Water Torture: Advice on a wet ball

A guide to different scenarios where water is a factor on the golf course

Jean Van de Velde
Jean Van de Velde
(Image credit: Dave Cannon, Getty Images)

Here we take a look at some of the situations where water appears on the golf course and the corresponding implications. Where should you drop it? Will there be a penalty? Could you try to play it as it lies?

Darn it. My ball has gone in a stream. It’s marked by yellow stakes. What does this mean?

Bad luck, you’re in a ‘Water Hazard.’ This is any sea, lake, pond, river, ditch or other form of open water within the bounds of the course.

Your options are (under penalty of one stroke): - Play a ball from the spot where the original ball was last played.

Or, - Drop a ball behind the water hazard on a line between the ball’s original point of entry into the hazard and the flag. There’s no limit to how far behind the water hazard you drop it.

Or, (with no penalty): - Take your shoes and socks off, get in there and try to hack it out. Remember, you are in a hazard so you can’t touch the water with your club before you attempt to hit it (or even with your hand for that matter.)

Crikey. Now I’ve gone in a lake. The edge is marked by red stakes. What do I do?

Red stakes define a ‘Lateral Water Hazard.’ This is a ‘Water Hazard’ situated where it would be impossible, or deemed impractical by the committee, to take a drop behind it.

You have the options described above plus two others, (under penalty of one stroke):

- Drop a ball outside the hazard, no nearer the hole, within two club lengths of the point where the ball crossed the margin of the hazard

- Or, drop at a point on the opposite margin of the hazard equidistant from the hole.

Explain this then: There’s a pond at my course marked by both red and yellow stakes.

There are a few reasons why this might be the case. - A body of water can be defined as a ‘Water Hazard’ from the back tees and as a ‘Lateral Water Hazard’ from the forward tees.

- A section of a body of water may be defined as ‘Water Hazard’ for play on one hole and as ‘Lateral Water Hazard’ for play on another hole.

- One section of a body of water may be defined as ‘Water Hazard’ and another section of the same body of water as ‘Lateral Water Hazard.’

Right, I’ve gone in a stream but it’s not staked. Surely it’s a free drop.

It’s the responsibility of the committee to clearly define the margins of ‘Water Hazards’. But, even if they haven’t done it, you must still treat the ditch as a 'Water Hazard.'

This is ridiculous bad luck. Now I’m in a big puddle in the middle of the fairway. Another penalty drop?

Not this time. You’re in ‘Casual Water’: a temporary accumulation of water on the course not in a ‘Water Hazard.’ You will receive a free drop within one-club length of the nearest point of relief (no closer to the hole.)

What would happen if I went in a puddle like that in a bunker?

You’d still be entitled to a free drop, but you’d have to take it within the bunker. If the bunker were filled with water, making it impossible to drop it in a playable position in the bunker, you’d have to take a penalty drop behind the bunker. You’d drop on a line between where the ball lay in the bunker and the flag. It’s possibly one of golf’s harshest rules.

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?