Playing By The Rules What happens when you hit a shot toward a water hazard and you do not see your ball actually enter the hazard, but when you arrive at the hazard you cannot find your ball?    Do you just assume that it entered the hazard and proceed under Rule 26 -1 Relief for Ball in Water Hazard?  Rule 26 -1 states: “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.”  Rule 27 -1 deals with a ball lost or out of bounds where a player proceeds under the stroke and distance penalty.

When a ball has been struck towards a water hazard and cannot be found, a player may not just assume that his ball is in the water hazard simply because there is a chance that the ball may be in the water hazard.  To proceed under Rule 26 – 1, it must be ‘known or virtually certain” that the ball is in the water hazard.  In the absence of “knowledge or virtual certainty” that it lies in a water hazard, a ball that cannot be found must be considered lost or somewhere other than in a water hazard and the player must proceed under Rule 27 – 1.

When a player’s ball cannot be found, ‘knowledge” may be ascertained that his ball is in the water hazard in numerous ways.  The player or his caddie or other members of the match or group may actually have observed the ball entering the water hazard.  Evidence supplied by other reliable witnesses may also establish that the ball is in the water hazard.  This evidence could come from a referee, an observer, spectators or other outside agencies.  It is very important that all readily available information be considered because, for example, the mere fact that a ball has splashed in a water hazard would not always provide “knowledge” that the ball is in the water hazard, due to the fact that there are instances when the ball may have skipped across the water and come to rest outside the hazard.

Without the “knowledge” that the ball is in the water hazard, Rule 26 -1 requires there to be “virtual certainty” that the players ball is in the water hazard in order to proceed under this Rule.  “Virtual certainty” implies some minute degree of doubt about the actual location of a ball that has not been found.  However, “virtual certainty” also means that, although the ball has not been found, when all readily available information has been considered, the conclusion that there is nowhere that the ball could be except in the water hazard would be justified.  To determine whether “virtual certainty” exists, factors in the area of the water hazard to be considered include topography, turf conditions, turf heights, visibility, weather conditions and the proximity of trees, bushes and abnormal ground conditions.

Frank Guastella, PGA Rules Official Michigan Section PGA
Staff Writer, Mike Fay Golf
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