In the Water Hazard or Lost Outside the Water Hazard - How can you tell?

Have you ever had a problem figuring out if your ball is inside of a water hazard or not? Is it lost in the area of the water hazard yet outside of the hazard? What should you do?

Just because your ball was “heading toward the water hazard” doesn’t necessarily mean that you may proceed under the water hazard Rule (Rule 26).

There may be a big difference in where you get to drop if you can establish that your ball is in a water hazard rather than being lost outside a water hazard. If the latter is the case, you’re obligated to proceed under Rule 27-1 which means stroke and distance; probably much further back.

So what do you do? The Rules and specifically Decision 26-1/1 give us guidance on how to proceed. In order to proceed under Rule 26-1, it must be “known or virtually certain” that the ball is in the water hazard. If not, it’s back to where you last played (Rule 27-1).

If you find your ball in the water hazard or you can see it in there, it is known to be in the hazard. If the ball was observed to disappear in the hazard by other members of your group; it is known to be in the hazard. Other evidence from a referee, an observer, spectators or other outside agencies that witnessed the ball go into the water hazard would also pass the test of “known to be in the hazard”.

Without knowledge of the ball being in the water hazard, the Rule requires “virtually certainty” that the ball is in the water hazard before you may proceed under the water hazard Rule. While virtually certainty may imply some small measure of doubt, you’ll need to assess all other available information and conclude that there is nowhere else the ball could be but in the water hazard in order to proceed under the options of Rule 26 under penalty of one stroke. Here are the options:

  1. The first option is the stroke and distance option. Go back and play your next stroke from where your previous stroke was played.
  2. The second option is to drop a ball behind the water hazard, keeping the spot where the ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit as to how far behind the water hazard the ball may be dropped.
  3. The third option (available only to lateral type water hazards) allows you to:
a.  drop a ball no nearer the hole and within two club-lengths of the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the lateral water hazard, or
b.  drop a ball no nearer the hole and within two clubs of a point on the opposite margin of the water hazard that is equidistant from the hole from the spot where the ball last crossed the margin of the lateral water hazard.  

Remember, knowing and following the Rules of Golf can assist you in avoiding unnecessary penalties and help you to enjoy this great game of golf even more.
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