Water hazards are defined by red or yellow stakes. What is the difference?
Firstly, water hazards aren’t officially known as water hazards anymore. The R&A and the USGA got together to simplify the Rules of Golf and they’re now known as penalty areas.
Yellow stakes define a
water hazard penalty area, and red stakes define a lateral water hazard another type of penalty area, and the options for correctly proceeding are similar but there is one difference that is very important to know.
In either area, you’re more than welcome to play the ball as it lies.
But for both red and yellow stakes, you may also, under the penalty of one stroke (Rule 17), take relief. And they’re both similar except for the red penalty areas you have one extra option.
It’s all best explained in the Rules FAQ section via the USGA:
When you take relief from a penalty area, you get one penalty stroke. For yellow penalty areas, you have two relief options. For red penalty areas, you have three relief options (the same two relief options as you do for yellow, plus one additional option.)
For a yellow penalty area, you may take relief by dropping into a relief area using (1) the spot at which your last stroke was made under stroke and distance (see Rule 17.1d(1)) or (2) the back-on-the-line relief procedure (see Rule 17.1d(2)).
For a red penalty area, you have the two options above for a yellow penalty area, plus an additional option to take lateral relief. Lateral relief allows you to drop a ball into a relief area measured from where your ball last crossed the edge of the red penalty area. From that reference point, you are allowed to drop outside the penalty area and anywhere within two club lengths of that spot, no nearer to the hole (see Rule 17.1d(3)).
Maybe this is obvious but I’ve lost track of the number of times golfers, experienced golfers, have misunderstood this rule.