Red and Yellow Hazards
By Snyper on 8/16/10
Matt Snyder is an opinionated* golf enthusiast from Pennsylvania. He coaches at the high school level, molding the minds and swings of our next generation. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts and opinions of Matt in the comments. Don't hold back- because Matt won't.

The game of golf has just about as many rules and interpretations as every other major sport combined! The number of different crazy scenarios that occur on a golf course seems to be infinite. So, it is unrealistic to expect golfers, especially the weekend golfer, to know all the rules of the game. However, it is fair to say that if you are going to play the game, you should take a little time to learn the basic rules that are needed most frequently. It is my plan to do a couple different posts to help explain the most common rulings come up in the course of the average round.

It doesn't matter what is inside the stakes, but instead the color of the stakes.

In this column, I want to highlight the distinction between yellow and red hazards. Because these colors are most often used to define water hazards, players rarely know the difference between the two colors in terms of how you may take relief. Additionally, we relate the colors red and yellow with water when, in fact, they can be used to mark any hazard with or without water. Golf courses will also define hazards, such as weeds or natural grass areas, with the same red or yellow stakes. So, the first thing that needs to be understood is that hazards are hazards. It doesn’t matter what is inside the stakes, but the color of those stakes is what is important.

Let's look at the yellow hazard first. Most commonly, yellow stakes can be found marking the boundary of a pond or stream that runs directly between the tee box and the green. In other words, the hazard must be crossed at some point in order to get to the green. If your ball comes to rest in a hazard marked by yellow stakes, you have two options as to how you may take relief. It should also be noted that you don’t have to take relief. If you want to play the ball out of the hazard, red or yellow, you may. However, you may not move any loose impediments in the hazard and you also may not ground your club in the hazard. But, you do have the option to play the ball as it lies.

If you do choose to take relief, the first option that you have is to play your next shot from as close as possible to the point from which you hit your original shot. So, if you were in the middle of the fairway at 150 yards and you hit it in the drink, you can go back to that spot and try to hit the shot again, plus a one-stroke penalty. Thus, if you hit your second shot in the water, you would be hitting your fourth shot from that same spot. This is the less commonly selected choice of the two because it is essentially a stroke and distance penalty.

it is often times impractical to take relief by going behind the hazard so the rules of golf allow for an additional option for relief.

The second option for relief from a yellow hazard is usually your best option, but is also the most misunderstood choice as well. The other way to take relief from a yellow hazard is to mark the point that the ball crossed the hazard and then draw a line between that point and the flag. You may drop your ball at any point on that line. Essentially, you can go back, keeping the point where your ball crossed the hazard in line with the pin, as far as you choose to go. Please note that you cannot go back on the line of flight that your ball took as it flew into the hazard! That is the most common mistake in this type of relief situation. How your ball got there doesn’t matter. What matters is the point where it crossed the hazard. Those are the two different forms of relief that you may take for a water hazard or any other hazard marked by a yellow stake.

Ok, so what about red stakes? Well, red stakes are used to mark lateral hazards. Because these hazards run parallel to the hole, it is often times impractical to take relief by going behind the hazard as described in the second option of the yellow stakes. So, the rules of golf allow for an additional option for relief if your ball is in a red hazard. That third option is to take relief within two club lengths of where the ball crossed the hazard, no nearer to the pin. This may be down from either side of the red hazard. Just because your ball crossed the hazard on the right side doesn’t mean that you can’t take relief, within two club lengths and equidistant from the hole, on the left side of the same hazard. That third option is the only difference between a hazard marked by red stakes and a hazard marked by yellow stakes.

Hazards are a very common part of most golf courses. And, if you're like me, your ball is likely to find its way into them sooner or later. Hopefully, this will help you to know your options when you find yourself in this predicament. Remember, don’t hesitate to spread the word to your playing partners when they are in a similar scenario and don’t know what to do. Too often, guys just throw a ball down and play on because they don’t know any other way. Do your best to change that and help others play the game as it was meant to be played.


* Matt's views and opinions are his own do not necessarily reflect those of oobgolf.


photo source


[ comments ]
bducharm says:
Thanks Matt - good synopsis. I highly recommend everyone take a few minutes and go to www.usga.org and look up the rules regarding relief (rules 20-28). It's amazing how many players do not know the proper procedures on taking relief and penalty strokes. There are quizzes there as well, which are fun to take because of the nature of the questions.
8/16/10
 
SingleDigits says:
Bubba Watson had those same 4 choices on the 18th hole during the playoff at the conclusion of the PGA this weekend (replay shot, go back along the line, & either side of the hazard. He looked at both the right & left side of the hazard and choose the right side, but the commentators thought he'd have a better chance dropping farther back along the line -- clean line, full swing, more spin to stop the ball on the green, etc. Even so, Bubba almost holed out from the bunker on his 5th shot (hit the pin but bounced out!).
8/16/10
 
thescott says:
Does anyone know what the proper relief is for an environmentally sensitive ares (green-topped stakes)? My understanding is the USGA's policy is that local rules may stipulate that players get a free drop from green-topped hazards (because you do not have the option of playing out of the hazard), however most courses that I've played have no listed local rule (that I can find) that defines how they play such scenarios. Is it correct to assume, then, that you should take relief + stroke as if it were a yellow (water) hazard?
8/16/10
 
joegolf68 says:
Green stakes, or stakes indicating environmentally sensitive areas (tree hugging obstructions/IMHO) are delegated to the local rules as how to play. Most won't let you play out of the area or even enter the area, and require you to play it as a lateral hazard, except in a lateral hazard you are allowed to play your ball as it lies if you so choose. Of course, if this were obeyed (no entry) by everyone, there would be a million balls just laying around inside the sensitive areas. Of course, someone ignores the sign and gets their balls plus.

Most often in my area, Northern California, there are signs dictating how to play the next shot. Fortunately, there seems to be a trend to allow the player a free drop without penalty. This makes more sense as you are not allowed the option to play it as it lies. Check the back of the scorecard where the info might be listed or ask in the pro shop. Good hitting!
8/16/10
 
cjgiant says:
This was a well written article that explained the options pretty well (as do the rules of golf @bducharm mentioned).

This is the most often mis-represented rule I see by players on the golf course. I usually don't interject unless asked, but if I had a dime for every time someone definitively but incorrectly told a partner who asked the "legal" drop area, I'd be able to reduce my work week and practice more.

Matt is right that the most often incorrect interpretation is that the path INTO the hazard has something to do with your relief (maybe it's because you can "go back" to original shot or "go back" on same line of entry-to-pin line).

The other one I like is when a 200 yard shot crosses a lateral hazard at like 50 yards into the flight, but the golfer drops 2 clubs from the closest point of the edge of the hazard from the landing spot (200 yards toward the hole).
8/16/10
 
Bryan K says:
No mention of white hazards stakes in this article. IMHO, this is one of the most commonly disobeyed rule in golf. If the ball goes into a white hazard area, it's stroke and distance. Period.
8/16/10
 
onedollarwed says:
Now when there is an official "drop area," do you have to go to that area? Or is it just an option that you otherwise wouldn't have? This is from yellow staked ponds, etc.
8/17/10
 
Bryan K says:
my understanding of official drop areas is that it gives another option on yellow and red staked hazards. For white staked hazards, though, you must take stroke and distance.
8/17/10
 
jev says:
A dropping zone must be mentioned in a local rule which in should describe how to proceed. Usually, the dropping zone is an extra option.
8/17/10
 
jev says:
A "white staked hazard", that's a new one ;). white stakes indicate out of bounds, not a hazard. A hazard by definition is either a water hazard or a bunker (see under "hazard" in the definitions section of the rulebook).

Anyway, pay special attention to the following: "it must be known or virtually certain" that a ball is in a water hazard for getting relief according to rule 26. If you are not 100% certain and don't find the ball in the hazard, you must treat it as a lost ball.

Also note that you are actually allowed to probe the water for his ball and, in that process, touch the water, see 12-1.
8/17/10
 
jev says:
Oh, one more thing. Just nitpicking, but the article mentions:
"The other way to take relief from a yellow hazard is to mark the point that the ball crossed the hazard and then draw a line between that point and the flag. You may drop your ball at any point on that line."

May be obvious, but... not nearer to the hole. You want to draw a line *between* crossing point and flag and drop *on* that line. You should, ofcourse, drop in the continuation of that line ;)
8/17/10
 
onedollarwed says:
You are forgiven for rules obsession. The only time it's not healthy is if it worsens your or another's play. A while back, a bunch of us really got into how to accomodate the rules which we know, but are impractical in a typical round (like going back to rehit in the case of a lost ball). You'd get screamed at in most non-tournament cases. Also, when is hitting provisionals (to alleviate the above issue, or in general) too much. Like, you don't really see it go OB, but I might be lost. I'd be curious to see how you can fix this problem. I'd be curious, since you seem inclined, to see if there are other rules you think could be improved, eliminated. For instance if we only ever played match play, you could get 1 ball per hole max, and never need to define hazards or OB. Just hit it as it lies until it goes in the hole. If you lose it, try on the next hole. Now if both players lose it then what?
8/17/10
 
Banker85 says:
so for the yellow hazzard.... If i pull my tee shot left into a creek crossing the fairway i am drawing a line from where my ball went into the creek to the flag and can go back on that line? So basically i will be going back and further left if i stay on this line? (assuming straight fairway to green creek running between fairway and green.)
8/17/10
 
bkuehn1952 says:
@jev brings up a good point about "known or virtually certain". Too often courses that even bother to mark hazards do a terrible job of it. For example, at about 250 yards from the tee is a pond and an adjacent patch of long grass. A player hits a shot that looks like it rolled into the pond. Hard to tell from 250 yards. Once you arrive no ball is visible. Back to the tee. Since you can't be virtually certain the ball did not roll into the long grass, it is a lost ball. If the course had the sense to mark the entire area as a hazard, the issue becomes easier to handle.
8/17/10
 
jev says:
@onedollarwed: if you're not (virtually) sure the ball is in a water hazard and the ball may be oob or lost, announce and than hit a provisional. It is that easy. You just can't use that provisional if you find your first ball is in the water hazard though. If you do, you hit a wrong ball and get a 2-stroke penalty (or loose the hole when in MP).

This all is just basic knowledge of the rules guys, no rules obsession required to apply them - even when playing for fun :D.
8/17/10
 
cjgiant says:
@Banker85 - that is correct.

@bkuehn - I agree about poorly marked hazards, but in a different respect, mainly those non-linear hazards that are not lined, so the straight line between markers cuts through what is perfectly good ground. To the letter of the rule (I think), if that line cuts through the water, and your ball entered in the "in play" part of the water, should it not be considered "lost ball", stroke and distance?
8/17/10
 
cjgiant says:
@jev/onedollarweed - taking provisionals should not be a big deal, even moreso if driving a cart. Now, for pace of play, if you are in a rut and you hit 2 provisionals into questionable positions, maybe it's time to flaunt the rules for a hole and drop hitting 7 near one of your lost balls.

By the rules, if you hit a provisional, but find your ball unplayable/in hazard, in theory, your provisional is dead and you must play another tee shot (assuming your best unplayable/hazard option), as stated. However, in these cases for pace of play purposes, playing your provisional lying 3 should be fine.
8/17/10
 
zeg says:
@cjgiant: No, if you hit a provisional and then find your ball in the hazard, your provisional is in play: you are not permitted a provisional for a ball hit into a hazard, so what you thought was a provisional became the ball in play when you made a stroke on it.

Regarding the comment in the article " Golf courses will also define hazards, such as weeds or natural grass areas, with the same red or yellow stakes." This is at least misleading and probably incorrect. A hazard is either a bunker or a water hazard, and the rules described in this article apply *only* to water hazards. No local rule can declare an area that does not meet the definition of a water hazard to be one. Many courses do, but this is not a legitimate local rule per the USGA (see Decision 33-8/35).
8/18/10
 
onedollarwed says:
The spirit of the question about a provisional ball is like this:
1. You should hit a provisional if you think a shot may have gone OB but you aren't sure - to avoid coming all the way back, right?
2. You should also hit a provisional if it could be lost, right?
3. At what point does hitting provisionals become "practice?" - too many provisionals?
4. To be a stickler, you'd have to go look for it and come back, right?
5. And becuase of the issue with lost vs. water hazard the provisional ball becomes contentious we re: to not so clearly marked territory - which is why the painted red lines include areas where it could be lost. But you still have to find it in a water hazard?
8/18/10
 
cjgiant says:
@zeg - I was referring to 27.2b and c quoted here. I read this as saying that unless your ball is "lost outside a hazard" or "found/determined lost OB", your provisional is not in play. That is what I attempted to say previously:

"If it is known or virtually certain that the original ball is in a water hazard, the player must proceed in accordance with Rule 26-1.
...
If the original ball is neither lost nor out of bounds, the player must abandon the provisional ball and continue playing the original ball. If he makes any further strokes at the provisional ball, he is playing a wrong ball and the provisions of Rule 15-3 apply."
8/18/10
 
cjgiant says:
As far as what the article meant, I think it was referring to the fact that many courses do in fact appear to violate the decision you mention. The Water Hazard definition is:

"Water Hazard
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."

The "whether or not containing water" clause could be read in different ways (i.e. drought versus water not being a key ingredient). Decision 33-8/35 reads as though water hazards should be expected to normally contain water. It seems to say that courses should not make their courses play faster by avoiding OB/lost ball conditions. I wonder how courses that do "violate" this ruling are rated.

Last point, I found this in the Lateral Hazard definition:
"Note 2: The Committee may make a Local Rule prohibiting play from an environmentally-sensitive area defined as a lateral water hazard."
8/18/10
 
cjgiant says:
@onedollarweed - (re: point 5) a lot of the rules state "as best can be determined" type language. It's up to the competitors to agree that given the shot, if it is "most likely" it is in the hazard, then it is. On tour, the various officials can also be a part of the decision, it seems. Of course, if you DO actually find it in the hazard, you have your answer.
8/18/10
 
cjgiant says:
Am I setting a record for consecutive posts?

@zeg - I re-read your response in a different light; my original post did not mean to indicate "if you continue to play your provisional". My previous clarification hopefully illustrated my point.

Although you can actually hit your provisional multiple times up to the point of crossing the likely position of your original ball. If you find your original at that point, the original is in play.
8/18/10
 
zeg says:
cjgiant: All I really mean is that you cannot play a provisional for a ball that you think is in a hazard. There has to be a legitimate possibility that it's lost outside the hazard or OB to qualify for the provisional. If you hit a "provisional" in that situation, it is actually in play and your original ball is abandoned.

About the water hazard definition, I believe it just has to be something that by its nature carries water. So a pond, creek, ditch, or canal obviously fits. In a desert course, a lowland that carries runoff or a seasonal creek would also qualify.

Around here, I've seen three courses, all reasonably high end public courses, that implement unusual local rules for dealing with the habitats, and I'm pretty sure none of those would stand up to USGA scrutiny. They include areas that are raised well above the surrounding terrain. In one case, they allow you to play them as lateral hazards, but permit grounding of the club... very unusual.
8/19/10
 
blipszyc says:
Here's one that's always confused me...Say there is yellow hazard between me and the green. I hit my shot and it makes it across, but due to the slope, the ball rolls backward into the hazard. Which side should I drop on?
8/28/11
 
Agustin says:
@blipszyc - Unfortunately the side further from the green. Basically you need to keep the hazard between your ball and the flag.
8/29/11
 
Agustin says:
Don't mean to complicate things but USGA permits a Local Rule allowing players to play a provisional ball under any of the applicable options in Rule 26-1. If you find your original ball INSIDE the hazard you have two options: 1) Play it as it lies from within the hazard or 2)play you provisional with the corresponding penalty. If you find the original OUTSIDE the hazard you must play the original ball.
8/29/11
 
wheelsx5 says:
See the link below of a pic from, what looks to be, a very nice course in KY. I've never encountered a water hazard oriented in the same direction with red and yellow stakes. Suppose the ball crosses the hazard somewhere in that little zone between red and yellow stakes? Could be a tricky call...
www.flickr.com/photos/61020196@N02/
5/2/13
 
Boerad says:
Matt Snyder tells us: "The other way to take relief from a yellow hazard is to mark the point that the ball crossed the hazard and then draw a line between that point and the flag. You may drop your ball at any point on that line. Essentially, you can go back, keeping the point where your ball crossed the hazard in line with the pin, as far as you choose to go."
If this is an option, why then was Tiger Woods doubly penalized for choosing to drop his ball a bit further back than the point from which his original was played???
5/11/13
 
wheelsx5 says:
After the round, he admitted in an interview that he dropped it back a yard or so further to get a better yardage. He was using the option of dropping as close to the original shot as possible, but he really didn't. You're assuming that his shot was dead straight at the pin making the imaginary line of the last point it crossed the hazard and the pin the exact same line as his shot. I'm not sure if that was true.
5/16/13
 
laser88 says:
Thank you for this article. I quote ...
"The second option for relief from a yellow hazard is usually your best option, but is also the most misunderstood choice as well. The other way to take relief from a yellow hazard is to mark the point that the ball crossed the hazard and then draw a line between that point and the flag. You may drop your ball at any point on that line."
Sorry but that is misleading and I hope it is due to an editorial oversight.

Rule 26-1b says to drop the ball behind the hazard. Nowhere does it say you can drop the ball "at any point on that line."

Fortunately you also said ...
"Essentially, you can go back, keeping the point where your ball crossed the hazard in line with the pin, as far as you choose to go."

This last sentence quoted is correct and is consistent with Decision 26-1/1.5 Meaning of “Behind” in Rule 26-1. Please examine the illustrative diagram in the decision.

They say you can't trust everything you read on the net ... how true!
7/6/13
 
laser88 says:
For purpose of clarity when I said ...

"Nowhere does it say you can drop the ball "at any point on that line." "

I meant the line you defined as "a line between that point and the flag".

But the right thing to do is to extend the line backwards behind the point the ball last crossed he margin of the water hazard, and then drop it anywhere backwards of that point last crossed ... have a look at the diagram in the decision i mentioned.
7/6/13
 
laser88 says:
>> Boerad, i found the answer here ... espn.go.com/golf/masters13/story/_/id/9167230/20

I quote ...
"He could drop the ball, keeping the point where it last crossed the margin of the water between the hole and the spot on which the ball would be dropped. Since the ball entered the water well left of Woods' position from the fairway, Woods did not choose this option  which would have allowed him to drop on a straight line as far back as he wanted."

in a nutshell, he did not choose 26-1b where he could've gone as far back as he liked. The point he dropped just wasn't on that line that extends from the point the ball last crossed the water margin & the pin.
7/6/13
 
laser88 says:
hahaha one more edit ... and the point he dropped the ball just wasn't "as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played" ie rule 26-1a
7/6/13
 
mngolfgal says:
Here's my question...you enter a read staked area but you can hit the ball. So you do but you end up in a place where you now can't hit the ball. Are you still under the red stakes relief options, or are you now in unplayable lie options?
8/1/13
 
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