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Rules Corner: A Rule That Can Give You a Lift

Article by Howard Meditz, Rules Chairman for the Sterling Farms Men's Club and author of the book How to Love the Rules of Golf

Water Hazards are a common cause of frustration.  The fact that players have to deal with them so often is probably the reason so many know the right way to take relief — at least by way of Rule 26-1a (Stroke and Distance), 26-1b (keep the point the ball last crossed the hazard line between you and the hole with no limit as to how far back behind the Water Hazard you may drop) and the first segment reserved just for Lateral Water Hazards, 26-1c (within two club-lengths of the point last crossed/no closer to the hole).  But in my experience many players don’t know (or understand) the second choice offered within the 26-1c option.

This last choice, 26-1c (ii), tells you that you may also choose to drop within two club-lengths/no closer at “a point on the opposite margin of the Water Hazard equidistant from the hole.”  That point is likely far from the point the ball last crossed the hazard line, and a drop there may offer you a vastly superior next shot.

What does “opposite margin equidistant from the hole” really mean?  Decision 26-1/14 (below) provides a detailed diagram and tells you everything you need to know, though it takes some deciphering.  Why bother going through the effort?

Q.Please clarify the words “opposite margin” in Rule 26-1c. With regard to the diagram, “X1” indicates where a ball in the hazard last crossed the hazard margin. May the player drop a ball within two club-lengths of “Y1”? And, may a player whose ball last crossed the hazard margin at “X2” drop a ball within two club-lengths of “Y2,” and so on?

A.With respect to “X1,” “Y1” is “a point on the opposite margin of the water hazard equidistant from the hole.” Accordingly, the player would be entitled to drop a ball within two club-lengths of “Y1.”

The same applies in the cases of “X3”-“Y3” and “X4”-“Y4,” but not in the case of “X2”-“Y2.” A “point on the opposite margin” is a point across the hazard from “the point where the original ball last crossed the margin of the hazard.” “Y2” is not across the hazard from “X2” because an imaginary straight line from “X2” to “Y2” crosses land outside the hazard.

Take a careful look at the photograph at the end of this article.  On the bottom left, at the beginning of the stone walkway, you’ll see a yellow (Water Hazard) and red (Lateral Water Hazard) stake butted up against each other, defining where the “lateral” part of the hazard begins.  (At the top of the stone walkway, harder to see, are another yellow and red stake delineating the two types of hazard on the “upper deck.”)  Note that any shot which last crossed the margin of the lower part of the hazard left of the walkway (that red line runs close to the little creek) makes clause 26-1c (ii) available to the player.  If that’s what happened, the player has one option of dropping down by the creek, let’s say the ball crossed 100 yards from the hole. That location is also about 25 feet below the fairway and green above.  But the player also has the option of dropping on the opposite margin — which is up on the high side of the hazard the same 100 yards out.  In this particular case, up on top the fairway itself happens to be within the two club-lengths/no closer drop location.

The studious player knows that he can drop up top, in the fairway, 100 yards from the green with flat terrain and no water in front of him.  Or he can drop 100 yards from the green on the low side, in the rough, with a challenging 25 foot embankment and the water to deal with yet again.  I know which choice I’m taking, please pass me my laser.

By the way, it’s possible that the point on the opposite margin of the hazard equidistant from the hole is marked with yellow stakes while the point you last crossed is marked red.  Where you last crossed is all that matters.  As Decision 26-1/13 tells us, if the point on the opposite margin happens to be marked yellow, you may drop there nonetheless.

There are many other examples of how an opposite margin drop may help — uphill lie instead of downhill; overhanging tree branches, or boulders, as opposed to a clear shot; hardpan vs. cushy grass . . . no reason you shouldn’t make the most friendly choice the Rules allow.

Take care, and play well!

Howard Meditz is a Rules Official for three USGA State and Regional Golf Associations, as well as Rules Chairman for the Men’s Club at the CSGA’s Sterling Farms Golf Course in Stamford.  He is also the author of the new book How to Love the Rules of Golf, available on Amazon by clicking here.