March 29, 2020
Penalty Areas – The Dos and Don’ts
Penalty areas come in many shapes and sizes. Some contain water, some contain grass, some are rocky, and some are smooth. Regardless of the size, shape and contents of a penalty area, your relief options will always be classified into two categories: yellow and red.
Before we get into your relief options for a penalty area, there are a few important things you need to know about them. There are no special Rules which apply to penalty areas, which means you can ground your club, remove loose impediments, touch the water and more. The challenge of playing from a penalty area is most often going to be water. Therefore, the Rules of Golf allow you to remove the other things that aren’t supposed to be part of the challenge of playing from a penalty area.
When you are in a penalty area, the only special Rule that does apply is the penalty area relief Rule. This means that there is no free relief from immovable obstructions (like a sprinkler head or a bridge) or other abnormal course conditions (like an animal hole or ground under repair) when your ball is in a penalty area. If you do not wish to play your ball as it lies, your only option is to take penalty area relief.
When a penalty area is marked yellow, there are two options for relief under penalty of one stroke – see Rule 17.1d.
- Stroke-and-Distance Relief: Go back and play again from where your previous stroke was made. How exactly you do that depends on where your previous stroke was played from (see the illustration below).
2) Back-on-the-Line Relief: When taking back-on-the-line relief from a penalty area, you are required to choose a spot on the reference line behind the penalty area. The reference line is determined by drawing a straight line from the hole through the spot where your ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area and going back as far as you would like. The first picture below shows where the ball entered the penalty area after flying over it and crossing the edge of the penalty area on the putting green side. In the second picture, the “X” represents where the ball crossed the edge and the dotted line is the reference line formed by the hole and the X. To take relief, choose a reference point on that line behind the penalty area. When you take your drop, the ball must land and come to rest within one club-length of that reference point, not nearer the hole.
If a penalty area is marked red, you can use either of the two options detailed above. However, you also have a third option for one penalty stroke – see Rule 17.1d.
3) Lateral Relief (only for red penalty areas): In the example below, the only time you will be allowed to drop on the putting green side of the penalty area is when the penalty area is marked red. When it is, your third relief option is to drop within two club-lengths of where your ball last crossed the edge as it went into the red penalty area, but not nearer the hole than that point and not in the penalty area. Your ball must be dropped in and come to rest in that area (see the diagram below).
It is important to note that while you have multiple options to use when taking penalty area relief, the geography of the hole may mean that you don’t like one of the options or that one of the options is not available (for example, you may not be able to use the lateral relief option for a red penalty area if there is no way to drop the ball without going closer to the hole). Despite the challenges that penalty areas can pose, the Rules of Golf will always give you at least one option (and usually more) to get out.