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Water Hazards - Rule 26

This issue we are looking into the world of the Water Hazard and Lateral Water Hazard, covered in Rule 26.

So, what is a Water Hazard? According to the Definitions section of the Rules of Golf:

“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… Stakes or lines used to define the margin of or identify a Water Hazard must be yellow” In addition; A “Lateral Water Hazard” is a Water Hazard or that part of a Water Hazard so situated that it is not possible, or is deemed by the Committee to be impracticable, to drop a ball behind the Water Hazard in accordance with Rule 26- 1b…Stakes or lines used to define the margin of or identify a Lateral Water Hazard must be red.”

Unlike stakes defining Out of Bounds, Water Hazard stakes are obstructions, and can therefore be removed by the player without penalty. Interesting to also note that as a Hazard line is itself in the Hazard, if any part of the ball touches any part of the line the ball lies in the hazard. Relief from a Water Hazard is available under the remit of Rule 26-1, but how much proof must there be that the ball is in the Water Hazard? Is it enough that the ball was in the general area? If it rattled around in the trees near the margin and fell down somewhere near the edge can you assume it is in the Hazard?

Well, the answer is simply, no! To quote Rule 26-1, “It is a question of fact whether a ball that has not been found after having been struck towards a Water Hazard is in the Hazard. In the absence of knowledge or virtual certainty that a ball struck towards a Water Hazard, but not found, is in the Hazard, the player must proceed under Rule 27-1 (Stroke & Distance).”

Let’s put this into perspective. You don’t have to personally see your ball plop into the water and stay there, but there must be ‘virtual certainty’, so someone else may verify it (a playing partner or even a member of the public). In fact, any available information can be used to establish the facts, but the important point is that there must be “knowledge or virtual certainty”.

Let’s look at a couple of examples to explain this; A player hits a ball towards a Water Hazard. On arriving at the scene the ball cannot be found, but the fairway slopes down towards the Hazard and there is no rough between the fairway and the Hazard. As the ball cannot be found there is “knowledge or virtual certainty” that it is therefore in the Water Hazard.

Again the ball is struck towards a Water Hazard, However, in this case there are some bushes and long rough in the area where the ball landed. After a five minute search the ball is not found. As the ball could be lying in a bush or heavy rough it cannot be assumed that it is in the Hazard due to lack of “knowledge or virtual certainty”, so the player must proceed under penalty of stroke and distance (Rule 27-1).

We now have a better understanding of what a Water Hazard or Lateral Water Hazard is, and when we can consider a ball to be lost in one. Next issue we will tackle the detail of taking relief from them and various related Decisions.

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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