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Penalty areas on a golf course are marked as yellow penalty area or red penalty area with each having different relief options.  Today’s article will cover yellow penalty areas.

A Yellow Penalty Area, usually a body of water like a lake, pond, or creek, will be marked with yellow stakes or lines. Prior to 2019 we called them Water Hazards, but a Penalty Area is no longer required to include water, so we just call it a Penalty Area. The important thing is to identify whether the stakes and/or lines are Red or Yellow. At Torrey Pines, our ONLY yellow penalty area is the pond in front of the 18th green on Torrey South.

Q: What are your options if your ball ends up in a yellow penalty area?

Answer:

According to Rule 17.1d, you have only 2 relief options if you can’t play your ball from the yellow penalty area, and they each cost you a one penalty stroke:

Option 1: Stroke and Distance……go back and hit from the same spot as your previous shot

Option 2: Back-on-the-Line……drop behind the penalty area on an imaginary line from the flagstick to where the ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area. Since you can back as far as you want, you can go back to a spot that gets you to the best possible lie, or to a yardage you feel most comfortable with. You can drop on ANY area of the golf course (in the fairway or rough, even in a bunker if you want).

“Back-on-the-Line” can go in many different directions, depending on:

  • how your ball went into the pond (on the fly from your prior shot, or rolling in sideways from the fairway or backwards from the green-side of the penalty area) and
  • where the hole/flagstick is located

So, you have to evaluate it separately each time. Back-on-the-line, your drop will ALWAYS be behind the penalty area, it can never be on the green side of the yellow penalty area. 

It is pretty easy to figure out where you drop “Back-on-the-Line” if your ball flies into the water from the tee side of the pond.

Below is a video produced by USGA for the recent US Open held at Torrey Pines addressing the options for the 18th hole.

USGA TPWGC yellow penalty area

This diagram is also a good resource- click on the picture to see an expanded view and explanation

What is harder to figure out is where to drop if your ball rolls into the water from the side. Or if you chip or hit a sand shot from the clubhouse side of the green and your ball lands in the water.

 

Here are 3 diagrams to help you figure it out.  

Example 1

This shows your options if the water is NOT between you and the flag when your ball goes into the water.
Option 1 is to hit again from the same spot where you hit before
Option 2 is to hit anywhere along the blue dotted line going back as far as you want. Please note that you cannot drop any closer to the pin than where the ball went in.

Example 2

This shows your options if the water is between you and the flag.
Option 1 is to hit again from the same spot where you hit before
Option 2 is to hit anywhere along the blue dotted line going back as far as you want. Please note that you cannot drop any closer to the pin than where the ball crossed the edge of the penalty area.

Example 3

This shows your options if you are hitting from the clubhouse side of the green .
Option 1 is to hit again from the same spot where you hit before
Option 2 is to hit anywhere along the blue dotted line, on the other side of the pond, going back as far as you want. Please note that you cannot drop in the area between the water and the green.

There are many other scenarios that we could cover but hopefully these examples give you a good idea of how you should proceed.

As a bonus, here is a video produced by USGA covering your options for balls that go into a canyon.

Please contact me at rules@tpwgc.com

with any question on this or any other rules issue you have in mind. And send me ideas for future rules articles! I’m always here to help you understand the Rules of Golf!