Do I have to Drop on the Path?
Have you ever had the misfortune to hit your ball into a lateral water hazard that has a cart path running right alongside the hazard?
After you measure out your two club-lengths from where it last crossed the margin of the hazard, you discover that the two club-lengths would put you squarely in the middle of the cart path. The question then comes up as to whether or not you have to drop it on the cart path or can you just skip over the cart path and drop it on the other side of the path?
When you look at the water hazard Rule, the third option (Rule 26-1c, lateral hazards only) tells you that you must drop a ball outside the hazard and within two club-lengths of and not nearer the hole than the point where the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard. It says nothing about cart paths; just within two club-lengths and not nearer the hole outside the hazard.
So, the answer to the question is that “yes”, you must drop it on the cart path in order to proceed properly under the water hazard Rule.
Inevitably, the next statement to follow is “that’s not fair; I’ll be on the cart path”. Well, now that you have finished dealing with the water hazard you have a whole new situation. You may have interference from the cart path and if you do, you may proceed under the obstruction Rule (Rule 24-2b) and get free relief from the cart path. That’s fair!
Find you nearest point of relief that is no nearer the hole that avoids interference from the cart path that is not in a hazard or on a putting green and drop the ball within one club-length of that point. Now you’re back playing golf!
Many people think otherwise. They often tend to think that you can just skip the drop on the path step and skip right over to the other side. If you did, you would be playing from a wrong place and would incur a loss of hole penalty in match play or two strokes in stroke play (provided it was not a serious breach of the Rule in stroke play).
As a matter of fact, when dropping from a water hazard, you might be dropping not only on a cart path but also possibly into a bunker or on to a putting green! That could be a good or bad break; they tend to even out over time.
Remember, use the index or the table of contents in the Rules of Golf Book to find the correct Rule that applies to the situation and follow the Rules of Golf to help yourself to enjoy the game of golf.