Golf Rules Water Hazard

Know the Rules: Situation Two, Water Hazards

Todd Pataky Golf Instruction, Rules & Scoring Leave a Comment

It’s a fine, warm day (well, not here in Maryland in February, but a guy can dream) and you are standing on the tee of a par-3 with a stream down the left side of the hole that crosses in front of the green. The sun is out. There is a light breeze fluffing your hair.

Along the water there are red stakes leading toward the green, and then yellow stakes as the stream crosses in front of the green.


You confidently pull a 7-iron from your bag, tee up a clean ball (players don’t use “water balls”), and make your swing…

And watch in horror as your ball hooks into the hazard to the left. Or, you chunk it into the water.

Or, even more confusing, the ball lands on the far side of the water, just short of the green, and rolls back into the water.

What do you do?

The first thing to remember is that you always, always, have the option to hit your next shot from the same place from which you just played. There will be a penalty, of course, but if you don’t know the rule, you may take a stroke penalty and replay the shot you just attempted.

In the case of our story above, that would mean you tee up another clean ball (players do not use “water balls”), and make your third stroke.

Yellow stakes


Yellow stakes are used to define the margins of a water hazard. Sometimes the course will have painted a yellow line on the ground to indicate the hazard line, but most of the time, they don’t. The line can be said to exist between the stakes. A ball is deemed to have crossed the margin of the hazard if the entirety of the ball lies within the hazard. If any part of the ball lies outside the hazard, the ball is out of the hazard. A ball on the line is not in the hazard.

With yellow stakes, there are three options, and occasionally a fourth.

First, as I indicated above, you may always play another ball from the place you last played.

With the exception of a ball out of bounds, you always have the option to play the ball as it lies, even in a hazard. A quick aside on this option. Playing the ball out of water is very likely a shot you have never tried or practiced, and is considered an expert-level shot not to be attempted unless you are a very, very good player. That having been said, a couple notes on attempting this shot: Play it like a buried bunker shot, swing harder than you think you need to, and if more than half the ball is submerged, do not attempt this shot.

Also, it is a good idea to put your rain gear on before you attempt to play a ball out of water.


If you are going to play the ball out of the hazard, even if it is not actually in the water, you must not ground your club. To do so is a penalty.

The most likely thing you will do, if your ball goes into a water hazard is take a drop.

Keeping the point that the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard (the yellow line) between you and the hole, you may proceed backward as far as you like and take a drop. This is handy because you can give yourself a distance with which you are comfortable to play your next shot.

So, if your ball lands on the green and rolls backward into the hazard, the point where it last crossed into the hazard is the point you have to keep between you and the hole, not the point where it first crossed the hazard on its way to the green.

Occasionally, you will encounter a drop area where you can play your next shot (with a penalty, of course.) This is the fourth option I mentioned, but of course, this is not always available to you.

Look for my next article where I will cover those red stakes and what options are available to you with them.

Cover Photo via Flickr

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