Golf courses have two different types of penalty areas which are distinguished by the color used to mark them. Penalty areas usually contain water but some rules committees make exceptions. Often times a penalty area is defined as an area where balls easily get lost or are unable to be played. Therefore, penalty areas may not have water.
Yellow penalty areas are marked with yellow lines or yellow stakes and give you two relief options. Red penalty areas are marked with red lines or red stakes and give you an extra lateral relief option. This is in addition to the two relief options available for yellow penalty areas.
Your ball is in a penalty area when any part of it lies inside the edge of the penalty area. Your ball is also considered to be in if it is above or below the edge of the penalty area. You may play the ball as it lies in the penalty area without a penalty or play a ball from outside the penalty area by incurring one penalty stroke.
Yellow Penalty Area Relief
There are two options if your ball is in a Yellow Penalty Area.
1) You may take “stroke and distance” relief by playing your next shot as near as possible to the original shot.
2) Y0u may take “back on the line” relief. Do this by dropping your ball on a reference line between the flagstick and the point where the ball last crossed into the penalty area.
You may drop on this reference line as far back as you want. You must always keep the penalty area between you and the hole. This is often times the best option as you may choose the yardage to hit your next shot.
Red Penalty Area Relief
There are three options if your ball is in a Red Penalty Area.
You have the two options from the yellow penalty area, plus a “Lateral Relief” option.
1) You may take “stroke and distance” relief.
2)You may take “back on the line” relief.
3)You may take “lateral relief”. With lateral relief, you may drop your ball within two club-lengths of where the ball last crossed into the Red Penalty Area, adding a penalty stroke. You may never drop closer to the hole than the reference point.
You must know or you must be virtually certain that your ball came to rest in a penalty area. If not, you must treat it as a lost ball, which incurs a “stroke and distance” penalty.
The Penalty Areas rule is a very common rule during a round of golf. Be certain that you know this rule because it may save you a stroke in the future.