ib (see above).

4. Red stakes and/or lines designate lateral water hazards, where the player has five options. The same three options as for water hazards (above) and two additional options;

  • Drop a ball outside the water hazard within two club-lengths of and not nearer the hole than (i) the point where the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard or (ii) a point on the opposite margin of the water hazard equidistant from the hole (Rule 26-1 c).

5. If a stake is obviously missing, or improperly installed, the player must estimate the natural boundaries of the water hazard to judge whether their ball lies in the hazard (Decision 26-2).

6. Yellow and red stakes are movable obstructions (Definition of Water Hazard), i.e. they can be moved if they interfere with the player’s stroke (and replaced after the stroke is made!)

7. A player may move movable obstructions from a water hazard, i.e. artificial objects such as bottles, cans or paper (Rule 24-1).

8. A player may not move loose impediments from a water hazard, i.e. natural objects such as stones, twigs or leaves (Rule 23-1).

9. When their ball lies in a water hazard a player may not take relief from interference by an immovable obstruction, e.g. a bridge, Rule 24-2b.

10. When a player’s ball lies inside a water hazard they may not touch ground or water inside that water hazard with their hand or a club, Rule 13-4b. This even applies on the backswing of their stroke, Rule 13-4c. However, at any time, a player may touch, with a club or otherwise, any obstruction, any construction declared by the Committee to be an integral part of the course, or any grass, bush, tree or other growing thing, Note to Rule 13-4.

11. A player may stand inside the margin of a water hazard to play their ball that lies outside of the hazard, even after they have dropped the ball. In other words, there is nothing in Rule 26-1 that says a player must take ‘complete’ relief from the hazard, which is different from Rule 24-2, Immovable Obstruction, and Rule 25-1, Abnormal Ground Conditions.

14 Responses to Dealing with Water Hazards

  1. John Appleby October 18, 2017 at 5:42 pm #

    Barry
    Here is a question concerning yellow hazard lines. During a recent round while playing my third shot on a par five hole I hit on the green and the ball backed up off the green into a water hazzard marked by a yellow line. The yellow line was about 3 feet from the edge of the water. My question is could I have taken a drop between the yellow line and the water hazard as my ball Had crossed the hazard line. Could I have dropped the ball twice and then placed it as The bank was steep and the ball would have rolled back into the water. Or does the rule require me to hit my next shot from the other side of the hazard? Thanks for your expertise.

    • Barry Rhodes October 19, 2017 at 10:15 am #

      John – Yellow lines define the margin of a water hazard (red lines define the margin of a lateral water hazard). As your ball lay inside the margin of the hazard you could only take relief under Rule 26-1a or 26-1b. Unless you choose to return to where you last played from, under penalty of stroke and distance, the procedure is to determine where the ball last crossed the yellow line of the hazard and then drop a ball behind the water hazard, keeping this point directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind the water hazard the ball may be dropped. In most cases this will mean playing from the far side of the water hazard to the putting green. In no circumstance may you drop a ball inside the margin of the hazard.

  2. LAWRENCE V VALENTE October 18, 2017 at 6:18 pm #

    Barry,This is a synopsis of the USGA rules in basically the same language. What would help the those of us who are “legalese challenged” are some graphics showing “Drop a ball ‘behind’ the water hazard.”
    Thanks fo helping us out.

    • Keith @ GolfersRX October 19, 2017 at 10:23 am #

      Hi Lawrence, we will keep that in mind for future articles. Thanks for the feedback.

  3. Mike October 18, 2017 at 7:08 pm #

    Barry’s blog is awesome and always entertaining. This man knows his stuff!

  4. Brian October 19, 2017 at 1:16 am #

    Can a provisional ball be played when a ball is hit towards a water hazard but before it can be determined that the ball is found within the margins of the water hazard and is playable or the ball is not found but it cannot be determined it has been lost in the hazard from where the original stroke was made?

    • Barry Rhodes October 19, 2017 at 10:14 am #

      Hi Brian, A provisional ball may always be played, unless it is known or virtually certain that the original ball is lost within a water hazard, Rule 27-2. In most cases there will be some doubt, for example the ball may deflect off a tree into the rough, stop short of the hazard in long grass, or even bounce on the water and come to rest on the far bank of the hazard. If the ball is not found then the provisional ball becomes the ball in play.

      • Brian October 19, 2017 at 6:12 pm #

        But if having played a provisional ball and then the original ball is found in the hazard but playable does the original ball have to be abandoned and the provisional ball becomes the ball in play under a penalty of stroke and distance, 27.1

  5. Ronald L Bilodeau October 19, 2017 at 5:18 am #

    I can certainly admire Barry’s devotion to and knowledge of the Rules Of Golf. Having taken several (read as many) Rules courses, I am well aware of how complicated interpreting the rules can be for most of us Players. I will be on the lookout for more of his writings on The Rules Of Golf.

    • Keith @ GolfersRX October 19, 2017 at 10:20 am #

      Thanks for the feedback Ronald. We will keep them coming!

  6. Dan Klusmann October 19, 2017 at 7:25 pm #

    If a ball lands on a cart path, but the closest relief no closer to the hole is in a bush (not marked as a hazard), can the player take relief in an opposite direction that is no closer to the hole but further from his ball than relief in the bush?

    • Barry Rhodes October 23, 2017 at 7:40 am #

      No, the player always has to determine the ‘nearest’ point of relief, not the ‘nicest’ point of relief. This may be in a bush, or even in the middle of a tree. If there is nowhere that the player can make a favourable drop within one club-length of this point, not nearer the hole, then they either have to play the ball as it lies, or return to where they last played from under penalty of one stroke, Definition of Nearest Point of Relief.

  7. Thomas Brokl January 2, 2018 at 5:58 pm #

    It is good to point out that bridges going over water hazards are generally 90-100 % inside the bounds of the hazard and that no free relief is provided if your ball is on a bridge inside the hazard lines, You can certainly play your shot from the bridge, but you cannot ground your club before taking your shot.

    • David Hall February 19, 2018 at 11:59 am #

      Even though a bridge is over a water hazard and is inside the bounds it is not in the hazard. Thus you can ground your club if you want.

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