It definitely helps to pay close attention to the color of the stakes or lines when you hit a ball into a water hazard or toward an area out of bounds as your options may be different.
For water hazards with yellow stakes or lines, you have the option of replaying the stroke from as close as possible to where you played the previous shot or taking a drop and keeping the point where the last shot entered the hazard between your ball and the hole.
Remember there is no limit to how far behind the water hazard you can drop. I saw one of the college girls in a tournament three years ago end up dropping on a downhill lie close to the hazard because evidently she did not realize she could go back and find a level lie. She repeated the process two more times after hitting into the water, eventually taking a 9 on the hole.
For lateral hazards with red stakes or lines, you have the added option of dropping a ball within two club lengths of where your last shot crossed the margin of the hazard, but no closer to the hole. I noticed a couple of pros in a qualifying for the British Open actually opted to drop on a level cart path and hit their approach shots rather than having to drop and hit from a severe slope. Don’t forget you can actually go to the opposite side of the hazard, too, making sure that it is the same distance from the hole. This is exactly what 2010 HP Byron Nelson winner Jason Day did on his final hole, giving himself more room to play the pitch shot to the green where he saved bogey with a one-putt.
If the red line happens to be very close to the green, I’ve seen cases where you can actually drop the ball on the green as long as you stay within the allowed two club lengths and it is not closer to the hole. The ball must have hit outside the red line before going into the water,
You can always play from the hazard, but you have to be very careful not to ground your club or even touch the water or ground in the hazard with your club as Michelle Wie did in an LPGA event in 2010.The exception in the latter case would be if you were trying to prevent yourself from falling. Obviously to the rules officials, Wie was not doing this. You also can not move or touch a loose impediment in the hazard as Brian Davis did in the playoff at the 2010 Verizon Heritage event..A wiser course of action many times is to accept the penalty and take the drop.
Sometimes rules committees give golfers an extra option by creating a special ball drop area, some even on the other side of the hazard. Check the rules sheet before playing in a tournament to see if there are any ball drops being used.
However, there is no such thing as a provisional ball for a ball that might be in a hazard. Therefore, you can not use a ball drop if you have already used another option. This is also true if you happen to find your ball on the other side of the hazard. Go and look first before using one of the other options as balls sometimes skip off the water.
Another thing to remember is that if one of these stakes (red or yellow) interferes with your swing or stance that you can actually remove them.
That isn’t the case with white stakes used to define out of bounds. Removing one of them will result in a penalty even if you replaced it before actually playing the shot. White lines are sometimes used between the stakes to make it easier to determine if the ball is in or out. Different from sports like football where a player is out of bounds if he touches the line, the ball is not considered OB unless all of it is out. I’ve even had to use a string between two white stakes to actually determine if a ball was OB as you could not determine it any other way. The only option when you find your ball OB is to go back and re-tee or hit the next shot from where the last one was played, losing distance and a stroke.
White lines are used to mark areas of ground under repair, but you may play from these areas if you wish. If you take relief, you must take full relief. So be careful not to step on the line when hitting the next shot. This is true of cart paths, too.