New Golf Rules Explained: Penalty Areas

The new Rules of Golf came into force in 2019 and the term 'hazard' is no longer of use.

New Golf Rules Explained: Penalty Areas
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New Golf Rules Explained: Penalty Areas

The new Rules of Golf came into force in 2019 and the term 'hazard' is no longer of use. That's because hazards have given way to 'penalty areas' to better reflect the variety of topography found on golf courses around the world. The video below explains what's happening with the new penalty areas.

Penalty areas to supersede water hazards


Relief under penalty is available from both water hazards and lateral water hazards, with the latter offering additional options for when it is impractical to drop behind the hazard.

From 2019

New Golf Rules Explained: Penalty Areas

Water hazards have been superseded by ‘penalty areas’ that include not only ponds, lakes and streams but also deserts and jungles, for example.

Yellow and red markings will continue, but committees may mark everything as a red area so the additional lateral relief is always available.

Water hazards had become a bit of a misnomer, with many clubs marking a variety of areas as water hazards for practical reasons, regardless of whether or not they ever had any water in them.

The new all-embracing terminology will allow greater freedom to apply common sense with regards areas where searching for a ball may be a little dangerous or is likely to unduly hold up play.

Elimination of opposite side relief for red penalty areas


When a ball is in a lateral water hazard marked by red stakes, you have the additional option of dropping under penalty on the opposite margin of the hazard equidistant from the hole.

From 2019

New Golf Rules Explained: Penalty Areas

From 2019, you won't be able to drop on the opposite margin in a red penalty area

This additional relief option will be removed for red areas, but committees may still adopt a Local Rule permitting it when they believe other relief options are not viable or practical.

This should simplify things as many players are not familiar with the whys and wherefores of the current additional relief option.

It was in the Rules for practical reasons, but could sometimes lead to a much better line and lie. It could also take a long time, too, especially where larger bodies of water were involved.

Watch - 7 simple golf rules mistakes

Touching or moving loose impediments or ground in a penalty area

Current Rule

In a water hazard, you must not touch the water or ground with either hand or club, or touch or move any loose impediments in the hazard.


You will be able to touch or move loose impediments in a penalty area and touch the ground with hand or club, as long as you don’t improve conditions for your next stroke.

The existing Rule has not always been practical and has proved quite complicated to ‘police’, leading to some penalties that were perhaps unnecessarily harsh – where no advantage had been gained and, in some instances, the player was unaware of any breach until TV replays highlighted it.

Sam Tremlett
Senior Staff Writer

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