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Rules: Relief For A Price - Australian Golf Digest Rules: Relief For A Price - Australian Golf Digest

Your ball is in a penalty area again. Here are your options

Penalty areas are one of the five defined areas of a golf course and are where you are provided the least amount of assistance by the rules. Penalty areas only come in two forms, yellow penalty areas and the much more commonly seen red penalty areas.

Should your ball come to rest in a penalty area, the first option available is to play the ball as it lies, if possible, for no penalty. Unless the penalty area has been deemed a no-play zone by the committee, you always have the option of playing the ball as it lies.

While there are limited times when you can drop for free inside a penalty area, generally speaking, your only two options are to play your ball or take relief from the penalty area for a penalty of one stroke.

To take relief from a penalty area, it must be ‘known or virtually certain’ that your ball is in there. There’s no need for 100 percent certainty, rather a very high chance that it is – the rules use 95 percent as the standard of how likely your ball is in there.

If it is known or virtually certain that your ball lies in a penalty area and you decide to take penalty relief, you can always proceed under stroke and distance, i.e. you may play the original ball or another ball from where the previous stroke was made. You always have this option even if you don’t know where your ball is.

You can also take back-on-the-line relief, where you drop a ball on a line outside the penalty area, keeping the estimated point where the original ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area between the hole and the spot where the ball is dropped.

You may also take lateral relief, which is the most commonly used option, but only if your ball lies in a red penalty area. This is when you drop a ball in a two-club-length relief area, no nearer the hole, using the estimated point where the original ball last crossed the edge of the red penalty area.

An often-misunderstood part of playing your ball from a penalty area is if a stake marking that penalty area interferes with your next stroke. If that stake can be easily removed, it is a moveable obstruction and you are therefore permitted to move it out of the way to help you make your next stroke. Even if your ball moves while removing it, there is no penalty but you must replace your ball. Please also replace the stake once you have played.

Watch out, though. Committees can and often do deem those penalty-area stakes as immovable obstructions – even though you can easily move them. This means that if your ball lies in a penalty area and you have interference from one of the stakes, you are not permitted to remove it – doing so and then making your stroke incurs the general penalty.

It is important to note that penalty areas are called penalty areas for a reason – you get very little assistance from the rules. If your ball lies in a penalty area, you are not permitted to take unplayable-ball relief, you get no free relief for an embedded ball, nor do you get any free relief for interference from an immovable obstruction, an animal hole, ground under repair or any temporary water.

Basically, if your ball lies in a penalty area, you either play it or take a one-stroke penalty and drop your ball outside it. 

Stuart McPhee is a rules official for the PGA Tour of Australasia and co-host of the No.1 podcast in the world dedicated solely to discussing the Rules of Golf: The Golf Rules Questions Podcast.

Getty images: Keyur Khamar