Golf is a fun and relaxing game. It’s also one of the few sports where people can compete at any age, with some golfers competing into their 70s and 80s.
But did you know that there are hazards in golf? And they’re not just water hazards! They're called lateral hazards, and they can be really dangerous for your score if you don't know what to do about them.
In this article, we'll cover everything you need to know about lateral hazards so that you never lose another stroke on these sneaky dangers again!
What is a lateral hazard in golf
A lateral hazard is a hazard placed on the sides of a fairway. These hazards are not to be confused with sidehills and doglegs, which alter the direction of play rather than being used as hazards.
Lateral hazards are usually comprised of sand bunkers or water hazards placed in such a way that they interfere with the intended path of the ball, but can also include a variety of other features such as ridges and mounds to catch an errant shot.
Lateral hazards come in more than one form. The most common are lateral water hazards, or pars that have been placed in front of bunkers or ponds, blocking the intended path of play. A lesser utilized form of lateral hazard is a ridge placed on the side of the fairway, designed to alter the ball's path, but not stop it completely.
Because hazards are placed in strategic locations in order to influence players' strategy and position themselves better for approach shots, it's common for professional courses to include an abundance of these features.
What is the difference between lateral and water hazard?
A water hazard is a very specific term in golf. Essentially, a water hazard includes any pot bunker or pond that could potentially cause damage to a golfer's equipment and/or his person.
The only difference between a lateral and water hazard lies in the size of the area deemed hazardous. All lateral hazards are water hazards, but not all water hazards are lateral.
A lateral hazard is simply an area of the course that a player does not have direct line-of-sight to. For example, if the tee shot for hole 4 sends you flying over a pond and onto the green on 5, that is considered to be a lateral hazard.
How to avoid a lateral hazard on the course
There are a multitude of ways to avoid lateral hazards on the course, all of which vary depending on the angle and positioning of the hazard in relation to you.
Lateral hazards can most often be identified as water hazards by their placement relative to other surrounding features. If a group of bunkers is placed along one side of the fairway and a large body of water is placed at the end of the fairway, that should be an indication that a water hazard is present.
Some lateral hazards can easily be identified simply by looking for signs or red stakes, but not all hazards are marked in this fashion.
When you see a reasonably sized pond or area of sand ahead on the fairway, you should play for it and take a safe but intentional penalty. There are no prizes in golf for saving strokes by playing over or around an obstacle on the course.
However, if a smaller area of sand or water is identifiable, you should approach with caution.
If unable to identify the hazard before reaching it, drive very conservatively and keep the ball on the tee. If you have a clear path towards your target, great. In this instance, opt for a three wood or hybrid to carry over the potential hazard.
But if you do not know if there is any sort of lateral hazard on the course, be wise in your shot selection and use an iron.
Lastly, if you approach a pond or sand trap and still are unable to see the bottom of it, be prepared to play your unlucky shot. It is better to take a penalty stroke than an unplayable lying in the water.
How do you take a drop from a lateral hazard?
The rules of golf allow for a player to take penalty strokes from a drop zone if he has no other options.
A penalty stroke is always taken from within 2 club lengths of the point where the ball lay, and it must be done with the same club that last hit the ball. For example, if your 6 iron was caught in a lateral hazard, you would take your penalty stroke with a 6 iron from within 2 club lengths of the spot where it lay.
You must play the ball as it lies. There are no other options on this one - no relief strokes are awarded to a golfer who takes a penalty drop in this manner.
A lateral hazard can be a legitimate source of great strategy if approached correctly. While it can be dangerous to blast a ball over water to get it on the green, sometimes that is what a player must do. Other times, the wise course of action will be to take a penalty stroke or two and play conservatively from there out.
Tips for handling a lateral hazard during play
Take the conservative course of action whenever possible, but know when you must take a risk.
If there are multiple hazards on the course and you have enough room to play around them, do so.
Use an iron rather than a wood to carry over water or sand if possible; the fewer shots the better.
Do not be afraid to take penalty strokes when necessary; sometimes it is better to take a hit then trying to hit your way around the hazard.
When you drop for a penalty stroke, always play the ball as it lies and make sure you are within two club lengths of where the previous hit landed.
Do you have to find your ball in a lateral hazard?
Yes, you must find the ball before you play. However, golfers are not required to search for the exact position of their ball; they can approximate its location and still receive relief from a lateral hazard (Rule 26-1).
The penalty for hitting another player's ball in a lateral hazard is one stroke (Rule 33 – Ball Striking Other Than Ball in Play).
In the event of a lost ball, if you find your golf ball after having given reasonable search for it and failed to find it, you can drop a new one (Rule 20-3b). However, if it is determined that your ball lies in a lateral hazard where there are no rules about relief, you may not take relief. You must play the ball as it lies (Rule 27-1b).
It is imperative that players practice dropping a golf ball in a lateral hazard to ensure they perform this action properly. A drop cannot be taken from outside the designated area for penalty strokes, or you will incur a two-stroke penalty and not be allowed to replace the ball.
What is a non-obstructing lateral hazard?
A non-obstructing lateral hazard is when the golf ball lies in a lateral water hazard or sand trap.
The penalty for a breach of this rule results in one shot penalty, no new lie is to be played by the offending party and they must play from where it was located before the breach of Rule 28 occurred (Rule 28-1).
Should this occur, the player will incur a penalty stroke. The ball may be dropped from outside the designated area for penalty strokes if two golfers are playing; however, one of them is not allowed to stand within three feet of the spot where the ball last lay (Rule 28-2c). A drop cannot be taken from outside the designated area for dropping penalty strokes or a two-stroke penalty will be incurred (Rule 28-2).
Under the correct conditions, a player may play relief from non-obstructing lateral hazards. Should this occur under incorrect circumstances, the ball shall be replaced and one shot penalty applied to the offending party; however, no new lie can be played and the ball must be replayed from where it lay before dropping (Rule 28-6).
Lateral hazards will invariably be an obstacle that the player must overcome to put themselves in a comfortable position on the course. Knowing when to safely blast out of a lateral hazard and when to play conservatively is where wisdom comes into play.
Remember, make all your decisions wisely and always heed any advice from officials or fellow players.