Can You Ground Your Club In A Penalty Area?

The Rules have changed a lot in recent years and the answer to, 'Can you ground your club in a penalty area?' is now different...

Practice swing in penalty area
(Image credit: Kenny Smith)

The Rules of Golf change from time to time, typically over a four-yearly cycle, and the reason this is a valid question is that this is one of the elements that changed quite significantly with the major Rules revisions that were introduced in 2019.

First and foremost, the terminology changed at that time such that the ‘water hazards’ of old became the ‘penalty areas’ of today. The video below offers a simple explanation of how to proceed if you find yourself in one!

We don’t need to go into the rationale or reasoning for that too much here, but to coincide with that rebranding, if you like, The R&A also took the opportunity to relax some of the previous Rules and regulations governing what you could and couldn't do in those water hazards of old.

Ground club in penalty area

The Rules changed in 2019 and this is now fine as long as you don't cause your ball to move

(Image credit: Kenny Smith)

Previously you couldn’t touch the ground or water with your club or hand in a water hazard, nor remove loose impediments. You certainly couldn’t take a practice swing that touched the ground. Now you can do all three in a penalty area just as you can elsewhere in the general area of the golf course (though it’s worth remembering that in bunkers, you still can’t touch the sand with your club or make practice swings that touch the sand before playing your shot).

Practice swing in penalty area

You may now take practice swings that touch the ground in a penalty area

(Image credit: Kenny Smith)

What you can’t do, of course, is cause your ball to move in carrying out any of the above as that will still attract a one-stroke penalty under Rule 9.4b (you must then also replace the ball before playing). So, you must still be very careful around your ball in a penalty area, as moving a loose impediment, for example, that then causes your ball to move will still attract that penalty.

Loose impediment in penalty area

You may now remove loose impediments in a penalty area, as long as you don't move your ball in the process

(Image credit: Kenny Smith)

And, just as elsewhere on the course, neither can you do anything that might be deemed to be improving the conditions affecting your stroke – for example, pressing long grass down right behind your ball or swishing long grass away on a practice swing close to your ball that could be considered to be making your actual shot easier in some way.

So, in answer to the question in the headline, yes you can, and you can also now remove loose impediments and take practice swings that touch the ground in a penalty area… as long as you don’t cause your ball to move in the process or improve the conditions affecting your stroke.

Jeremy Ellwood
Contributing Editor

Jeremy Ellwood has worked in the golf industry since 1993 and for Golf Monthly since 2002 when he started out as equipment editor. He is now a freelance journalist writing mainly for Golf Monthly. He is an expert on the Rules of Golf having qualified through an R&A course to become a golf referee. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 91 of the Next 100, making him well-qualified when it comes to assessing and comparing our premier golf courses. He has now played 1,000 golf courses worldwide in 35 countries, from the humblest of nine-holers in the Scottish Highlands to the very grandest of international golf resorts. He reached the 1,000 mark on his 60th birthday in October 2023 on Vale do Lobo's Ocean course. Put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content.

Jezz can be contacted via Twitter - @JezzEllwoodGolf

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