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Rules of Golf: Penalty Areas

There are various shapes and sizes when it comes to penalty areas in golf. Some penalty areas contain water while others can contain grass, rocks or other debris. Regardless of the penalty area’s shape, size and contents, the relief options will always be classified into two categories: yellow or red.

Oftentimes, the challenge of playing the ball as it lies from a penalty area is going to be because of the water. The rules of golf allow golfers to remove other aspects that aren’t supposed to be part of the challenge of playing from a penalty area.



When playing a shot from a penalty area, golfers can do things like:

· Remove any loose impediments and moveable obstructions

· Ground their club behind the ball

· Touch the water

· Take practice swings that touch the ground

If a golfer doesn’t want to play their ball as it lies, the only other option is to take penalty area relief.

However, a golfer cannot deem their ball unplayable or take relief from abnormal course conditions such as a bridge or sprinkler.

When a penalty area is marked yellow, there are two options for relief under the penalty of one stroke:

Stroke-and-Distance Relief: Playing the original ball or another ball from a relief area based on where the previous stroke was made.

Back-on-the-Line Relief: Dropping the original ball or another ball into a relief area based on a reference line behind the penalty area. The reference line is determined to be the point where the ball last crossed the edge of the yellow penalty area and can go as far back as the golfer would like.

When a penalty area is marked red, the golfer may choose either of the two options discussed above, plus one additional option for the penalty of one stroke:

Lateral Relief: A golfer’s third relief option is to drop the ball within two club-lengths of where it last crossed the edge of the red penalty area. The ball drop has to be outside of the penalty area and cannot be nearer to the hole at that point than it was before.

When golfing, it’s important to understand the options to use when taking penalty area relief because sometimes, the geography of the hole may not allow you to take one option over the other. For example, a golfer may be in a red penalty area but won’t have the option to take lateral relief because there is no way to drop the ball without getting closer to the hole. In that case, the rules of golf will always give you more than one option to overcome the challenge of playing in penalty areas.

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Tim Krumnow, PGA

Certified Instructor

Master Club Fitter, Master Club Maker, Master Club Repair

in Houston, Texas

281-755-6162

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