What are the relief options when your ball is in a penalty area?

patrick reed takes drop

There are different relief options based on the color of the penalty area.

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No matter how skilled a golfer you are, hitting into a hazard — penalty area — is inevitable. Even PGA Tour pros find themselves hitting their balls into these less-than-desirable places from time to time. The comparisons between the average pro and the average Joe stop there, however.

When pros find a penalty area, they either know the rule well enough to take a drop on their own, or they call on a rules official to clarify their options. But it’s important to know these rules as a recreational golfer, and you won’t always have an official to call on when you’re not sure. In this edition of Rules School, we break down the relief options you have when you find a penalty area.

Your relief options vary when you hit into a penalty area, depending on the color of the hazard, but both come with one-stroke penalties. This is covered under Rule 17.1d.


Stroke-and-distance: The player may play from the spot of his or her previous shot.

Back-on-the-line: The player may take relief within one club length of an imaginary line from the pin through where the ball crossed into the penalty area, as far back as you wish.

usga diagram


The first two options are available, in addition to a third option.

Lateral: Drop within two club lengths of where the ball last crossed into the penalty area.

USGA diagram

Zephyr Melton

Golf.com Editor

Zephyr Melton is an assistant editor for GOLF.com where he spends his days blogging, producing and editing. Prior to joining the team at GOLF, he attended the University of Texas followed by stops with the Texas Golf Association, Team USA, the Green Bay Packers and the PGA Tour. He assists on all things instruction and covers amateur and women’s golf. He can be reached at zephyr_melton@golf.com.