Thursday, January 31, 2013

Where's the Water?

             If I haven’t mentioned it before, I will tell you that a thorough understanding of the Definitions is the key to learning and understanding the Rules of Golf.  This week, as the Tour makes its home at the TPC of Scottsdale for the Waste Management Phoenix Open, is the perfect time to highlight an extremely important and common definition that can be misunderstood: Water Hazard.
            There is no question that the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale is a desert course and yet there are water hazards and lateral water hazards throughout the golf course.  Most of the water hazards are pretty clear.  Looking at the 11th, the 12th, the 15th, 17th and 18th holes, large lakes and water are clearly present.  It’s when we look at situations like the 3rd hole that we have to look to the Rules to figure out what’s going on.

The definition reads: A “water hazard” is any sea, lake, pond, river, ditch, surface drainage ditch or other open water course (whether or not containing water) and anything of a similar nature on the course.   (A “lateral water hazard” is a water hazard or part of a water hazard situated in such a manner that it is impracticable to proceed under 26-1b – dropping on a line extending from the flagstick through the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard).

The key part of the definition is in the parentheses, “whether or not containing water.”  Despite the fact that the ditch or dry stream bed (whichever it may be) that crosses the third hole rarely, if ever, contains water, it is an open water course and meets the definition of water hazard.  This goes for any drainage ditch or open water course in desert areas.  If it is a feature that naturally holds water when water is present, it is likely to be a water hazard by definition.  The fact that water is not present is irrelevant. 
(For NCGA Rules Officials that read this a great example is the 1st and 18th holes at Poppy Hills Golf Course.  The ravine that runs between those holes occasionally rumbles with the flow of recent rains, particularly this time of year and it is clearly an open water course.  However, there are many months where the ravine has no water, either running or standing.  The ravine does not lose its status as a water hazard, it is still an open water course and therefore a water hazard).
It is important to differentiate between a dry desert area that meets the definition of water hazard and the so-called “Desert Rule” which declares all desert area to be treated as a lateral water hazard.  The “Desert Rule” is not permissible under the Rules and the Committee does not have the authority to mark or declare an area as a water hazard that does not meet the definition.

So the next question becomes what happens if the Committee neglects to mark a water hazard thinking that a dry streambed doesn’t qualify?  For that, we have Decision 26/3.   The Decision states, “It is the responsibility of the Committee to define accurately the margins of water hazards and lateral water hazards – see Rule 33-2a.  However, if the Committee has not done so, the ditch is, by definition, a lateral water hazard and the player should be permitted to proceed under Rule 26-1c(i).” 
So this is a great reason to know and understand the Definitions.  If you come upon an unmarked water hazard, you know that you can take relief.  If you are unaware of the Definition, you won’t know you’ve come upon an unmarked water hazard and may end up missing out on valuable relief options.

Just remember if in doubt, you should still contact the Committee or play two balls under Rule 3-3 to avoid unnecessary penalties.  

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