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Understanding Golf Penalty Rules feature image

Golf Penalty Rules – Lost Ball and Golf Hazzard Rules for White, Red, and Yellow Stakes

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Golf penalty stroke rules are important to know when playing the game. If you’re not careful, you can lose a hole or even the entire match if you don’t follow these rules. The USGA has strict regulations for golf penalties that have been in place since 1916. They outline what happens when players violate specific course regulations and properly penalize them with strokes on their scorecards.

Understanding these rules can help you play better and avoid penalties that could hurt your score. This blog post will go over what golfers should know about these rules and how to use them properly.

Which shots result in a golf penalty stroke?

  1. Out of Bounds

  2. Hazzard

  3. Unplayable ball

  4. Lost ball

There are golf penalty rules for each of these situations. The main difference between them is where and how you are allowed to take your next shot. The most common golf penalty is a one-stroke penalty. There is an instance where you have the option to take a 2 stroke penalty.

1.  Out of Bounds

What do white stakes in golf mean?

White stakes in golf designate the boundary of the golf course. If your golf ball is sitting on the other side of these stakes, your ball is considered out of bounds. You are not allowed to hit from this area at all. On the golf course, these areas are next to people’s backyards, and off-the-tee areas.

These white stakes are placed differently at each golf course and are also unique to each hole. These placements are always up to the course designer and can be changed based on new developments on the golf course.

See the example below. You should draw (or use string) to measure from white stake to white stake. If any part of the golf ball is touching part of the course in bounds, your ball is considered in bounds. If not, you are out of bounds.

white stakes golf penalty rule example
White Stakes Golf Penalty Rule Example

Why are the white stakes the harshest golf penalty rules?

The white stakes are by far the worst golf penalty rules. When you find your ball sitting out of bounds, you must go back to the spot where the ball was hit from, take a 1 stroke penalty, and hit from the same spot. For instance, you drive your first ball out of bounds past the white stakes; you must come back to the tee, take a 1 stroke penalty, and hit again from the tee for your 3rd shot.

What is the new OB rule in golf?

This one is also known as a pace of play rule instituted in 2019. For the pace of the play of the busy golf courses, you are allowed to treat the drop like a lateral hazard and take a 2 stroke penalty. This keeps the pace of play up to par and keeps up with your best golf etiquette for beginners.

What is a provisional golf shot?

This is also known as “3 from the tee.” If you think your ball may be out of bounds, instead of going all the way to the golf ball, you can go ahead and tee another ball up and consider it a provisional golf shot. If you find your original ball and it is out of bounds, you play the second shot. If your first ball is not out of bounds, you must play that one, no matter where the ball is located. 

2.  Hazzard

What do red penalty stakes in golf mean?

Red stakes in golf designate a hazard area where if your golf ball lands inside these stakes, it qualifies as a lateral Hazzard. The boundaries defined by red stakes can be different depending on the golf course. Most of the time, they mark the hazards (water, tall weeds, etc.) that run parallel to the golf course.

In a red-stake zone, you are allowed to hit your ball out as long as you don’t ground your club before doing so. You are not required to move the ball and take the penalty. However, most of the time, it is more advantageous to drop and take the penalty shot.

The 3 options you have in red stake areas are

  1. Play the ball as is
  2. Go back and play the shot from the original spot (like the white stakes)
  3. Take a 1 stroke penalty and drop at the point the ball crossed into the hazard, no closer to the hole. It must be 2 club lengths perpendicular within the line of the stakes.

What do yellow penalty stakes in golf mean?

Yellow stakes and red stakes in golf are used to define areas in the hazard but define different drop points. Yellow stakes are typically found on hazards that are not lateral to the golf course. When you find yourself in the yellow stakes, you have a few different options:

  1. Play the ball as is, without grounding the club
  2. Go back and play the shot from the original spot (like the white stakes)
  3. Take a 1 stroke penalty and drop at the point where the ball crossed into the hazard, keeping the flag in line with that spot.

3.  Unplayable ball

What is an “unplayable” golf penalty rule?

In golf, sometimes you can see your ball but cannot fully swing a club to make a good swing. This can be anything such as brush, trees, roots, rocks, or even something that makes you swing weird. You can declare your ball unplayable. You will incur a 1 stroke penalty, and you have a few options:

  1. Go back and play the shot from the original spot (like the white stakes)
  2. Take a drop no closer to the hole two club-lengths from the ball
  3. Take a drop in line with the ball and the hole as far back as you would like.

There are a few little sub-rules to this. If you are in a bunker, you must take an unplayable lie and keep the ball within two club-lengths in the bunker. With this rule, you can declare your ball unplayable at any time as long as you agree to take the 1 stroke penalty.

This is a newer rule, but you can now move the ball out of the bunker and incur a 2 stroke penalty. This would be great for players who are not comfortable playing the ball out of the sand.

4.  Lost ball

How long do you have to look for your golf ball?

You used to have 5 minutes to look for your golf ball; then you had to declare it lost. The rule changed back in 2019 to speed up the pace of play. The new rule is now you only have 3 minutes to look for your ball before you have to declare it is lost. This seems like no time on the golf course.

What penalty do you take on a lost golf ball?

You will always take a 1 shot penalty on a lost ball. Depending on the golf penalty rules hazard, you can review the above options for each scenario. The point is that you will always follow the stakes if you cannot find your golf ball and have to declare it lost.

What is the correct way to drop a golf ball?

The ball must be dropped straight down from knee height, first hitting the ground within your relief area and remaining there. Your caddie is not allowed to do this for you! The reference point should be marked with tees in the ground for easy location. You should remove your golf ball before dropping a new one.

Long Bombs Golf Final Say:

Golf is a sport with strict rules and penalties for breaking them. Penalties can be assessed in many ways depending on the type of infraction committed. All of these penalties can affect your golf handicap. Click here to learn how to calculate your golf handicap. The main types include out-of-bounds, hazards, unplayable balls, and lost balls – all of which could cost you strokes if they occur during your round. While it’s always best to play by the letter of the law when golfing (or any other activity), sometimes it’s also okay to have fun! Do you follow these strict rules? Or just go with what feels right?


About the Author


How we got onto 16 with a 5 minute wait at the WM Phoenix Open!

How I got on hole 16 (The Stadium hole) at the Waste Management Phoenix Open with little to no wait!! I also have tips and tricks on what to do once you are inside the gate and inside the stadium hole. Check this out if you ever plan to make a trip out! If you ever have the chance, it is definitely worth the trip.

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