Red Stakes in Golf: Rules and Relief Options

By Nick Heidelberger

Golfer plays from in the water

Golf's Rules can sometimes feel endless. For the casual player, and even the more advanced player, remembering some of the more intermediate rules can get cloudy. One such rule is what to do when a lateral hazard marked by red stakes comes into play in penalty areas.

When the USGA and R&A gave the Rules of Golf a makeover, which went into effect on January 1, 2019, the word "hazard" was completely eliminated from the Rules. Instead, all areas of water that were previously marked as water hazards are now referred to as penalty areas, and those areas can now also include areas of desert, jungle, lava rock, or other terrain.

In addition to covering more than just water, the updated rules expand your options for playing out of such penalty areas, and permit expanded use of red-marked penalty areas, meaning less yellow-marked areas. Not sure what that means for your game? You’re not alone, but we’ll explain.

What's the Correct Play From a Red Penalty Area?

Given the modifications to the Rules of Golf, it’s more likely that you’ll end up in a red penalty area, which is better than yellow, but still not good. Proceeding from a red penalty area affords you three relief options, all of which incur a one-stroke penalty.

Stroke and Distance

You can go back to where you just hit from and play the shot again. This is essentially the same as a two-stroke penalty because not only do you incur the one-stroke penalty but you also don't advance the ball from the previous stroke that you made.

Back-on-the-Line Relief

Draw an imaginary line from the hole through the point your ball entered the penalty area, and drop the ball on that line no closer to the hole. When making your drop, be sure to do so from knee height as opposed to shoulder height.

Lateral Relief

Drop the ball no closer to the hole and within two club-lengths from where the ball entered the lateral hazard.

What's the Difference Between Red and Yellow Penalty Areas?

Should you ever find yourself in a penalty area, the color the penalty area is marked is paramount, as that dictates your options to proceed. Before you study how to take relief from either penalty area, remember that not only can you play from inside both red and yellow penalty areas, but you can now also ground your club and remove any loose impediments surrounding your ball in those areas. Of course, if your ball is underwater or otherwise unplayable, this won’t be an option, so be sure to be realistic if you attempt to save a penalty stroke by playing it as it lies.

Penalty areas marked with yellow stakes afford you stroke-and-distance or back-on-the-line relief options, but not lateral relief.

About the Author

Nick Heidelberger is the Editor of GolfLink and an active member of the Golf Writers Association of America (GWAA). He covers all things golf, from the professional tours to rules, equipment, style, and golf history. In the years prior to joining GolfLink, he worked for the New England Section of the PGA of America. Nick has a degree in journalism from the University of Idaho and has been an avid golfer for more than 10 years.