What Is 'Casual Water' on the Golf Course?

And What to Do When You Hit Into Casual Water

Michael Letzig pulls his ball out of a mud puddle on the second fairway during round three of the RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey Golf Club on July 26, 2009 in Oakville, Ontario, Canada
Chris McGrath/Getty ImagesĀ 

"Casual water" is a temporary accumulation of water on the golf course. In other words, a lake is not casual water, but a puddle of rainwater (that will disappear once the sun comes out) is.

Casual water is not uncommon on golf courses, particularly those that don't drain well, following a steady or heavy rainfall. But casual water is not a water hazard; under the rules, golfers are entitled to free relief if casual water interferes with one's stance or one's golf ball rests in the water.

Official Definition of 'Casual Water' in the Rules

Here is the official definition of casual water as it appears in the Rules of Golf, as written by the USGA and R&A:

" 'Casual water' is any temporary accumulation of water on the course that is not in a water hazard and is visible before or after the player takes his stance. Snow and natural ice, other than frost, are either casual water or loose impediments, at the option of the player. Manufactured ice is an obstruction. Dew and frost are not casual water.

"A ball is in casual water when it lies in or any part of it touches the casual water."

Casual water must be identifiable before or after a player has taken his stance. Ground that is merely wet, spongy, mushy or muddy is not casual water. There must be an accumulation of water above ground that is visible.

If a golfer takes his stance where water is not visible, however, but taking the stances causes water to push up onto the surface where it becomes visible, that does qualify as casual water.

What to Do When You Hit Into Casual Water

Under the rules of golf, casual water is classified an abnormal ground condition. If a golfer determines his golf ball rests in casual water, or that casual water interferes with his stance, he is entitled to relief. Rule 25 covers relief from casual water, and breaks down the course of action depending on where your ball sits on the golf course: through the green, in a bunker, on the putting green or on the teeing ground.

  • Through the green: "If the ball lies through the green, the player must lift the ball and drop it, without penalty, within one club-length of and not nearer the hole than the nearest point of relief," Rule 25 states. ("Through the green" basically means the fairway and rough of the hole you are playing, plus tees and greens on other holes.)
  • In a bunker: If your ball finds casual water inside a bunker, you can drop without penalty elsewhere in the same bunker so long as your golf ball winds up no nearer the hole. Or, with a one-stroke penalty, you can drop outside the bunker. (This is true even when the entire bunker is filled with water.)
  • On the putting green: When in casual water on the putting green, the golfer should lift and place her golf ball at the nearest point of relief that is not in a hazard and not closer to the hole. (And it's possible that might mean off the putting green.)
  • On the teeing ground: Lift the ball and drop it at the nearest point of relief, same as when through the green.

Consult Rule 25 for the full text of the rule as it applies to taking relief from abnormal ground conditions.