In Ask the Ref this week, we ask Women & Golf’s rules expert Sheila Waltham about taking relief from penalty areas.

By Sheila Waltham

Whether it's a lake in front of a green or ditch running down the side of the fairway; penalty areas are the parts of the golf course we all try so desperately to avoid (yet will often find ourselves in!).

Here's what you need to know about penalty areas and how and when to take relief.

What is a penalty area?

Let's start from the beginning: What is a penalty area?

According to The R&A, it is:

An area from which relief with a one-stroke penalty is allowed if the player’s ball comes to rest there.

penalty area is:

  • Any body of water on the course (whether or not marked by the Committee), including a sea, lake, pond, river, ditch, surface drainage ditch or other open watercourse (even if not containing water), and
  • Any other part of the course the Committee defines as a penalty area

There are two different types of penalty areas: Yellow penalty areas which are marked with yellow lines or yellow stakes, and red penalty areas, marked with red lines or red stakes. The type of penalty area defines the relief options you have, as per Rule 17.

In a yellow penalty area, you can take two types of relief:

  • Stroke-and-distance relief
  • Back-on-the-Line Relief

In a red penalty area, you can take three types of relief:

  • Stroke-and-distance relief
  • Back-on-the-Line Relief
  • Lateral relief

If the colour of a penalty area has not been marked or indicated by the Committee, it is treated as a red penalty area.

Let's consider this scenario: A player’s ball lies close to a penalty area. To play her next shot, she has one foot on a bridge within the penalty area. May she have relief?

The short answer is yes.

And here's why: The bridge is an Immovable Obstruction, but it is the location of the ball that is important.

As per Rule 16.1a(2), relief is allowed from an Immovable Obstruction anywhere on the course except when the ball is in a penalty area. In this case, the ball is not in the penalty area. The player may therefore take free relief as the bridge interferes with her stance.

The reference point for taking the nearest point of complete relief must be in the general area, no nearer the hole. The relief area is one club length from this point.

About the author

Sheila Waltham

Sheila Waltham has been a qualified rules official for over 15 years and joined the England Golf Tournament Panel of Referees in 2019. A keen golfer since 1995, Sheila’s interest in the Rules was born out of the realisation that a lot of the information she received as a novice golfer was incorrect. So, she took matters into her own hands!

Become a whizz on the rules and check out our previous Ask the Ref features, like this one: One Club length or two? >