Stakes may be used throughout a golf course to indicate the status of certain areas, such as ground under repair or out of bounds areas. Some stakes are white, but stakes -- or lines drawn on the ground – that mark the boundaries of water hazards must be either red or yellow, according to the United States Golf Association’s Rules of Golf.
Areas of the golf course containing water, or areas that normally contain water, are typically designated as water hazards. Common water hazards include ponds or small lakes, but a drainage ditch will also be considered a water hazard if it normally contains water, even if the ditch is dry on a particular day.
Lateral Water Hazard
A water hazard may be designated as a lateral water hazard when the hazard's shape or position on the course makes it difficult or impossible to drop the ball in accordance with the rules while maintaining a fair playing position. For example, if a water hazard runs parallel to the line of play and the ground on the far side of the hazard has many trees or bushes and very few playable lies it may be designated as a lateral hazard.
Relief from Water Hazards
Under Rule 26-1, a player hitting into a water hazard has several relief options, all of which carry a one-stroke penalty. He may play a new ball from the spot at which he hit into the hazard. He also may drop a ball behind the hazard, provided that the spot at which his ball last crossed the hazard remains directly between the dropping point and the hole.
With respect to a lateral water hazard, the player may also drop within two club lengths of the spot where his shot last crossed the hazard's margin -- provided it's not nearer to the hole -- or within two club lengths of a point on the opposite side of the hazard that's no closer to the hole.
Additionally, a tournament committee may make a local rule that establishes a specific drop zone for a water hazard.
Red and Yellow Stakes
When stakes are used to designate water hazards, yellow stakes must be employed for standard hazards, while red stakes must be used for lateral water hazards, according to the Rules of Golf. When stakes are used alone they're considered parts of the hazard, so players taking relief must drop the ball outside of the stakes. If lines are drawn to define the hazard, the lines become part of the hazard while stakes only help to identify the hazard, and are typically placed outside of the lines. Stakes within a water hazard are considered immovable obstructions. Players are not entitled to free relief if stakes within a hazard render a ball unplayable, according to Note 1 of Rule 24-2b. Free relief is available under Rule 24 if both the ball and the stakes are outside of a water hazard.
Placing the Stakes
According to USGA Decision 33-2a/4, the stakes or lines that mark the boundaries of a water hazard should follow the hazard's natural contours as much as possible. The hazard typically includes any ground that slopes down into the watery area.