USGA Rules: Water hazards Print
Friday, 02 March 2018 15:32

The GCAA is partnering with the USGA, represented by Jamie Wallaceto do a feature on the Rules of Golf focusing on common situations that players encounter. Each month, we plan to highlight a specific Rule or Rules situation that is relevant to college golfers or one that is often misunderstood. We will highlight what the Rule says and how it is applied to the situation at hand.

This month, Jamie takes a deeper look at the rules for water hazards.

Video Example Link

Hitting a ball into a water hazard is one of the most common Rules scenarios that golfers encounter during a round. And while most golfers know the basics of their relief options, there is a little more to it than many realize. So let's run through a brief refresher course on water hazards.

All water hazards will be marked with either red stakes/lines or yellow stakes/lines. Generally lateral (red) water hazards are situated on either the left or right side of a hole and regular (yellow) water hazards are situated so that the player has to play directly over them. When you find yourself in a water hazard, its color is the first thing you need to take note of as it will dictate what relief options are available to you.

Yellow water hazards

Let's start with regular water hazards, which are always marked yellow. You can, of course, play your ball as it lies in the hazard, if possible. If you choose to take relief, below are your two options, each for one penalty stroke:

  • Proceed under stroke and distance by dropping a ball at the spot of your previous stroke.
  • Determine the spot where your ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard and then drop a ball on a straight line from the flagstick through that spot going back as far as you would like.

Red water hazards

Now, let's take a look at lateral water hazards, which are always marked red. Again, you can play your ball as it lies, if possible. You can also use either of the two relief options described above for regular water hazards. Additionally, you can use the two options below, which are specific to lateral water hazards, and each comes with one penalty stroke:

  • Drop within two club-lengths of and not nearer the hole than the point where your ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard.
  • Drop within two club-lengths of and not nearer the hole than the point on the opposite side of the lateral water hazard that is the same distance from the hole as the point where your ball last crossed into the hazard.

The video above of Bruce Lietzke is from the 2003 U.S. Senior Open played at The Broadmoor in Colorado. It provides a visual depiction of Lietzke's different relief options after his approach shot came to rest in a lateral water hazard.

If you have a Rules question that comes up in a tournament this spring or that happened during a past round, feel free to send it in to us at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  and perhaps we will address it in a future newsletter. If you have any questions about the topics discussed here, or have any other Rules of Golf questions, please feel free to contact the USGA Rules department at 908-326-1850 (available seven days a week) or  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .