Water hazards are defined by red or yellow stakes. What is the difference?
Firstly, yellow stakes define a “water hazard” and red stakes define a “lateral water hazard” and the options for correctly proceeding are similar but there is one difference which is very important to know.
For both red and yellow stakes you may under the penalty of one stroke (Rule 26-1a) “Play a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played”.
For both red and yellow stakes you may, under the penalty of one stroke (Rule 26-1b) “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;
Now here’s the difference. What if a water hazard lies along the side of a fairway? Or to put another way, what if the hazard lies “laterally” with respect to the fairway? It’s near impossible to apply Rule 26-1b as you cannot define a straight line between where the ball crossed the hazard and the hole.
Hence the need for an additional rule applying to lateral water hazards (red staked hazards) only.
For red stakes only, (Rule 26-1c) “…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.”
Maybe this is obvious but I’ve lost track of the number of times golfers, experienced golfers, have misunderstood this rule.