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What Are the Golf Rules in a Hazard?

One thing you can do in order to improve at golf is to learn all the rules. Yes, that includes the golf rules in a hazard. However, rules have recently changed (as in, as recent as 2019) for this situation. That being the case, it’s important to learn the changes so you can be more prepared out on the golf course.

In today’s article, we will be talking all about golf hazards, as well as the types of hazards. We’ll talk about the rules back then, and of course, we’ll discuss what the golf rules in a hazard are now.

What’s a Golf Hazard, Exactly?

We know that golfing can be incredibly confusing and sometimes, overwhelming to learn. However, it’s certainly possible to pick up on it faster by doing what you can in order to eliminate the jargon. When you educate yourself on what something is, it becomes possible to actually learn something much faster since all of the terms will begin to make sense.

So today, we are here to talk about golf hazards.

A golf hazard is a part or area at a golf course which is essentially an obstacle. It can be one of two types: water hazards or man-made hazards. We’ll talk more about the types later.

When a golf ball in play ends up falling into a hazard, special golf rules in a hazard will then apply (at least, to those particular balls).  We’ll discuss more about the golf rules in a hazard in a while. First, it’s important to start talking about the types of golf hazards.

Types of Golf Hazards

golf rules in a hazard

As mentioned above, there are actually two different types of golf hazards that a golfer will encounter when out on the green. Those two types are the bunker and the water hazard. Let’s have a chat about both of them, shall we?

Bunker Hazards

The first type of hazard is the bunker. A bunker is essentially a man-made obstacle or hazard that is on the golf course. It’s a depression near the fairway or the green, and it is usually filled using sand. Because of the way that bunker hazards are designed, it can be extremely difficult (especially for a newer golfer) to hit their play ball out of it. Therefore, a golfer that misses their target for their previous shot and lands their ball in a hazard is then “punished” for their shot.

To extract the play ball from the bunker, a special club is used. This club goes by the name sand wedge, and it’s specifically designed for helping golfers extract their play balls from their bunkers. However, having the right club isn’t enough to help you get the ball out. Skill is also absolutely necessary for this process. And this skill doesn’t always come naturally. In fact, it often takes time to develop this skill, and the knowledge of golf rules in a hazard is necessary.

When the player manages to get the ball out of the hazard, there is a job to be done. Either the player himself or the golf caddy must rake the sand that was disturbed in the bunker while in play.

Kinds of Bunker Hazard

In golf courses and golf course architecture, three kinds of bunkers are used. Each of these bunker types are designed with the purpose of impeding the golfer’s progress. The three types of golf bunkers are:

  • Fairway Bunkers – These are designed with the primary purpose of gathering up any wayward tee shots that are on par 4 as well as par 5 holes. Fairway bunkers are usually located towards the sides or even perhaps in the middle of the course’s fairway.
  • Greenside Bunkers – These hazards are designed with the purpose of collecting any wayward approach shots that are on long holes, as well as tee shots that are on par 3 holes. Greenside bunkers are typically located near the green and/or around the green.
  • Waste Bunkers – These bunkers are actually naturally sandy areas. They are often rather large, and they are found on golf courses called “links” courses. According to golf rules in a hazard, waste bunkers are not necessarily considered to be hazards. In fact, certain hazard rule exemptions apply when your play ball lands in a waste bunker.

Water Hazards

The next type of hazard is the water hazard. These, like bunkers, are also (natural) obstacles that are designed for two purposes. They are meant to act as obstacles, adding difficulty to the golf course. Further to that, they are also meant to add beauty to the course, acting as a water feature.

Water hazards can typically be two things: they’re usually either a stream, or a pond. These water hazards are positioned between the hole and the teeing ground.

Kinds of Water Hazards

Just like bunkers, there are also more than one kind of water hazard. In fact, there are two different kinds. The first is called a lateral water hazard, and the second is called just a water hazard.

  • Lateral Water Hazards – These are often marked using red stakes around the hazard’s perimeter. They’re typically adjacent to whatever fairway is being played, meaning they are along the side.
  • Water Hazards – Unlike lateral water hazards, these are marked using yellow stakes. They typically run across the fairway, which means the player (you) will be forced to hit the ball over the hazard.

Golf Rules in a Hazard

Now, the rules of golf have actually changed pretty recently – as recently as 2019. In fact, there used to be 26 rules to golf, and some of them were specifically written as golf rules in a hazard. However, now, there are only 24 rules left. Rule 25 and rule 26 were the ones that were specifically meant to deal with golf hazards. Let’s take a look at the old rules and the new rules, so that we can learn the new golf rules in a hazard, shall we?

Before 2019, the USGA and the R&A had rule 25 and 26 written.

Rule 25

This rule is about abnormal ground conditions, as well as the wrong putting green and an embedded ball.

According to golf’s rules, what constitutes abnormal ground conditions are casual water, any ground that is under repair (especially if marked by the golf course crew for maintenance), and any holes or casts, or other formations that are made by animals. To be quite specific and to avoid any confusion, frost and dew are not included in the consideration of casual water.

Here are some examples of what are considered abnormal ground conditions:

  • Puddles that aren’t a part of any water hazards
  • Water that ended up overflowing from the boundaries of its water hazard source
  • Bushes, trees, or plants that are inside of an area of the green that is marked as grounds under repair
  • Any debris (tree limbs, grass, etc) that is piled together by the groundskeeping crew for removal
  • Mole hills

And for clarification, here are things that are not considered to be abnormal ground conditions.

  • Any mushy or soft ground – unless, of course, water is visible on its surface (making it a puddle)
  • Holes created by the groundskeeping and maintenance crew for the purposes of aeration
  • Any footprints that have been left behind by animals

Rule 25 Golf Rules in a Hazard

If your ball lies inside or touches a ground condition that is considered normal, if the condition affects your swing or stance, or if it’s in the line of your target when on the green, you get relief. This relief comes without penalty, unless of course the ball has fallen in a water hazard.

The ball may be cleaned, no matter the circumstance. Also, the nearest spot or point for relief is the spot that is closest to the abnormal condition but, it is not on the green or in a hazard, or closer towards the hole. The point of relief is where you can stand and do your swing without any interference by the abnormal condition

  • If the ball is lying anywhere but on the tee, on the green, or in hazard), you must lift then drop your ball within 1 club-length to the nearest spot for relief. It cannot be nearer to the hole.
  • When your ball is in let’s say a bunker, the above applies, but the point of relief as well as the drop spot has to be inside the bunker. An alternative is that you can take the ball and drop it outside of the bunker. You must keep the original spot in between your ball & the hole, and you can go as far back as you want behind the bunker. However, you must take a penalty of one stroke,
  • If the ball ends up on the green, you can lift it and place it at the closest relief point that isn’t in a hazard. You can place the ball off of the green.
  • When your ball is on teeing ground, the procedure for the green applies.


There are certain situations where players don’t get relief in abnormal ground conditions. This typically happens if something that isn’t the condition causes some interference. Or, if the abnormal condition is only interfering when the player is taking an unusual swing or stance. Also, if the ball ends up in a water hazard, there is no relief.

Rule 26

When Rule 26 used to exist for golf rules in a hazard, it dealt with lateral water hazards and water hazards. Now, this rule has ceased to exist. However, here is what was found in the rule back when it was indeed still in effect.

Relief (Rule 26-1)

First of all, if you are unsure whether the ball is in the water hazard, then you must proceed under a different rule: Rule 27-1. But, if the ball is literally known to have fallen into the hazard, you can then play under penalty – you will have to take a penalty of one stroke. Here is the procedure for this:

  • (26.1-a) One thing you can do is proceed under the provisions of rule 27-1. Do this by playing your ball as close as possible to the spot from where you played your original ball.
  • (26.1-b) Alternatively, you can instead choose to drop a new ball behind the hazard (water hazard). However, in doing this, you must make sure to keep the point where your original ball crossed the water hazard’s margin directly in between the spot your new ball is dropped and the hole.
  • (26.1-c) An additional option is available, but this is only possible if the ball had last crossed a lateral water hazard’s margin. When this condition is met, you may drop a new ball outside of the water hazard. It must be within 2 club-lengths of, as well as not nearer to the hole than (a) the point of where your original ball had last crossed the water hazard’s margin, or (b) a point that is on the opposite water hazard margin that is equally distant from the hole.

If playing under rule 26, you can choose to either play a completely new ball or lift your original ball and clean it.

Ball That is Played w/in a Water Hazard (Rule 26-2)

If the ball that you played from w/in a water hazard ends up resting in the same hazard or in a different water hazard after your stroke, you can:

  • (26.2-a) Play your (or an alternative) ball as close as possible to the spot from where you last made a stroke outside a water hazard. This option comes with a one-stroke penalty.
  • (26.2-b) Proceed using rule 26.1-a, or 26.1-b. If it’s applicable, you can also use rule 26.1-c, but you must play under the penalty of 1 stroke.

Ball That is Lost or is Unplayable (Outside a Hazard) or is Out of Bounds

If your ball that you played from w/in a hazard gets lost or is deemed unplayable, you can play a new ball. Incurring a one stroke penalty, you can play this new ball as close as possible to the spot in the water hazard from which your original ball was played. If you choose not to play your ball from that particular spot, you can instead:

  • Add another penalty stroke (total of 2), and then play a ball as close as possible to the spot from where the last stroke was made outside of a water hazard.
  • Proceed through rule 26.1-b or 26.1-c (if applicable) but adding one more penalty stroke for a total of two. This is done using the reference point of where your original ball had last crossed the water hazard’s margin before it came to rest in it.

New Golf Rules in a Hazard

Now as we have mentioned, the golf rules had changed in 2019. Now that the new rules have come in, one thing has happened. The term we all know as a “hazard” no longer exists. Now, instead of golf hazards, we have what are called as “penalty areas” instead. These penalty areas are so named because they reflect the topography variety in various golf courses worldwide.

So, here are the new golf rules in penalty areas.

Penalty Areas Now Supersede Water Hazards

Previously, relief under penalty was available from lateral water hazards and water hazards, and additional options were available during times when it’s impractical to drop a ball behind the hazard.

Now, water hazards are superseded by what are called “penalty areas”. These include lakes, ponds, and streams They also include jungles and even deserts. Red and yellow markings will still be there, but the committees may now mark everything as red areas so that the additional relief from lateral water hazards are always available.

Opposite Side Relief in Red Penalty Areas are Eliminated

During the old rules, when your ball ends up in a red lateral water hazard, you have one more option. This option is to drop the ball on the opposite water hazard margin, which is equally distant from the hole. This would come with a penalty of one stroke.

Now, this additional option has been removed for the red areas, although committees can still decide on a local rule that permits it if they believe that other options aren’t viable or aren’t practical.

Touching and/or Moving Loose Ground or Impediments in Penalty Areas

Previously, you could touch and/or move any loose impediments found in penalty areas. You could also touch the floor/ground with your hand or a club – as long as you didn’t improve the conditions for your next stroke.

Now, you cannot touch the ground or the water with a club or your hand in a water hazard. You are also not allowed to move or touch any loose ground or impediments found in the hazard.

We hope that after reading all of that, you now have a greater understanding of how to get your balls out of penalty areas!