Golf Monthly has long had a good working relationship with The R&A, and one of our recent ventures has been to shoot as series of Rules videos with them that now form the basis of our extensive and growing online Rules coverage.
One topic that you really need to understand fully is that of water hazards – some golf courses have more water hazards than others; some, in all honesty, probably have too many.
But either way, at some stage in most rounds of golf, either you or someone you are playing with will hit your ball into a water hazard, so it’s important that you know what to do when this happens.
You must know for sure
The first thing to stress is that if it is “known or virtually certain” that your ball is in the hazard then you do not have to find it or retrieve it to be able to proceed under golf’s Water Hazards Rule (Rule 26).
In many instances, where lakes or large bodies of water are involved, this would of course be impossible without taking a swim and carrying suitable diving equipment around with you!
However, if it is not “known or virtually certain” that the ball is definitely in a water hazard (i.e. there wasn’t a clear splash and there is other undergrowth or vegetation close to the hazard where your ball could quite feasibly be), and the ball cannot be found, then you must proceed under Rule 27-1 instead (stroke and distance; ball not found within five minutes).
This is an important distinction, because it can make quite a significant difference due to the options available under the Water Hazards Rule – i.e. dropping close to the margins of the hazard rather than having to go back to where you last played from, which could be 250 yards away if it was a tee-shot.
What’s the difference between yellow and red stakes?
As for those water hazard options, these will vary according to the colour of the stakes or lines defining the water hazard, which are yellow for a normal water hazard and red for a lateral one (i.e. one that predominantly flanks the side of the hole rather than a hazard that your ball might more typically have to cross en route towards the green).
If your ball is in a water hazard (yellow stakes and/or lines) you may play it as it lies or, under penalty of one stroke:
* play a ball from where your last shot was played, or
* drop a ball any distance behind the water hazard keeping a straight line between the hole, the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard and the spot on which the ball is dropped.
Should you opt to play your ball if the hazard is dry in the summer for example, it is important to remember that under Rule 13-4 you may not ground your club or touch the ground with your hand, and may not remove any loose impediments in the hazard as you would be able to outside the hazard.
On our recent Rules shoot with Kevin Barker of The R&A, we filmed a video to illustrate your water hazard options, complete with slightly rash attempt to play from the hazard on the PGA Centenary course’s 16th hole at Gleneagles…
Finally, you may sometimes come across a dropping zone, or drop zone, near a hazard, which committees may make available via a suitably worded Local Rule as a further option if course layout or topography makes the standard options impractical or logistically difficult.
Occasionally drop zones are mandatory, but the R&A’s preference is for them to provide a further option in such circumstances, rather than the only one.
If it is an optional drop zone, think carefully though, for if it is small and not moved very often, there can be a danger of dropping into a divot or poor lie, which you would then have to play from over the water hazard!