2021-0710_2_Rules every 18er should know
2023-0226_Updated to reflect the new 2023 Back on the Line Rule (17.1d)
RULE OF THE MONTH FOR JULY 2021 by Joyce McCann, 18ers Rules Chair

If Your Ball Goes Into A Penalty Area, What Do You Do?

Penalty Areas are usually marked with either yellow or red stakes. Generally, yellow penalty areas are between the teeing area and the putting green; red penalty areas are to the right or left of the fairway. If your ball went into a yellow Penalty Area, you have 3 options. If it went into a red Penalty Area, you have those same 3 options, plus an additional 4th option (Rule 17).

The options are:
1. You can play your ball from within the Penalty Area with no penalty stroke.
2. You can take Stroke and Distance penalty – i.e., for 1 penalty stroke, go back to where you hit your original shot and try again.
3. You can take “back-on-the-line” relief for 1 penalty stroke. To do this, first identify orestimate the point where your ball last crossed into the Penalty Area. Then, line that point up with the flag on the green, and go back on that line as far as you want and drop the ball on the line. The spot on the line where the ball first touches the ground when dropped creates a relief area that is one club-length in any direction from that point (Rule 17.1d).
4. The 4th option, called “Lateral Relief”, is only available if your ball went into a red Penalty Area. As for Options 2 and 3, there is 1 penalty stroke. First, identify or estimate the point where your ball last crossed into the red Penalty Area (this is Reference Point). Then, unlike Option 3, you can drop your ball no nearer the hole within 2 club lengths of that Reference Point.

Now, after all that, we might ask ourselves, Is there more to say about what you should do if your ball goes into a Penalty Area? Of course there is! So, for those who have not yet fallen asleep reading all of this, here’s what else would be good to know.

1. How do you decide if your ball went into a Penalty Area if you didn’t actually see it go in? The question you have to answer is whether, after searching for your ball for 3 minutes, you can say it is “known or virtually certain” it went into the Penalty Area. For example, on Hole #10, if your ball flew toward the creek (which is surrounded by heavy rough), unless you actually saw the ball go into the creek, it would not be reasonable to say it is known or virtually certain the ball is in the creek. In that case, you would have to assume the ball is lost and take stroke and distance penalty.

2. Sometimes one section of a Penalty Area is marked by yellow stakes, and another section by red stakes. On the Dollar course, the Penalty Area that runs behind hole #2 and in front of the teeing area on hole #7 is one example, and the Penalty Area on hole #14 is another. So that you know what relief options are available to you, it is important in these cases to be clear about whether the point your ball last crossed into the Penalty Area was in the section marked by yellow stakes or by red stakes.