Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Ask Linda #1404-Mark all water hazards with red stakes

Hi Linda,

I have a related question [to Ask Linda #1134-Improperly marked hazard]. I have asked Golf Canada about this and searched the web and Decisions book. I still do not understand how to handle this.

Our course was recently purchased by a multi-course company. It was always a privately-owned course which sells memberships, but there is no committee as such. Management makes all the decisions regarding things such as how the course is marked.

We have a number of Water Hazards (as defined in the Definitions section). There are also a few Lateral Water Hazards. Until this year the Water Hazards were marked with yellow stakes (as they should be). The new Golf Course Superintendent decided to change this and now all of our water and lateral water hazards are marked with red stakes. He maintains this is less confusing and speeds up play. He also advised that the European Tour, the PGA and other professional groups are moving to mark all water hazards with red stakes. He did provide me with emails from a couple of tournament groups confirming that it is their preference to mark all Water Hazards with red stakes.

I am having a real problem understanding this. Is there really an option as to how a Water Hazard can be marked? In our recent Championship we provided a rules sheet and instructed the players to treat the Water Hazards (we identified where they are to avoid confusion) as yellow stakes. Was that the correct thing to do? If not, do we just play these Hazards as though they are lateral hazards and allow the additional relief options available under the red stake rules? 

Note that in two cases this would allow a player whose ball flies over the water, hits the bank on the other side, and rolls back into the hazard, to go around the water and take two club lengths from where his ball last crossed the hazard no closer to the hole. These are par 3s, designed so the golfer has to hit over the water to a steeply sloped green. Seems like the red stakes are making the course easier than planned!

Thanks for all the great information you provide.
Lulu from Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Dear Lulu,

Pardon me for a moment while I wait for my heart rate to get back to normal. The European Tour and the PGA are moving to mark all water hazards with red stakes? Really? Are they also planning to have a bonfire and burn the rulebook? This is news to me. Please excuse my skepticism.

A lateral water hazard is defined as “a water hazard or that part of a water hazard so situated that it is not possible, or is deemed by the Committee to be impracticable, to drop a ball behind the water hazard in accordance with Rule 26-1b.” All such water hazards should be deemed “lateral” and should be marked with red stakes or lines. They are generally (but not always) found parallel to the hole, running along the side of the fairway.

A water hazard where a player is able to drop a ball behind the hazard and keep the point at which the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped is a proper water hazard, and should be marked with yellow stakes or lines. These hazards generally lie between the tee and the hole, such that the player is often unable to get to the putting green without crossing the hazard.

I have read instructions regarding marking hazards where a Committee may decide to mark a lateral hazard as a water hazard in order to preserve the intended challenge of the hole [USGA, How to Conduct a Competition, “Marking the Course”], but I have never come across an official suggestion to mark a water hazard as a lateral water hazard, let alone all of them!

If the course management decides to mark all water hazards as lateral hazards, there is little you can do besides file a complaint. However, when you run a tournament (or for league play), you may certainly include in your instructions to the players that certain specific hazards are to be treated as yellow-staked water hazards. Personally, in a casual round I would ignore the improper designations and play the water hazards that do not meet the definition of “lateral” as yellow-staked hazards.

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