We often get asked to explain the difference between red and yellow penalty areas. Here’s what one player asked about taking a drop near the putting green after he hit his ball into a yellow-staked penalty area.
When the rules of golf substantially changed in 2019, the term “water hazard” disappeared and was replaced with “penalty area”. There are two main types of penalty areas, yellow or red.
If your ball goes into a yellow-staked penalty area, your options are as follows:
Play it as it lies, which of course doesn’t cost you a penalty stroke and would be ideal. And as of January of 2019 you are permitted to ground your club or even take a practice swing in the penalty area (pretty cool considering both of these were no-no’s previously)
Your other options with a yellow penalty area are:
17.1d(1) Stroke-and-distance relief, which means going back to the location of your last shot and taking a drop at knee height from there. This will cost you one stroke.
17.1d(2) Back-on-the-line relief, which means you may drop a ball on a reference line going straight back from the hole through the estimated point where the ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area. This also costs you a one-stroke penalty and additional details on this can be found here.
Those are your only options if the penalty area is marked with yellow lines or stakes.
If the penalty area is marked with red lines or stakes, then you’ll have one additional option, which is referred to as lateral relief.
17.1d(3) Lateral relief is when the player may drop a ball within two club-lengths of where their ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area, not nearer the hole. Your drop can be in any area of the course except inside the same penalty area.
The good news is that more and more penalty areas are being changed from yellow to red to speed up pace-of-play, so when you see a red line or stake you know you’ll get this additional option.