Water Hazard in Golf

Troy Matteson hits his tee shot over a water hazard on the 11th hole during the third round of the 2007 AT&T Classic
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

On a golf course, a "water hazard" is a pond, lake, river, stream, sea, bay, ocean or any other open water on the course, including ditches and drainage ditches. (A "lateral water hazard" refers to specific type of water hazard that runs parallel to a golf hole, and lateral water hazrads offer slightly different options to the golfer who hits into one).

Definition of 'Water Hazard' in the Rulebook

This is the official definition of "water hazard" as it appears in the Rules of Golf:

Water Hazard
A "water hazard" is any sea, lake, pond, river, ditch, surface drainage ditch or other open water course (whether or not containing water) and anything of a similar nature on the course. All ground and water within the margin of a water hazard are part of the water hazard.
When the margin of a water hazard is defined by stakes, the stakes are inside the water hazard, and the margin of the hazard is defined by the nearest outside points of the stakes at ground level. When both stakes and lines are used to indicate a water hazard, the stakes identify the hazard and the lines define the hazard margin. When the margin of a water hazard is defined by a line on the ground, the line itself is in the water hazard. The margin of a water hazard extends vertically upwards and downwards.
A ball is in a water hazard when it lies in or any part of it touches the water hazard.
Stakes used to define the margin of or identify a water hazard are obstructions.
Note 1: Stakes or lines used to define the margin of or identify a water hazard must be yellow.
Note 2: The Committee may make a Local Rule prohibiting play from an environmentally-sensitive area defined as a water hazard.

What Happens When You Hit Your Golf Ball Into a Water Hazard?

Usually, nothing good! You always have the option to go into the water hazard and attempt to play your ball out of the water. This is generally a terrible idea.

So it is far more likely you'll suffer a penalty. Water hazards are covered in the official rules under Rule 26. Read that rule for the scoop on options when you hit into a water hazard; the most common result will be a stroke-plus-distance penalty: Apply a 1-stroke penalty to your score and return to the spot of the previous stroke to hit again. (As noted at the outset, the procedure can be different - more options - for lateral water hazards, so be sure to read the rule.)

Did You Know You Don't Need Water to Have a Water Hazard?

There doesn't have to be water in a water hazard for it to be, well, a water hazard under the rules.

If a seasonal creek, for example, is defined as a water hazard by the committee, but your ball finds it when the creek is dry, the ball must be played under all the rules for water hazards. That means no grounding of your club inside the hazard, no lifting of the ball, etc. - all the rules of a water hazard apply in such a situation even though the hazard (in this example) is dry.

The boundary of a water hazard extends vertically, so if your ball comes to rest on, say, a cart path bridge crossing a water hazard, your ball is considered to be in the hazard. Water hazard boundaries should be defined by yellow stakes or lines (lateral water hazards by red stakes or lines). Those boundaries often extend out a few feet from the surface of the water itself. If your ball crosses the marked boundary but sits on dry land, it's still considered in the water hazard.

For further reading - including procedures for taking relief and all the options available to golfers who hit into water hazards (including lateral water hazards), read Rule 26 of the Rules of Golf.

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