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Understanding Golf - What is a Hazard?

Updated on December 27, 2011
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The importance of understanding hazards on a golf course cannot be underestimated. American golf star Dustin Johnson (right) inadvertently threw away the opportunity to win his first major golf championship as he grounded (touched the ground) his club in a hazard before hitting his golf ball.

Sand, lakes, ponds, streams, dense vegetation, mounds, trees, bushes and many other "traps" are used by golf course designers and groundskeepers to make the game harder for the golfer, and hitting a golf ball into a hazard typically has its consequence. Therefore, it's important to understand when you've hit the ball into a hazard, and what the appropriate measures are for you to get the ball out and back on track, toward the hole.


Bunkers

Bunkers are essentially pits of sand and are seen around the green as well as on fairways. Despite professionals professing that hitting one's golf ball out of a bunker is relatively easy, many an amateur golfer has spent many unnecessary strokes and time trying to hack their way out of these sand pits.

What makes getting out of bunkers difficult for a vast majority of amateur golfers is that the technique required to get the ball out seems to contradict the purpose of the golf swing. When in bunkers, the golfer is meant to hit roughly two inches BEHIND the golf ball in order to remove sand and said ball from the pit - something that, if done on almost any other golf shot, would result in a frustrating chunk.

Another aspect to bunker play is the rule that states a golfer is not allowed to ground their club in the bunker until the moment of impact - meaning the golfer must hover their club behind the ball - something most golfers tend not to practice, making the shot that much more difficult.


Water

Water on golf courses tend to come in the form of ponds, lakes, and streams - all of which are disastrous to hit one's golf ball into. Not only are these ponds typically murky, and on some courses smelly, but to hit one's ball into these hazards results in a penalty. The golfer then has to drop their ball near the hazard, or retake their stroke (if hitting from the tee) in order to keep playing.

On exception, however, is when one's ball comes to rest relatively close to the bank of the water hazard. Many magnificent golf shots have been hit out of water on professional tours. For example, American golf star Bill Haas (below) hit a splendid shot out of water that resulted in him winning $10 million moments later. Therefore, it's important to understand when and when not to attempt "water shots". Sometimes, the wise choice is to just take a penalty.


Vegetation

Though technically not hazards, trees and shrubbery are frustrating places to hit one's golf ball into. Not only must one bend and twist into positions one may not want to be in, in order to hit their golf ball, but if it doesn't look like a golf ball should be in dense vegetation, what makes a golfer think the groundskeeper should be in there, either? Thorns, anyone?

Though there typically aren't any restrictions regarding grounding the club when it comes to dense vegetation or forestry on golf courses, the challenge of finding one's golf ball when it has been swallowed by the woods tends to be enough motivation for the golfer to accept a penalty and use a new ball.


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