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Hazard Markers and What They Mean

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Hazard Markers and What They Mean

For those who are still learning the game, there may be some confusion as to what certain boundaries constitute, and what your options are if your ball ends up in or near them. The most common boundaries a golfer will contend with are hazards (which are typically water hazards) and out of bounds (which will be referred to from this point on as O.B.). Understanding what each of these boundaries mean is critical to keeping score and playing within the rules; that’s why in this article we’ll go through hazard markers and what they mean so you can feel safe on the course. Let’s get started!

Two Different Water Hazards

Water hazards come in two varieties: Water Hazards and Lateral Water Hazards. These hazards are typically defined by colors; Water Hazards are marked with yellow lines/stakes, while Lateral Water Hazards are defined with red lines/stakes.

If you’re back on the tee or a long way back in the fairway, and unsure which kind of hazards a particular hole has, the simple explanation is that Lateral Water Hazards tend to run parallel to the hole, and Water Hazards will typically cut through the fairway or in front of or behind the green. These distinctions are important, since one type of hazard has more options than the other.

Water Hazard

For example, say you play your approach shot into a green, and it carries over a yellow-staked hazard, and lands in the water. Under the Rules of Golf, you have three options:

  1. ​Play it as it lies (No penalty, but you must follow certain guidelines. Stay tuned.).
  2. ​Drop a ball near the spot where you played your last shot, also known as Stroke and Distance, which we will discuss later regarding O.B. (One-shot penalty).
  3. Find the point where the ball last crossed the hazard, and keep that point between you and the hole, making sure to drop behind the hazard, no nearer the hole. (One-shot penalty).

The third option can easily be the most frustrating, especially if your ball landed over the hazard, then rolled back into the drink. To play in accordance to the Rules, one must drop back behind the hazard.

Lateral Water Hazard

However, if your ball ends up in a Lateral Water Hazard, you still have the above options, plus two additional, each carrying a one-shot penalty:

  1. ​Drop a ball within two club-lengths of where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard, no nearer the hole.
  2. Drop a ball within two club-lengths on the opposite side of the hazard where the ball last crossed, no nearer the hole.

If these explanations are difficult to put into practice, check out this great video below courtesy of the USGA:

A couple footnotes:

  • ​If the hazard is not marked by a line, the hazard margin is created by the alignment of the stakes, which also act as a plane (i.e. the boundaries also include below the surface as well as above).
  • ​Your ball is deemed to be in the hazard if any part of it is touching the hazard margin.
  • If you choose to play your ball from a hazard, you must be sure to not ground the club or touch the hazard on the backswing. You can also move the stakes if necessary.

Out of Bounds

O.B. stakes and rules are much easier to understand and implement in practice. The margin/boundaries are defined by white stakes and/or lines, and indicates areas of the course that are deemed to be not in play, even if your golf ball is playable from these areas.

Unlike water hazards, where your ball is deemed to be in a hazard if a part of the ball touches the margin, a golf ball is considered O.B. if the ball is completely on or past the boundary. If any part of the ball is touching in-bounds, it is still in play.

If your ball comes to rest O.B., you only have one option: Stroke and Distance. You must go back to where you originally played your last shot and drop (unless it went O.B. from the tee; if so, you can still tee it up), taking a one-shot penalty.

The Provisional

If you feel like a shot has gone O.B., but you’re not sure, one option you have is to play a provisional. Once you verbally declare your next ball as a provisional, you play it as if your first ball is lost or O.B. If you cannot find your original ball, or it is found O.B., your provisional becomes your new ball in play, adding the additional stroke penalty. While this doesn’t save any strokes, it does save time and having to take the dreaded “walk of shame” to play your next shot from the last spot.

Note: If you are able to play a shot near or around the O.B. lines, make sure that you do not move any white stakes. That’s a two-shot penalty.

For a basic video explanation of the O.B. rules, check out this video below, courtesy of Quail Ridge CC:

The Final Word

The rules of golf can be intimidating and often confusing, but having a basic knowledge of them will keep the game fair for everyone! Use this information to play better and smarter the next time you tee it up! Fairways and greens to you!

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