We run through the options available to you when your ball finds its way into a penalty area marked by red stakes in golf...

Red Stakes In Golf – Everything You Need To Know! 

From January 2019, the term ‘water hazard’ ceased to exist in the Rules and was superseded by the term ‘penalty area’.

Penalty areas still include rivers, ponds, lakes and other water features. But the Rules also allow Committees to expand their use to incorporate areas that do not contain water.

Committees may mark areas that don’t contain water as red penalty areas (Photo: Kenny Smith)

Penalty areas now have a default marking colour of red. Red stakes in golf (or lines) allow the additional lateral relief option (see below). However, Committees may still use yellow stakes or lines in some instances, from which the lateral relief option would not be available.

You may play it as it lies

There is nothing to stop you playing the ball as it lies in a penalty area marked with red stakes in golf if safe (and perhaps wise!) to do so.

You may remove loose impediments in a red penalty area taking care not to move your ball (Photo: Kenny Smith)

If you opt to play it, there is no penalty for touching the ground or water with your hand or club. You may take practice swings and touch or move loose impediments when your ball lies in a penalty area marked with red stakes in golf (or lines).

You can do all these things just as you can in the general area of the course. A word of warning though – if you move your ball in the process, you will be penalised under Rule 9.4.

You have three relief options for a one-stroke penalty (Reproduced with the kind permission of The R&A)

Stroke-and-distance relief

If you decide not to play your ball, you have three relief options at your disposal. There’s no guarantee that all of them will always be practical depending on the topography and geography.

First, it is worth stressing that if it is not known for sure that your ball is in a red penalty area, or you are not 95% certain that it is, you will have to go back to where you last played from under stroke and distance (Rule 18.2).

You also have this option if you do know for sure that your ball is in a red penalty area. To proceed, find where you last played from as a reference point, estimating the spot if you’re not sure. Drop your ball within a one club-length arc of that point not nearer the hole and then play it. There is a penalty of one stroke.

You must drop in the same area of the course as your reference point. So if your reference point is in the general area, your relief area must also be in the general area.

If the original shot was a tee shot, you may tee the ball up in any part of the teeing area.

Back-on-the-line relief

Your second option is to determine the point at which your ball last crossed the edge of the red penalty area. Now choose a reference point as far back as you wish on a reference line keeping that point directly between you and the hole.

If you are able to find or see your ball, remember your reference point may be some distance from where it is lying. It is the point at which it last crossed the edge that is important.

Again, you get a one club-length relief area arc in which to drop, not nearer the hole. You then play from there under penalty of one stroke.

Lateral relief

Finally, you can choose to take lateral relief, measuring a relief area of two club-lengths (not nearer the hole) from where your ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area, and dropping the ball in this relief area.

Your relief area is two club-lengths not nearer the hole when measuring lateral relief (Photo: Kenny Smith)

This can be in any part of the course other than the same penalty area. Again, the penalty is one stroke. If you’re not 100% sure where it crossed, estimate the spot to the best of your ability.

This relief option is not available to you if the penalty area is marked with yellow stakes or lines.

Finally, prior to 2019 you could also take relief on the opposite side of a lateral water hazard (now red penalty area). This is no longer an option.

Committees may still adopt a Local Rule allowing it in particular circumstances. For example, where the red penalty area adjoins a boundary.

We hope you will now know what your options are when you next hit your ball into a penalty area marked by red stakes in golf.