Difference Between Red And Yellow Penalty Areas

red and yellow penalty areas

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. 

The Simplest Penalty Area Video You’ll Ever Watch

If you’re still referring to this area of the course as a water hazard rather than a penalty area, you’ll definitely want to see this video. Take at peek below at the simplest penalty area video you’ll ever watch.

If you’ve been playing golf for a while, you probably are used to referring to this area of the course as a water hazard. But, in 2019, the name of this area of the course changed to Penalty Areas. Previous to 2019, you were not allowed to ground your club, or take a practice swing in a penalty area, but now you can. You can also remove loose impediments with no penalty. But, be sure that doing so doesn’t cause your ball to move or you will incur a penalty for that.

Penalty Areas Rule 17, You can remove loose impediments with no penalty (Rule 15.1b)… if doing so causes your ball to move, one stroke penalty.

Now, let’s dive into your options if your ball lands in a penalty area.

Option 1: Play it as it lies

First of all, you always have the option of playing it as it lies. And, since you can take a practice swing, it might give you a little more confidence to go ahead and hit out of the penalty area.

In addition to playing the ball as it lies, you have two more options. And, each costs a one stroke penalty,

Pro tip: in a previous video, we talked about hitting provisional balls when your ball might be lost, or out of bounds. But, if you’re aware that the only place your ball could be lost is in a penalty area, then a provisional is not allowed. Provisional Ball, Rule 14.3

Option 2: Stroke & Distance (Rule 18.1)

Stroke and distance means you’ll play the original ball, or another ball, from the spot where the pervious stroke was made. In other words, the shot that got you here.

Option 3: Back-On-The-Line (Rule 17.1d(2))

For back-on-the-line relief, you may drop a ball in a relief area that’s based on a reference line going straight back from the hole through the estimated point where you original ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area.

Note: Using back-on-the-line relief, you may go back as far as you like

You should indicate your reference point by using a tee and you have within one club-length of that reference point to take your drop, no nearer the hole. 

Note: A club-length is defined as the longest club in your bag, except for your putter.

Have you heard you can take Lateral Relief from a penalty area?

Well, yes you can, if the penalty area is marked by red lines or stakes. These red, or Lateral Penalty Areas, give you an additional option to take a lateral drop within two club-lengths of the point that your ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area.

Lateral Relief from a red penalty area (Rule 17.1d(3))

I hope that clears up some questions you may have about penalty areas. If you like these videos, or you have questions, please share your comments below.

Filmed at The Santaluz Club. Marcela is wearing GGBlue Apparel. 

Free Relief From a Dangerous Animal

Free Relief From a Dangerous Animal

If you play golf in areas with dangerous animals like bears, alligators, or snakes, you’re going to want to hear about Rule 16.2b. This rule allows you to take free relief from a dangerous animal, such as a mama bear and her cubs out on the course.

Under this rule, you may take a drop at the Nearest Point of Complete Relief from the dangerous animal condition, no closer to the hole. You must of course really be threatened by it. You 

Bears Crossing Golf Course

can’t just assume there are snakes in the rough, but you actually have to see them and be in danger from them in order to get free relief. 

More broadly, Rule 16 covers free relief from abnormal course conditions, which include Immovable Obstructions, Ground Under Repair, and Temporary Water. 

Read more about the relief from abnormal course conditions on USGA’s website

Rule 16 states, a dangerous animal condition exists “when a dangerous animal near a ball could cause serious injury to the player if he or she played it as it lies.”

The rule provides relief from a dangerous animal. Dangerous Animal Conditions are considered Abnormal Course Conditions. Watch the bear video below for details.

How To Take Free Relief From a Cart Path


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How To Take Free Relief From a Cart Path

We probably all know that we can take  free relief from a cart path (when our ball is sitting on a cart path) but in this video I explain exactly how to take free relief from the cart path.

First Step - Determine Your Nearest Point Of Relief

You will first want to determine your “nearest point of relief”, and that isn’t as straightforward as you might think. Many players think they get to pick and choose where they can take their drop, but unfortunately that’s not exactly true. You must find your “nearest point of relief” and it’s not necessarily on the side of the path that you think or where you want it to be.

In this scenario, after we went through the steps shown on the video to determine which side of the path Karen could take her free drop on, she was happy it happened to be on the fairway side of this cart path, and not the side of the tall rough, which could have resulted in a undesirable lie. (Of course an “undesirable lie” does not warrant free relief! 

Second Step - Measuring   (Little Known Fact)

In order to determine your nearest point of relief, you must use the club you intend to use for your swing. But after you’ve found that point, then you get up to one additional club length, and that can be measured with any club you want. This is a very little known fact, but can be useful!

TIP: One club length or two?  You get up to one additional club length if it is a free drop, and up to two additional club lengths if it is a drop that is costing you a penalty stroke. 

Third Step - Take Your Drop And Be Sure Your Ball Doesn't Roll Too Far

When you’re ready to take your drop, you will want to watch where it hit the ground and where it ends up because if it rolls either more than two club lengths from the point where it touched the ground, or closer to the hole, or back to where you don’t have complete relief, then you’ll need to drop again.

How many times can you drop it before placing it? It’s two attempts at a good drop, and if neither of those are “good”, then you may place the ball (as shown on the video) where it hit the ground on the second drop.

You Must Take Complete Relief

My husband actually had a penalty in a tournament because he had taken free relief from an immovable obstruction/cart path, but when he dropped his ball, his new spot to play from still required him to have a potion of his foot on the cart path. The rules say you must take “complete relief” so having a foot stand on the path was not “complete relief”. He took second instead of first in that tournament, and was quite bummed that his fellow competitor was so anxious to tell him this after he hit his ball, and not before he swung.

Local Rule -  Stones Near The Cart Path

At The Santaluz Club, where Karen and I were playing during this video, there are stones near the cart path that have been designated as part of the actual path, as a local rule. You’ll see in the video t hat I was going to put a tee in the ground on the opposite side of the cart path, but then decided against it because my ball would be sitting on rocks, which would still be considered cart path, and therefore not complete relief.

You may also always play the ball as it lies, as I chose to do in this video above since the stones directly adjacent to the cement cart path are considered cart path under a local rule.

TIP: It’s important to take a peek at the back of the scorecard or the rules for a tournament before you begin your round as there may be local rules that can help you during your round. 

As you can see from this video above, sometimes you might want to just try to hit the ball from where it lies on the cart path. Be careful, though!

The Nitty Gritty On The Actual Rule From USGA’s Website:

24-2. Immovable Obstruction

a. Interference

Interference by an immovable obstruction occurs when a ball lies in or on the obstruction, or when the obstruction interferes with the player’s stance or the area of his intended swing. If the player’s ball lies on the putting green, interference also occurs if an immovable obstruction on the putting green intervenes on his line of putt. Otherwise, intervention on the line of play is not, of itself, interference under this Rule.

b. Relief

Except when the ball is in a water hazard or a lateral water hazard, a player may take relief from interference by an immovable obstruction as follows:


Through the Green: If the ball lies through the green, the player must lift the ball and drop it, without penalty, within one club-length of and not nearer the hole than the nearest point of relief. The nearest point of relief must not be in a hazard or on a putting green. When the ball is dropped within one club-length of the nearest point of relief, the ball must first strike a part of the course at a spot that avoids interference by the immovable obstruction and is not in a hazard and not on a putting green.

Yes, there’s a ton of golf rules,  but I hope my videos and posts are helping you!  Stay tuned for updates on the new rules of golf for 2019!