Rules Corner: What are your options if you hit into the penalty area?

March 28, 2020

When you see your ball sailing towards a penalty area, your heart usually sinks with the impending doom of a lost ball and a penalty shot. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be doom and gloom, because you do have options.

A great example of these options was on display at the 1972 U.S. Open on the 10th hole. Jack Nicklaus hit his tee shot into the Pacific Ocean (the largest penalty area in the world) and instead of traversing the steep hillside down to the beach to play the ball, he decided to take a one-stroke penalty with lateral relief.

He found where the ball entered the penalty area, measured two club lengths and dropped there. This option is outlined under Rule 17.1c.

Nicklaus’ next shot also found the penalty area, but this time he had a more favorable lie. Under Rule 17.1a, “you may either play the ball as it lies without penalty or play a ball from outside the penalty area by taking penalty relief,” so Nicklaus elected to play his ball from the penalty area and was able to escape the hole with no further damage.

This hole is a great example of one hole and one penalty area, but the player choosing to use two different options afforded to him. And despite his two separate shots into the penalty area, Nicklaus was able to regroup and win the championship by three shots over Bruce Crampton.

Looking for more information on the Rules of Golf? Visit usga.org/rules, or, if you have a question of your own, you can submit it to Rules Guy, our resident expert, at rulesguy@golf.com. The answer may be featured in an upcoming issue of GOLF Magazine.

How do I proceed when searching for a lost ball?
What is opposite-side relief? Here’s why it matters.
Do you know the difference between an integral object and an immovable obstruction?
Is it permissible to check a bunker’s depth with a tee?
Are you entitled to free relief from a sandy cart path?

To receive GOLF’s all-new newsletters, subscribe for free here.