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Lateral Water Hazards
When It's Red, Know Your 5 Options

Learn the definition of a lateral water hazard and how to proceed properly under the rules of golf.  Dealing With a Lateral Water Hazard

With nearly every round of golf you play you will encounter some type of body of water. Whether it's a small creek, a lake or the ocean, it's rare to play a course without some sort of water source. Water that runs along the side of a hole (laterally) is considered a lateral hazard. The USGA defines lateral hazards as:

"A "lateral water hazard" is a water hazard or that part of a water hazard so situated that it is not possible, or is deemed by the Committee to be impracticable, to drop a ball behind the water hazard in accordance with Rule 26-Ib. All ground and water within the margin of a lateral water hazard are part of the lateral water hazard. When the margin of a lateral water hazard is defined by stakes, the stakes are inside the lateral water hazard, and the margin of the hazard is defined by the nearest outside points of the stakes at ground level. When both stakes and lines are used to indicate a lateral water hazard, the stakes identify the hazard and the lines define the hazard margin. When the margin of a lateral water hazard is defined by a line on the ground, the line itself is in the lateral water hazard. The margin of a lateral water hazard extends vertically upwards and downwards.

A ball is in a lateral water hazard when it lies in or any part of it touches the lateral water hazard.
Stakes used to define the margin of or identify a lateral water hazard are obstructions."

You Have 5 Options

The USGA Rules of Golf state in Rule 26-1 that the procedure for playing out of a water hazard and lateral water hazard (26-1c) is:

"It is a question of fact whether a ball that has not been found after having been struck toward a water hazard is in the hazard. In the absence of knowledge or virtual certainty that a ball struck toward a water hazard, but not found, is in the hazard, the player must proceed under Rule 27-1. If a ball is found in a water hazard or if it is known or virtually certain that a ball that has not been found is in the water hazard (whether the ball lies in water or not), the player may under penalty of one stroke:

a. Proceed under the stroke and distance provision of Rule 27-1 by playing a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played (see Rule 20-5); or

b. 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; or

c. As additional options available only if the ball last crossed the margin of a lateral water hazard, 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.

When proceeding under this Rule, the player may lift and clean his ball or substitute a ball."

Because there are actually 5 options for dropping out of a lateral hazard as you read it is considered one of the most complex rules to the average player. In fact, I have played several rounds off golf even at a competitive level where my playing partners only knew about the 2 club length drop option.

To sum up the 5 options more simply remember to add a stroke to your score and choose an option from this list:

1) Play the ball as it lies, but remember not to ground your club in a hazard.
2) RE hit the ball from where you originally hit.
3) Drop the ball 2 club lengths from where it crossed the hazard line, but don't move closer to the hole.
4) Keep the point where it crossed the hazard between you and the hole and move back as far as you'd like.
5) Proceed with option #4 but on the other side of the hazard if possible.

Go the Distance

With all shots in golf, unless you are in ground under repair or out of bounds, you can pretty much always play a ball as it lies or re-hit from where you originally hit, so always keep those two options in mind. Telling you which option is best is virtually impossible without seeing the situation myself. In most cases though, it is best to always go for distance if it gives you a decent lie. Therefore the 2 club length option is the most popular as it gets you as close to the hole as physically possible.

Typically, as stated above, the stakes are used so that you can see the hazard. In other words, they help identify it, whereas the lines on the ground from the actual boundaries of the hazard. Before you tee off be sure to find out how each course marks it's hazards and where they are located. It will only help speed up your round and help you with your decision making. Knowing your options and the difference between a water hazard and a lateral water hazard can make a huge difference in your score.

Maria Palozola

Maria Palozola is a member of the LPGA and has participated in multiple LPGA Tour events. She has provided instruction to thousands of students in the past 20+ years and has won multiple teaching awards from the LPGA, Golf Digest, and Golf Magazine including being ranked as one of the top 50 female instructors in the world.

Who is Maria Palozola?
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