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

Yellow stakes indicate that Adam Scott is inside the boundary of a water hazard
The yellow stakes (and line) indicate that Adam Scott is inside the boundary of a water hazard. Jeff Gross / Getty Images

Yellow stakes and lines on a golf course indicate a water hazard. (Lateral water hazards are marked by red stakes/lines.)

Why are indicators needed for a water hazard? Shouldn't a water hazard be obvious? Most of the time, yes, but sometimes a part of the golf course - say, a seasonal creek, or a ditch - might be designated a water hazard even though there is rarely (or never) water in it.

Also, the stakes and lines indicate the boundary of the designated water hazard.

Golfers can try to play out of a water hazard, and sometimes that's easy to do. If a ball crosses the margin of a water hazard (designated by the yellow stakes or yellow lines, which are themselves considered part of the hazard), but is not actually in water, it might be easily playable.

What If It's Under Water?

If a ball is under water, however, it's almost always best to take the penalty and put a new ball into play, even if you are able to see your ball.

The penalty is one stroke. There are two options for putting a new ball into play. One is to return to the spot from which the previous stroke was played and play it again. The second and more commonly chosen option is to take a drop.

When a golfer takes a drop out of a water hazard, he must drop behind the point where his ball crossed the margin of the hazard. The drop can be made as far back as the golfer wishes, so long as the point where the ball crossed into the hazard is kept between the drop area and the hole.

(For an explanation of this concept, see the faq, "What does 'keeping that point between you and the hole' mean?".)

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 water hazards can be found in Rule 26.

And remember: Yellow means water hazard, red means lateral water hazard, and the rules for lateral water hazards are slightly different.

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