Failed to extricate yourself after playing it as it lies? Our Rules of Golf expert outlines your options

You send me all kinds of weird and wonderful rules questions and I love trying to turn into Sherlock Holmes to find an answer. But let’s see how many of you know what to do with this query from Mick Roberts about penalty area rules in golf. It might send you cross-eyed…

“I have the following rules question on a problem which regularly happens on my home golf course. Ball comes to rest in a red penalty area. Lie is good so ball is played as it lies.

“However, the next shot taken towards the hole does not clear the penalty area and is now unplayable. How do I proceed with my next shot?”.

Penalty area rules in golf: Our expert says…

I love it when you go all complicated on me. But while this might seem like a head-scratcher, the Rules of Golf have got you covered.

If you turn your collective books to Rule 17.2a, you’ll see the answer to Mick’s question appear right before your very eyes in ‘When Ball Played from Penalty Area Comes to Rest in Same or Another Penalty Area’.

By all means, click on this link to the R&A’s site because there you’ll find a lovely diagram that explains it all in pictures.

But, essentially, if you’ve hit a ball from a penalty area and it hasn’t come out, you can still play it as it lies. Or, for one penalty stroke, you can choose from these other options:

1. Take stroke-and-distance relief – so go back to your original spot in the penalty area, drop a ball and hit it again.

2. Take back-on-the-line relief – ‘the estimated point used to determine the relief area is where the original ball last crossed the edge of the penalty where the ball now lies’.

3. Take lateral relief – you can only do this if it’s a red penalty area. Your two club length relief area is established again by taking the estimated point the original ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area.

4. Play from where the last stroke was made outside of the penalty area.

The eagled-eyed among you will have noticed something. Say, for instance, you decide to take stroke-and-distance relief. What if you do that, drop a ball, and it turns out to be a horrendous lie? You’re in a penalty area. You can’t take unplayable ball relief.

Rule 17.2a (1) gives you an option if you decide not to play the dropped ball from where it comes to rest. It allows you to take back-on-the-line relief, lateral relief [for red penalty areas], or play from where the last stroke was made outside of the penalty area.

But it’s going to cost you another shot. So you get one penalty stroke for taking stroke-and-distance relief and one for then taking relief outside of the penalty area. Two in total.

Is your head spinning yet? Let’s see what happens now. What if the ball’s gone flying out of the penalty area only to swerve boomerang-style back in?

The same options apply but this time, if you’re looking to take back-on-the-line relief or lateral relief [red penalty areas only, remember], your reference point for taking relief is the estimated point the ball last crossed the penalty area before it swan-dived back into trouble.

Still confused about the penalty area rules in golf? Don’t be. Those lovely people at the R&A have put together another diagram that shows exactly what I mean.

Have a question for our Rules of Golf expert?

Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf at the beginning of 2019, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s level 2 rules exam with distinction, I am more than happy to help.

If you’ve sent me an email and are yet to hear back from me, I will try to answer your query. I’m still inundated with requests and trying to get through them.

Just to reiterate, I continue to receive emails from players hoping I can intervene in a club rules dispute. For fairly obvious reasons, I can’t do that and would direct those players either to their county or to the rules department at the R&A for a definitive judgement.

Click here for the full Rules of Golf explained archive and details of how to submit a question to our expert.

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