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ball in penalty area

I played my ball from a penalty area but it didn’t come out – help!

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

Penalty area rules in golf: What happens now?

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.

Got a question for our expert?

Despite the changes to the Rules of Golf in 2019 and 2023, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. I’ll try to help by featuring the best of your queries in this column.

What do you think of these penalty area rules in golf? Let me know by leaving a comment on X.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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