A water hazard on a golf course is typically a pond or small lake, but may be as large as part of an ocean or as small as a drainage ditch. Regardless of size, however, hitting the ball into a water hazard will almost always prove costly. A player doing so frequently plays a second ball from the location of the original shot, or takes a drop out of the water hazard pursuant to Rule 26 of the standard Rules of Golf, incurring a 1-stroke penalty in either case. Occasionally a player may attempt to hit out of a water hazard, but he must be mindful of how to do so legally.
Under Rule 13-4, a player may not test the condition of a water hazard, or of any similar hazard nearby. Prior to her stroke she may touch neither the water nor the ground within the hazard with either her club or hand. She also may neither touch nor move loose impediments within the water hazard. The golfer is permitted to touch the water when she addresses the ball, but she may not ground her club while doing so. The penalty for violating the rule is the loss of the hole in match play or a 2-stroke penalty in stroke play.
On the Edge
A water hazard’s area extends vertically upward from the margins of the hazard, according to USGA decisions 26/1 and 26/1.5. Therefore, if any part of the ball hangs over a water hazard, the ball is considered to be in the hazard, and the water hazard rules apply. But if, for example, half the ball sits in the rough, and the other have hangs over a water hazard, the player may ground his club in the rough, pursuant to Decision 13-4/29.
Searching the Water
A ball laying in a water hazard may be difficult to locate. Rule 12-1c permits the player to place her club in the water to feel around for a ball. There is no penalty for accidentally striking the ball while searching, provided she replaces the ball into its original position, or lifts the ball for the purpose of taking a drop pursuant to Rule 26.
One thing a golfer may do in a water hazard that he can’t do elsewhere is hit a moving ball. Under Rule 14-6 the player can attempt to hit a moving ball within a water hazard, provided he doesn’t delay to allow the water to move the ball to a better position.