Nobody wants to hit their ball into a penalty area but if you do, what are your options? Here we will look at penalty areas and how to proceed under Rule 17.

When the latest set of golf rules revisions were introduced at the beginning of 2019, the phrase ‘water hazard’ was replaced by ‘penalty area’. In a bid to make the rules easier for players to understand and faster to implement, golf’s ruling bodies changed the way golfers should proceed whenever they hit the ball into these marked areas. In this article, we will look at penalty areas and how to proceed under Rule 17.


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If you hit the ball into a penalty area marked with red stakes or lines, you have four options, but it’s important to remember that the final one – two club-lengths from where it last crossed the edge – is not available to you if the penalty area is marked with yellow stakes or lines.

The first is certainly the easiest to explain. You can play the ball as it lies without having to add a penalty shot to your score. Don’t forget that you can also now ground your club behind the ball and remove loose impediments.

Penalty Areas: How to proceed under Rule 17

Alternatively, you can go back to where you hit your last shot from and play it again. This comes with a one shot penalty but depending on the specific situation you are facing, this might be your best option. Don’t forget to drop the ball from knee-height!

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Your next option is to identify the point where the ball last crossed into the penalty area and, keeping that spot between you and the flag, you can go back as far as you want and drop the ball. In this situation, it is worth remembering that you can effectively choose your yardage for your next shot. So, for instance, if the penalty area you are taking relief from is close to the green, you might be best served by going back to a yardage from where you can make a full swing. Having to play a delicate half-pitch over a ditch can often be a recipe for disaster!

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The third relief option – only available from red penalty areas – is to drop the ball within two club lengths of where it last crossed into the penalty area. So imagine you have driven your ball through a dogleg and the ball has run into a ditch. In this instance it might well be best to find the point it crossed, mark out two club-lengths (no nearer the hole) and go from there. Don’t forget that in the rules of golf a club-length is the longest club you have in your bag that day, excluding the putter. One thing worth mentioning here is that under the pre-2019 rules, you had the option, in this scenario, to drop the ball on the opposite side of penalty area (or water hazard as it was known). This is now no longer an option.

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The rules relating to penalty areas and how to proceed under rule 17 might seem complicated but hopefully, this article reveals that your options are fairly straightforward. Try to think clearly about your best option and you should be able to proceed with your score in tact.