Guidance on Running a Competition

Water Hazards

The Definition of “Water Hazard” states that 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 is a water hazard. However, there are two different forms of water hazard – a normal water hazard and a lateral water hazard.

The distinguishing factor is that if a player’s ball last crosses the margin of a normal water hazard it will be possible for the player to take relief by dropping a ball behind the hazard keeping the point at which the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped (see Rule 26-1b). If the water hazard is so situated that this is not possible, or the Committee deem it to be impracticable, the water hazard is a lateral water hazard.

A common example of a lateral water hazard would be a body of water running parallel to a hole with the ground on the far side of the hazard’s margin being wooded or extremely overgrown. In this situation, a player could not proceed under Rule 26-1b without dropping his ball in a virtually unplayable lie and, therefore, if the hazard is not defined as a lateral water hazard, the player would be faced with a stroke-and-distance penalty. 

In the vast majority of situations, bodies of water that meet the Definition of a lateral water hazard will be defined as such. However, Note 3 to the Definition of lateral water hazard gives a Committee authority to define such a hazard as a water hazard. A Committee may wish to do this if it feels that relief under Rule 26-1c is overly generous and diminishes the challenge of a particular hole.

For example, if a putting green is situated on an island in a lake it may be the case that parts of the lake, by Definition, should be marked as a lateral water hazard. However, this may result in a player, whose ball has entered the lake having last crossed the margin at the edge of the green, being able to drop his ball on the green under Rule 26-1c. In these circumstances, the Committee, under Note 3 to the Definition of lateral water hazard, may define the lake as a water hazard and establish a dropping zone where the player could drop a ball under penalty of one stroke. This gives the player an additional option other than proceeding under stroke and distance (Rule 26-1a), but still requires him to negotiate the water hazard successfully (see Decision 33-2a/10).

Marking the Course WH2

When stakes and lines are used, it is recommended to position the stake outside the hazard and to ensure they are movable.

As provided in the Definitions, stakes or lines used to define the margins of a water hazard must be yellow and, in the case of lateral water hazards, they must be red.

Stakes or lines or a combination of stakes and lines can be used to define the margin of water hazards and lateral water hazards. However, where both stakes and lines are used, the Definition of “Water Hazard” provides that the line defines the hazard margin. Where both stakes and lines are used it is recommended to position the stakes outside the line defining the margin of the water hazard.

In general, lines or stakes defining the margins of a water hazard should be placed as nearly as possible along the natural limits of the hazard, i.e. where the ground breaks down to form the depression containing the water. This means that sloping banks will be included within the margins of the hazard. However, if, for example, there is a large bush just outside the natural margin of the water hazard, it is suggested that the bush be included within the hazard margins. Otherwise, a player whose ball entered the hazard in this area may not have a reasonable spot at which to drop.

Marking the Course WH3

A bridge is an obstruction which lies within the margin of a water hazard.

It is especially important in the case of lateral water hazards to ensure that the sloping banks of the hazard are included within the margins so that a player dropping a ball within two clublengths of the hazard margin will be dropping on ground from which he will have a reasonable opportunity to make a stroke. Where the margins are situated a reasonable distance away from the water itself and there is a likelihood that a player’s ball could be playable on the bank of the hazard, it is essential that the hazard is well marked so that the player realises that his ball is in a hazard and does not unwittingly breach Rule 13-4.

When only stakes are used for definition, the straight line from stake to stake determines the limit of the hazard. Therefore, care must be taken to ensure that no area that should be within the hazard lies outside the line (see Decision 26/2). On the other hand, where the natural limit of the hazard is obvious, for example, where the ground breaks at 90°, the Committee may use stakes to indicate the type of hazard, provided the Local Rules state that the margins are defined by where the ground breaks.

If a body of water is part water hazard and part lateral water hazard, a yellow stake and a red stake should be placed side by side where the change in status takes place. This applies even if the hazard is defined by a line. This practice assists players in determining the status of the hazard where the ball last crossed the margin.


A yellow stake and a red stake should be placed side by side where the water hazard changes status.

By Definition, stakes or lines defining hazards are in the hazards. Stakes are obstructions. Therefore, if they are movable, players are entitled to relief without penalty from them under Rule 24-1. If they are immovable, relief without penalty is provided under Rule 24-2 when the ball lies outside the hazard. However, if the ball is in the hazard, the player is not entitled to immovable obstruction relief. Accordingly, it is recommended that stakes marking hazards are movable.