It’s a Water Hazard!

As I mentioned last week, today starts my weekly column in which I will discuss a commonly misunderstood or misinterpreted golf rule, as well as a commonly misunderstood and misinterpreted grammar rule, and briefly elaborate—and hopefully clarify some of the confusion—on the two. It’s a great way to kill some time and work our brains a bit during the impending golfing off-season (no worries, the Ryder Cup Preview will come later this week).

One caveat: I am by no means a grammar expert. But these are some of the many issues I see when editing and reviewing content at my day job. Some of what I say will be opinion. Most of what I say will be fact—at least in the sense that it’s factually based on what AP Style says…so some may still disagree. But enough with the preliminaries.

Is it it’s or its?

I thought about just talking apostrophes in general this week. But this column is about “quick hits,” and it would take quite a while to cover all the bases on apostrophes. So I thought I’d tackle one of the more common mistakes I see.

This photo has nothing to do with this week's topic. I just found it amusing.

This week’s topic (it’s and its) performs two functions. First, the apostrophe version—it’s—is a contraction for “it is.” Pretty simple.

For example: It’s a brutally hot day on the golf course. Or It’s been 22 years since I made a hole-in-one. Both examples of the proper usage of it’s with the apostrophe. You’re simply replacing “it is a brutally hot day…” with “it’s a brutally hot day…”

Now, we have another version: The possessive form of the personal pronoun it. Pronouns are words like me, it, you, I, he, they, we, our, etc, that take the place of a person or a thing. So instead of John shanked the ball, you would say He shanked the ball.

The confusion comes in when you are talking about the possessive form of it, which is its–no apostrophe. Some examples: My Ping G10 driver is known for its ability to demolish the ball. Or Augusta National is golf at its best. Just as you don’t add an apostrophe to theirs, ours, and yours to indicate possession, you also do not add an apostrophe to its.

Bottom line: Use it’s ONLY when you are saying it is or it has. Otherwise, use its and be done with it.

And an awkward transition to golf rules…

Of Lateral Water Hazards

The rules about water hazards tend to confuse many beginning, and even weekend, golfers. There’s a lot of stakes, a lot of colors, and a lot of different rules for each.

The red stake does not indicate a mulligan.

The red stake does not indicate a mulligan.

So let’s make it simple. The most common hazard stake you will see on a golf course is red. Red stakes signify lateral water hazards. And, of course, these are water hazards that run laterally, either alongside or adjacent to the course.

So let’s say Sergio slaps his drive into a lateral hazard alongside the 4th fairway at Valhalla. Though many the weekend golfer may grab another ball and play a mulligan, Sergio, by rule, has the following options:

1) Play a ball as near as possible to the previous shot (the one he dunked in the hazard).

2) If Sergio desires, he can drop a ball behind the hazard, keeping the point at which the original shot crossed the margin of the hazard directly between the hole and the drop point. In this case, Sergio can go as far back as he so chooses. This is an unlikely option for a lateral water hazard, since most of the time dropping behind a lateral hazard is impossible.

3) Drop a ball outside the hazard, within two club lengths, no closer to the hole–as close as possible to the point at which the ball entered the water. This is the most likely and advantageous choice for Sergio.

In all cases, of course, Sergio will incur a one shot penalty.

To sum, he can play from where he played the last shot, drop behind the hazard along the line the ball entered the hazard and the hole, or drop two club lengths from where the ball entered the hazard. Clear as mud?

In Closing

Dude, these golf rules are harder to explain than grammar. Crap.

So that should do it for this inaugural edition of Chip Shots. I should be getting paid for this; it’s more difficult than I thought it would be.

Nonetheless, look for Chip Shots, Version Two next Tuesday. Feel free to send your hate mail to, or comment below if you so desire.