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Water Hazards

Learn how to define a water hazard and proceed properly under the rules of golf. Dealing With Water Hazards

Your ball won't be happy if you send it to a watery grave, but that's no comparison to how you'll be feeling. Knowing the right steps to take when faced with a water hazard however, will help keep that tally on your card to minimum. Hitting over a lake or creek is definitely one of the most scary times in a round for beginners and high handicappers. This is the point in the round where breathing becomes more rapid, blood pressure rises and nerves stand on end. While it may seem like a good idea to substitute an old 1960's limited dimple, yellowed ball, it's actual not legal under the real rules of golf. Unfortunately you need to man up (or woman up) and make a go at it. What may be comforting though, is to know that many courses and tournament committees offer "drop areas" and local rules that state if you hit one ball in the water, then you can proceed to the drop area. The drop area may be on the same side of the water from where you originally hit from, but often times they are actually on the other side of the water which gives huge relief.

The USGA Rules of Golf defines Water Hazards as:


"A water hazard (e.g., yellow stakes and/or lines) is any sea, lake, pond, river, ditch, surface drainage ditch or other open water course (whether or not containing water) and anything of a similar nature on the course. All ground and water within the margin of a water hazard are part of the water hazard."

Know the Difference

As it states water hazards are defined by yellow lines and stakes. The stakes are usually used to identify the hazard. In other words, they make it visible for you from far away. The lines are used to identify the boundary so when you get up to the hazard you will be able to trace the boundary between stakes to see if you ball lies in or out of the hazard. Water hazards are typically bodies of water that you have to hit over like a creek or a lake, whereas lateral water hazards typically run alongside of the hole. It is important to be clear on the difference and on the different procedures for taking a drop so that you obviously don't break the rules, but also take advantage of the best option possible.

The procedure for dealing with a Water Hazard as listed in the USGA Rules of Golf 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."

What's Your Best Distance?

I think the best way for you to decide which option to take (hit it where it lies, re-hit from original position or take a drop) is to decide which option has the best lie AND affords you the opportunity to hit a club that you are comfortable hitting. Putting yourself at a distance that you like to hit from goes a long way. No matter what you decide, remember to add a stroke to your score and as always, it's only one stroke and one hole so let it go and move on. You will most likely have plenty of opportunity to make up for this unfortunate mistake on another hole.

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.

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