Although many golf-course penalty areas are ponds or lakes with little to no current, there are some water features you might encounter that can take your golf ball for a nice little cruise once it splash lands. If you find that your ball is “on the move” in a penalty area, it’s important to know your options for what can happen next.

One might surprise you, but you can actually play the moving ball!

According to the Rules of Golf, normally playing a moving ball is no-no (Rule 10.1d). But there are three exceptions, and one of them is when a ball is either moving in water in a penalty area or if it’s moving in temporary water. In the case of the latter, think of a wash-out situation on a day with heavy rain taking your ball from the fringe of an elevated green to the bottom of a collection area. Or picture overflow from a penalty area that is about to move your ball into the penalty area. Those could be times when hitting the ball on the move might make sense to save yourself a far worse lie.

PGA Tour player Emiliano Grillo had this option last May at the Charles Schwab Challenge in one of the more bizarre rules incidents of 2023. An aqueduct alongside the 18th hole was slowly moving his ball in the wrong direction. Interestingly, Grillo could have stopped the madness by playing the moving ball out of the penalty area.

Of course, in most cases, the prudent play would be to take relief if your ball is in a penalty area (and add a stroke). That’s what Grillo wound up doing and he eventually went on to win the tournament. If it’s temporary water (think puddles from rain, or natural ice, etc.), you get free relief. (See Rule 16.1 for relief procedures.)

Rules Review: Are you smart enough to ace this basic rules quiz?

When it’s in a penalty area and on the move and you want to take relief, you still have to determine where it last crossed the margin of the area. And just as a reminder, a ball is considered in a penalty area when any part of it touches the boundary (see Rule 17). If you’re unsure as to where it last crossed, you must estimate using all available evidence.

The important thing to remember with a ball in a penalty area or in temporary water is that if it’s not staying completely still, you are not penalised for giving it a whack.


My opponent looks like he’s whipper-snippering as he searches for a lost ball. When is that a penalty?

My ball is in bounds but an OB stake is interfering with my shot. Can I move the stake?

Can I be penalised for delaying play if I stop to get a hotdog or a drink?

When am I allowed to substitute a golf ball on the course?

I stopped my swing before hitting the ball. Does that count as a stroke?

I hit myself with my own ball. Embarrassment aside, is that a penalty?

What happens in a match when no one knows how to apply a rule?

My opponent stopped my ball from rolling on purpose. Is that a penalty?

While waiting to play a shot, my opponent is killing time by chipping a ball. Is this allowed?

My ball is in a penalty area, so what are my options for taking a drop?

Can I be penalised if someone else improves my lie?

Can you repair divot holes or pitch marks in your line before hitting a shot?

I just played the wrong ball. What do I do now?

What do I do if my ball just hit another ball on the green?

What do you do when the tee markers aren’t lined up or are missing?

Somebody just picked up my golf ball! Now what?

Crazy things that only happen in matchplay

Can you hit a provisional ball after hitting a shot into a penalty area?

Your club breaks, what are your options?

My opponent took a generous drop after hitting into a penalty area. Can he be DQ’d for that?

Can I use a long putter when measuring my relief area?

Our practice putting green sucks. Can I hit a few putts on the course before my round?

I had an extra club in my bag and I just teed off. Now what?

Can I move a stone if it improves my lie?

Are you smart enough to ace this basic rules quiz?

Do I get relief from aeration holes?

What does ‘known or virtually certain’ really mean?

Do you have to use a putter on the green?

You’re playing a Srixon. Two holes later it’s a Callaway. Is switching golf balls mid-round allowed?

I hit a horrible shot. I’m waaaaaay better off if I don’t find the ball. Can I just declare it lost?

I’m on the green, my opponent is not. Who’s away?

Is sneaking a peek in another player’s bag considered getting advice?

What do I do if my golf ball is stuck in a tree?

I conceded a putt. My opponent putted anyway and missed. Is that a penalty?

What is casual water and how do I play around it?

I thought my ball was lost and put another in play then found my first ball… which ball counts?

What happens if I can’t tell my provisional ball from my original?

What exactly is an embedded ball?

How do I find my ‘nearest point of relief’?

How long can I take to hit a shot?

Does a ball have to be unplayable to declare it unplayable?