Red Stake, Yellow Stake: Water Hazard Options

Red and Yellow Stakes, Water Hazard Rules

It seems simple, but do you really know all of your options for water hazards? Learn what the differences are between red and yellow stakes and how you can use them to your advantage.

Red stake, yellow stake. What’s the difference?

Two extra options actually.

For many weekend golfers hitting the ball into the water, the answer may be simple. Grab another ball, drop it near the water, hit it, and continue your round. But how many actually know the differences in water hazards and all of your options depending on the color of the stake?

Simply put, a yellow hazard is a “regular” water hazard and you have two options to play. A red hazard is a “lateral” water hazard and comes with four options to play your ball.

Regular Water Hazard (Yellow)

  1. Play again from the previous spot.
  2. Drop the ball behind the hazard, in a straight line provided the spot at which their ball last crossed the hazard remains directly between the dropping point and the hole.

Lateral Water Hazard (Red)

  1. Option 1 from above – Play your ball from the previous spot
  2. Option 2 from above – Drop the ball behind the hazard in straight line from path of ball.
  3. Drop the ball two club lengths from the ball’s entry point to the hazard, not nearer the hole.
  4. Drop the ball two club lengths from the opposite side of the hazard and no closer to the hole.

Lastly, the course or tournament may designate a drop zone on a case-by-case basis. Think No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass. The 137-yard hole island green includes a drop zone to the left of the tee area that’s about 60 yards from the green.


Here’s the official Rule 26 explanation from the USGA below:

26-1. Relief for Ball in Water Hazard

It is a question of fact whether a ball that has not been found after having been struck toward a water hazard is in the hazard. In the absence of knowledge or virtual certainty that a ball struck toward a water hazard, but not found, is in the hazard, the player must proceed under Rule 27-1.

If a ball is found in a water hazard or if it is known or virtually certain that a ball that has not been found is in the water hazard (whether the ball lies in water or not), the player may under penalty of one stroke:

a. Proceed under the stroke and distance provision of Rule 27-1 by playing a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played (see Rule 20-5); or

b. Drop a ball behind the water hazard, keeping the point at which the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind the water hazard the ball may be dropped; or

c. As additional options available only if the ball last crossed the margin of a lateral water hazard, drop a ball outside the water hazard within two club-lengths of and not nearer the hole than (i) the point where the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard or (ii) a point on the opposite margin of the water hazard equidistant from the hole.


Note Rule 26-1 concerns dropping your ball after it lands in a water hazard. Rule 26-2 addresses playing the ball from the hazard as it lies. Here’s more from the USGA on Rule 26.

So now you know the rules and can now be informed when making a decision the next time you splash a ball into the water. Or at the very least, you can annoy inform your playing partner(s). Here’s hoping you just execute your next shot better than Jordan Spieth did at the 2016 Masters. Sorry Jordan, we’ve all been there.

Colorado AvidGolfer is the state’s leading resource for golf and the lifestyle that surrounds it, publishing eight issues annually and proudly delivering daily content via coloradoavidgolfer.com. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

  • SEE WHAT 40,000+ COLORADO GOLFERS ALREADY KNOW!

    Join the Colorado AvidGolfer community and weekly newsletter featuring deals, tips, news, giveaways and more for FREE!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

  • SEE WHAT 40,000+ COLORADO GOLFERS ALREADY KNOW!

    Join the Colorado AvidGolfer community and weekly newsletter featuring deals, tips, news, giveaways and more for FREE!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.