Let’s be honest, there are a lot of rules to think about when it comes to golf. You can’t ground your club in a hazard, you have to drop a ball from shoulder level, a swing and a miss still counts as a stroke, and about a thousand other ones on top of these. While there’s a seemingly endless amount of rules for every situation in golf, some are more important than others simply because they’re more prevalent to the common golfer. None of us here are worried about what happens when a bird picks up your ball, but knowing some basics rules of golf not only speeds up play but ensures that you don’t risk unnecessary penalties or even a disqualification during a tournament.
So what does that mean for today? Well, no matter how good you are, eventually you’re going to hit one out of bounds or lose a ball to a hazard. But what’s the difference between these two situations anyway, and how does your next shot change depending on whether you crossed red or white stakes?
Red Stakes (and yellow ones too):
Let’s start with the more common one of the two situations, hitting your ball into a hazard. But first, what exactly is a hazard?
Hazards can be a wide range of natural or man made obstacles on the golf course such as lakes, rivers, sand traps, and so on. That’s not all though, in fact, almost anything on the golf course can be a hazard if it has red or yellow stakes around it.
So what happens when you hit a ball into one of these hazards? Well, you actually have quite a few options to choose from based on the hazard you land in and how it’s marked.
If you hit your ball in a hazard marked with yellow or red stakes you have the following options:
- Your first option in any hazard is to simply play the ball out. You don’t have to take a stroke, you just play it as you would if you weren’t in a hazard. Here’s the catch though… In a hazard, you’re not allowed to move impediments (sticks, leaves, etc.) out of the way and you’re also not allowed to touch the ground with your club head until you’re about to make contact with the ball. When it comes to playing out of sand traps or around the edges of other hazards this rule is most useful. In these areas, your shot isn’t going to be changed significantly by the hazard which, ultimately, leads most golfers to simply “play it out”.
- Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out this well… If you can’t play your ball out of the hazard, your next option is to take a penalty stroke and then drop a ball where your original shot crossed into the hazard. The nice part of this option is that you can go as far back as you want (as long as you stay in line with the hole and where your ball crossed). This is useful for getting away from down slopes near water and other hazards. In these situations, it can be helpful to sacrifice a little distance in order to hit your next shot off of flat ground.
- Your third and final option is to take a penalty stroke and then replay your shot from its original location. This is rarely the best choice, but sometimes the angle you had during your last shot might be better than the one you have next to the hazard. Either way, it’s something to consider.
All of these options above can be chosen for a hazard with either red or yellow stakes. If the hazard is marked with only red stakes there are actually two additional options to pick from.
- In addition to the three options above, you can choose to take a penalty stroke and then drop a new ball two club lengths from where the ball entered the hazard as long as it isn’t any closer to the hole. This is useful when facing lateral water hazards (which are red staked) because you need about two club lengths of space in order to stand for your next shot. And, as long as your lie is decent after you take your two club lengths, this is often one of the better options a golfer can take because it doesn’t require moving away from the hole.
- Finally, you have the option to cross over to the other side of the hazard and take two club lengths of relief from that side of the hazard (no closer to the hole of course). With wider water hazards this can be especially useful because it helps lower the chance that you’ll hit your next shot back into the water again (of course none of us would ever do that). Just something else to consider when you’re choosing where to drop.
Now unlike red stakes, white stakes are something entirely different. White stakes don’t represent a hazard at all but instead communicate to you what is considered “out of bounds” for the course you’re playing on. Some courses choose not to have them at all and instead opt to make everything red staked, but when you do see white stakes there is a very specific procedure you must follow.
Unlike hitting the ball in a hazard, you don’t have any options when it comes to hitting the ball out of bounds. If your ball comes to rest in out-of-bounds territory you must take a penalty stroke and then rehit from the spot of your last shot. This combined loss of stroke and distance are often considered the worst punishment for an errant shot. As if we needed another reason to stay away from the tall grass…
Now, of course, nobody likes to hit their ball out of bounds or into hazards, but knowing your options (or lack of options) can help you make the best out of a bad situation, or at the very least, take away the guessing away from making a rules decisions. None of us might like to spend hours reading about rules, but nevertheless, rules are an important part of the game and are something that every serious golfer should be up to date on.
So while it might not be fun to think about hitting your ball in a hazard, knowing your rules and making the right choice afterward will minimize the damage of one bad shot and you get you back on track towards playing great golf again. So until next time golfers, study up on your rules, and I’ll see you on the links.