What Do Red Stakes or Red Lines Mean on a Golf Course?

Rory McIlroy plays a shot from next to lateral water hazard, marked by red stakes and red lines
Red stakes or red lines - or both, as in this photo - are used to denote lateral water hazards. Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Red stakes pounded into the ground on a golf course, or red lines painted on the ground, are the markers used to indicate a lateral water hazard. A lateral water hazard is differentiated from a "regular" water hazard by the fact that it is, well, lateral. That is, it runs alongside or adjacent to the line of play, rather than across it.

Picture a typical water hazard, say, a creek that crosses the fairway or a pond in front of the putting green.

If a golfer hits into such a water hazard, it's no problem to take a drop behind the spot where his ball entered the hazard.

A lateral water hazard, however, might be a creek that runs alongside a hole, or a lake to the side of a fairway that extends all the way back to the tee or beyond. Dropping behind such a hazard would not just be inconvient, it would be unfair. That's why lateral water hazards are handled differently than "normal" water hazards.

Why Are Red Stakes/Lines Needed?

That might seem like a silly question to people who are already golfers. But for those aren't, it's perfectly sensible: Why do you need to indicate a lateral water hazard by putting red stakes next to it, or painting red lines around it? I mean, isn't it obvious that the hazard is there?

Yes, it is almost always obvious that the hazard is there. What might not be obvious, however, is what kind of hazard it is, and rules and procedures may be slightly different depending on the type of hazard.

A water hazard that goes across the fairway is designated with the color yellow.

So the red stakes and lines indicate the boundary of the lateral water hazard, and also rule out misinterpreting what type of hazard is it.

A Water Hazard Can Use Red for Part, Yellow for Another

Different sections of the same body of water on a golf course can be designated a water hazard and a lateral water hazard.

Picture a pond that runs alongside the hole, then fingers out into the fairway. That part crossing the fairway - which can be easily dropped behind - would be marked with yellow stakes and lines; that part alongside the hole would be marked with red stakes and lines.

As for dealing with a ball that has entered a lateral water hazard: Golfers have the same option to play from the hazard if they so desire.

More likely, a golfer will assess himself a 1-stroke penalty and take a drop. The drop can be taken within two club lengths from the point where the ball crossed the margin of the hazard, no nearer the hole. Or a golfer can go to the opposite side of the lateral water hazard and drop at a spot on the hazard's margin that is equidistant from the hole.

A ball is considered in the hazard when it lies within the hazard or when any part of it touches the hazard (remember, stakes and lines are themselves part of the hazard).

Rules covering lateral water hazards are covered in Rule 26.