Goodbye water hazards, hello “penalty areas.” The new rules do away with various traditional terminology and include many hazardous spots in what are now called penalty areas.
The USGA defines penalty area as “bodies of water or other areas defined by the committee where a ball is often lost or unable to be played. For one penalty stroke, you may use specific relief options to play a ball from outside the penalty area.”
These areas could be a dry ravine, thick woods from where players are unlikely to play a shot, even a canyon. Or they could be a typical pond.
When a ball lies in or touches any part of the penalty area, players can take relief with a one-stroke penalty, much as under the old rules they could take relief from a body of water. It must be known or virtually certain that a ball went into a penalty area and was not possibly lost elsewhere.
Players also are allowed to play from the penalty area without penalty, the same as under the old rules when a player would hit a shot from inside a water hazard.
There are two ways to mark a penalty area: yellow lines and stakes, or red lines and stakes. There are differences in the two methods as far as taking relief.
If a penalty area is marked in yellow, a player may take stroke-and-distance relief, meaning they drop from a defined area where they played their previous shot. The player also can take back-on-the-line relief, dropping on a line that extends from the hole through the spot where the ball crossed into the penalty area, no nearer the hole. Using that option, a player can go back as far as they like. Both relief scenarios require a one-stroke penalty, and the player must drop the ball within one club-length of the chosen spot. Only those two options are available if the penalty area is marked in yellow.
If a penalty area is marked with red, the player has a third option: The player can take lateral relief within two clubs of the spot where the ball crossed the line, no nearer the hole. That drop zone possibly could extend as far as the fairway, but the player is not allowed to drop back in the same penalty area. This lateral option applies only to penalty areas marked in red.
Also of note: A player will be free to ground a club or move loose impediments in a penalty area. But when a player chooses to play a shot from a penalty area, the player has no relief under other rules governing abnormal course conditions, embedded balls or unplayable lies. So if the ball is embedded in mud in a penalty area, the player must either play it as it lies or take the applicable relief with penalties mentioned above.