Look over the rules of golf. My ball is in a penalty area. What are my options for taking a drop?
Look over the rules of golf. My ball is in a penalty area. What are my options for taking a drop?

Wow, you lost the ball. It’s in the penalty area. Break was hard. It’s important to know that the official name changed to “penalty area” in 2019. You may still call it a “water hazard,” but that should let you know that your next stroke choices have changed a bit.

The Rules of Golf say what you can and can’t do in Rule 17. To begin, keep in mind that you can always try to play your shot in a penalty area. And you won’t get in trouble if you ground your club before you do. You can try a few practice hits to see if you really have a chance of getting out of this lie.

It’s also important to note that your ball is in a penalty area if any part of it sits on or touches the ground or anything else (natural or artificial) inside the penalty area’s edge, or if it’s above the edge or any other part of the penalty area.

American man sinks a putt that is 401.2 feet long, breaking the Guinness World Record for the longest golf putt ever.

Now that those warnings are out of the way, let’s talk about what will probably happen when you splash one. You have to take a penalty stroke and play on in one of these ways:

If the penalty area is marked with stakes, lines, or something else that looks like a flag, you can either play from where you just hit the last shot or, take a deep breath, you can drop the first ball or another ball outside the penalty area. You can keep track of the point where the first ball crossed the edge of the penalty area between the hole and the spot where the ball is dropped, and there is no limit to how far back you can drop it. Anyway, that spot can be one clublength away from the relief area on either side of that line, but it can’t be closer to the hole than where the first ball went over the penalty area line. You can’t drop it in the penalty area either, and it has to stay in the same place on the path after it stops moving. Don’t forget that drops are now done from knee height as well.

That was a lot to take in, so here’s a USGA map to help you see where you can drop.

Look over the rules of golf.
Look over the rules of golf.

When your ball is in a red punishment area, you can do something else. You may remember that the old rules gave you a lateral-relief choice. This is still true, but don’t do it if the ball goes into a yellow penalty area. To use the lateral choice, do the following:

Rule 14.3 says you can drop the first ball or a different ball in a relief zone that is within two clublengths of where it last crossed the line of the penalty area. Like in the other choice, the ball can’t be closer to the hole after the drop or land in the penalty area. It also has to stay on the course where it lands for the first time. Again, the USGA has a picture (below) that can help.

Look over the rules of golf. My ball is in a penalty area. What are my options for taking a drop?
Look over the rules of golf. My ball is in a penalty area. What are my options for taking a drop?

Don’t forget that you just hit your ball, which is already bad. Make the problem worse by choosing the wrong way to move forward. It’s already pretty tough.

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