Tournament rules for disc golf can sometimes get a little more complex depending on the natural landscape of the course or the tournament director’s desired layout. We all know about out-of-bounds penalties and the various rules that apply regarding OB penalty strokes. Water hazards and other disc golf course features that might cause a lost disc or unplayable lie are common out of bounds areas. If you haven’t already read our disc golf rules article on "How to Take Relief from OB," we recommend checking it out. We also posted one recently about mandatory (mando) rules.
What Are Hazards?
Today, we want to talk about hazard penalties. They are not always used in tournament play. In fact, they are fairly uncommon on most average disc golf course layouts. However, some TDs love them and some courses just naturally have hazard areas that should be avoided.
OB vs. Hazard Penalty
First, let’s look at what makes a hazard different than a standard OB line in terms of standard PDGA rules. A hazard area is often surrounded by in-bounds areas or is a larger area that can come into play with an errant shot. With an OB line, there is usually clear definition. Once you are beyond a certain line (such as a walking path, road, fence or water), the disc golf disc is considered out-of-bounds and the player will take your relief from where you last crossed in bounds with a stroke penalty. A hazard area is different in this one key respect. You will mark your lie, place your mini marker disc, and play your next shot from where your disc lies in the hazard, with a one-stroke throw penalty added to your score for the hole.
Some areas designated as hazards may offer a relief option if you prefer to throw from where your discs went in and take your stroke penalty. You might find this in a muddy section or a spot where there is poison oak/ivy found. These areas may also be considered “free relief” (or "casual relief") rather than hazards, so make sure you know how the rules are written for any given situation. In most cases, however, you will play it from where your disc lies within the hazard.
The most common example of a hazard can be found when playing disc golf on a ball golf course. Sand traps are almost always considered hazards. When your disc ends up in a bunker and is completely surrounded by sand, it is in the hazard and you will play it from the sand trap with a one-stroke penalty. Some ball golf courses may deem the putting greens, cart paths or other rough areas hazards or OB. It all just depends on the course rules and/or the TD’s discretion in tournament or club play. Many disc course designs on ball courses will strategically utilize bunkers and greens close to the basket for added challenge. Sometimes, you are putting from a sand trap and the hazard penalty stroke is just something you have to accept.
Other Common Hazards
Other examples of hazards might be deep grass areas or “natural” bunkers on a disc golf course. Or, they can be completely arbitrary. If you watched the USDGC this year, you may recall roped-off hazard areas playing a significant role on holes 3, 11, 12, 14 and 16. The reason for this is was to add some challenge to these otherwise open holes. However, making these particular areas out of bounds might be a bit too punitive with stroke-and-distance penalties. Declaring certain areas hazards allows a player to maintain their distance and original lie while still being dinged with a penalty stroke.
Why Have Hazard Penalties?
As long as the rules are clear from the TD and in the caddie book, hazard areas can be a fun and interesting addition to a competitive disc golf course layout. Errant shots are still punished with a penalty stroke, but they are typically not as punitive as OB lines that may not allow a player to advance very far from their previous lie.
Hazards are just one of many interesting rulings that make disc golf such an exciting sport. Whether you are target playing competitively or casually, it’s important to understand the rules and the differences between OBs, hazards and missed mando penalties. Playing by the rules will ultimately make you a more rounded player and allow you to be better prepared when playing in competitive disc golf events.