For handicap purposes, how should the local drop areas be played/scored?
Keystone Ranch and River courses have a number of "drop areas" that are identified with a sign that says "drop area" but are not discussed on the score card which says "Play is governed by the rules of golf as approved by the USGA and..."
On #6 at the River, the drop area sign is located on the fairway closer to the green than the yellow stake water hazard you have to carry off the tee and behind and to the right of the lateral water hazard left of the fairway.
Much of the landing area on this hole is blind and there is long grass between the two hazards on the left and on the right there is scrub area where you usually, but not always find your ball.
Several weeks ago I played with the club champions who said that the drop area could be used for all lost balls that carry the initial water hazard meaning that you could use if for the lateral hazard on the left or the scrub area to the right. I know that the drop areas are designed to speed up play, but this didn`t make a ton of sense to me from a rules perspective.
Today, after being 90+% certain that I hit my tee ball into the left lateral water hazard, I utilized the drop area at the encouragement of a playing partner and hit the ball onto the green and made the putt. Had there not been a drop area, and I was "virtually certain" that my ball was in the lateral hazard, I would have had to take a drop in the rough to the left of where I actually dropped it. Had I not been "virtually certain" that I was in the lateral water hazard, then I would be forced to go back to the tee. Before dropping, I looked for my ball in the long grass leading into the hazard, but did not find it there or see it in the hazard.
At the turn, I went into the Pro Shop to ask what/where the drop area applied to and the two guys there said it was a local rule to speed up play, but that they were not certain how it worked.
After the round, I went back in and one of the original guys was there (I thought he was the general manager, but it looks like he is listed as the course Professional) along with another guy who offered the following:
1. The drop area is a local rule to speed up play and is for the first water hazard but not the lateral hazard.
2. Upon further discussion, he said the drop area could be used for the lateral hazard also.
3. The use of the drop areas was not contemplated when the course was rated for handicap purposes.
4. It would be useful if there was more documentation for the drop areas.
The first guy added that when CO Golf Association Tournaments are played at the course that they mark their own course and do not use the drop areas.
It seems to me, that the drop areas (here and on some other holes also) make the course play easier, so the course should have a different rating/slope depending on whether you are utilizing the drop areas or not.
How should I play this going forward?
For handicap purposes, what score did I make on the hole?
If I dropped correctly, the score would be 4, but if I should have played it as a lost ball as I was not "virtually certain" it was in the hazard, then I think I would need to replay the hole from the tee hitting 3. As it is the #5 handicap hole, I think the score I would give myself is a 5 on the replay I didn`t make plus stroke and distance = 7.