What Is a Hazard in Golf?

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Many golfers use "hazard" to mean anything on a golf course that is hazardous to one's score. Thick rough might be called a hazard, a tall tree in the middle of a fairway might be called a hazard. So in common usage among recreational golfers, "hazard" might be considered as anything on a golf course designed to be penal.

'Hazard' in the Rule Book, Pre-2019

"Hazard" has been a word used in the Official Rules of Golf, by the R&A and USGA, going back to the earliest rule books. Make that had been: In the rule book that took effect on Jan. 1, 2019, "hazard" is no longer used by the governing bodies of the game. (We'll get to what it replaced it below.)

But hazard was in the rules, and in every golfer's vocabulary, for 150 years or so. And, according to the rule books used up until 2019, hazards on golf courses fall into only two categories: bunkers and water. According to the Official Rules of Golf that pre-dated 2019, hazards were defined very simply:

"A 'hazard' is any bunker or water hazard."

A ball was considered to be in a hazard when any part of the ball touched that hazard (in other words, the ball didn't have to be fully inside the boundary of a bunker or water hazard to be considered in that hazard).

That official use of "hazard" has been deprecated by the R&A and USGA. But because the discontinued use by the rule makers of "hazard" happened so recently, expect golfers at all levels of the game to continue using hazard in their vernacular for many years to come.

What Replaced 'Hazard' in the Rules?

If the governing bodies no longer use "hazard" to means, generally, bunkers and bodies of water ("water hazards"), then what do they use for those areas of the golf course?

They use "bunker" and "penalty area." Bunkers used to not have a separate section within the rule book. Now they do: Rule 12 deals specifically with bunkers.

And "water hazards" and "lateral water hazards" are terms no longer used in the rule book. Those areas of the golf course are now called "penalty areas," which are addressed in Rule 17.