Penalty areas come in many shapes and sizes. Some
contain water or grass, some are rocky and others 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 and touch the water. 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
1) 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.
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.
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 under Rule 17.1d.
3) Lateral Relief (only for red penalty areas): 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.
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. To learn more about penalty areas, click here.