Looking Back at Rule 26 (Water Hazards) in the Golf Rules

Man searching for golf ball lost in water hazard
If you have to take your shoes off to search for a golf ball, you probably have Rule 26 in mind.

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In the current Rules of Golf, there are 24 rules. Rule 26 does not exist. However, a Rule 26 used to exist in the rule book that was in effect prior to 2019. And that old Rule 26 is what appears below.

Key Takeaways

  • The current Rules of Golf include 24 rules, so there is no Rule 26.
  • Prior to 2019 the rule book was longer, and a Rule 26 did exist. It covered water hazards and lateral water hazards.
  • In the rules in effect since 2019, water hazards have been renamed "penalty areas." Penalty areas are covered in current Rule 17.

The old Rule 26 dealt with water hazards and lateral water hazards. Not only have the USGA and R&A condensed the current rule book to just 24 rules, they even stopped using the terms "water hazard" and "lateral water hazard." In the current rule book, those terms are replaced by "penalty area."

And in the current Rules of Golf, penalty areas are covered in Rule 17. Therefore, one can say that the old Rule 26 is the new Rule 17. However, the current Rule 17 is not a duplicate of what appears below; it was rewritten along with the rest of the rule book in the update that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2019. For current rules regarding what used to be called water hazards on golf courses, read Rule 17 on USGA.org or on RandA.org.

Old Rule 26 in the Rules of Golf

What follows is the text of Rule 26 as it existed in the Rules of Golf prior to 2019, as written by the USGA and R&A.

26-1. Relief for Ball in Water Hazard

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.

(Prohibited actions when ball is in a hazard – see Rule 13-4)
(Ball moving in water in a water hazard – see Rule 14-6)

26-2. Ball Played Within Water Hazard

a. Ball Comes to Rest in Same or Another Water Hazard

If a ball played from within a water hazard comes to rest in the same or another water hazard after the stroke, the player may:

(i) under penalty of one stroke, play a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the last stroke from outside a water hazard was made (see Rule 20-5); or

(ii) proceed under Rule 26-1a, 26-1b or, if applicable, Rule 26-1c, incurring the penalty of one stroke under that Rule. For purposes of applying Rule 26-1b or 26-1c, the reference point is the point where the original ball last crossed the margin of the hazard in which it lies.

Note: If the player proceeds under Rule 26-1a by dropping a ball in the hazard as near as possible to the spot from which the original ball was last played, but elects not to play the dropped ball, he may then proceed under Clause (i) above, Rule 26-1b or, if applicable, Rule 26-1c. If he does so, he incurs a total of two penalty strokes: the penalty of one stroke for proceeding under Rule 26-1a, and an additional penalty of one stroke for then proceeding under Clause (i) above, Rule 26-1b or Rule 26-1c.

b. Ball Lost or Unplayable Outside Hazard or Out of Bounds
If a ball played from within a water hazard is lost or deemed unplayable outside the hazard or is out of bounds, the player may, after taking a penalty of one stroke under Rule 27-1 or 28a, play a ball as nearly as possible at the spot in the hazard from which the original ball was last played (see Rule 20-5).

If the player elects not to play a ball from that spot, he may:

(i) add an additional penalty of one stroke (making a total of two penalty strokes) and play a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the last stroke from outside a water hazard was made (see Rule 20-5); or

(ii) proceed under Rule 26-1b or, if applicable, Rule 26-1c, adding the additional penalty of one stroke prescribed by the Rule (making a total of two penalty strokes) and using as the reference point the point where the original ball last crossed the margin of the hazard before it came to rest in the hazard.

Note 1: When proceeding under Rule 26-2b, the player is not required to drop a ball under Rule 27-1 or 28a. If he does drop a ball, he is not required to play it. He may alternatively proceed under Clause (i) or (ii) above. If he does so, he incurs a total of two penalty strokes: the penalty of one stroke under Rule 27-1 or 28a, and an additional penalty of one stroke for then proceeding under Clause (i) or (ii) above.

Note 2: If a ball played from within a water hazard is deemed unplayable outside the hazard, nothing in Rule 26-2b precludes the player from proceeding under Rule 28b or c.

PENALTY FOR BREACH OF RULE:

Match play – Loss of hole; Stroke play – Two strokes.