In my first four-ball tournament, I hit a second shot on a par-5 into a lateral water hazard. I was prepared to take a drop when I saw the ball was sitting in a very muddy lie. Wearing a terrific pair of new white linen pants, I thought the drop was my best option for a number of obvious reasons.
But my partner, who was in even more trouble on the hole than I, said, “You can play that ball as it lies with no penalty.” From the expression on my face she knew I was not thrilled with the idea of looking like I had just gotten out of the mud baths in Calistoga, so she hastily added, “I’ll pay the cleaning bill.”
Pars can be made from anywhere -- even the mud, if you have a partner who motivates you to try.
As a new player, water hazards continued to puzzle and intrigue me. I remember first playing Spyglass Hill GC in Pebble Beach, probably a big mistake for my skill set but wonderful just the same, and noticing both red and yellow stakes near some ponds and creeks. I wondered just what they meant. Even the single-digit handicap golfer I was playing with at the time was a bit uncertain of the differences. Now with 30 years of experience I can help you demystify those red and yellow hazards.
Rule 26 WATER HAZARDS gives us information on both regular water hazards and lateral water hazards. YELLOW STAKES tell us this is a regular water hazard that the golf course architect wants us to cross by making a solid stroke at the ball. The course is designed so that there is room for us to drop a ball keeping the water between us and the target, which might be a green or a continuation of the fairway over the water on the way to the green. If we fail to negotiate the water, and the ball cannot be played from the hazard, we can play our next stroke from outside the water hazard with a one-stroke penalty.
We can play our next stroke from where we just played our last stroke on the course. Or we can proceed by lining up the hole location on the green with the place where the ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard and drop on that imaginary line. Most times this place will be nearer the hole than the position of our previous shot and will help us to accomplish our goal of carrying the hazard. And yes, the one-stroke penalty is still added to our score for the hole when we take this drop.
Lateral hazards, the ones with the RED STAKES, are for hazards that parallel the line of play. With a creek next to an out of bounds fence there would be no place to drop if it were marked yellow. Playing from the place where we last played would be the only option. Since this is normally quite a severe penalty, the rules allow us to drop a ball within two club-lengths of where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard. Notice this does not say take your stance, find the nearest point of relief and drop within two club-lengths of that point, but just two club-lengths from the point on the margin of the hazard where your ball entered the hazard.