Knowing the rules of golf is a huge advantage to shaving shots off your scorecard. It’s easy to get confused on what’s allowed and what can result in a penalty during the round – especially near trouble.
But hazards are an integral part of the game and want to address the right way to navigate them. If you’re like many golfers I’m sure you’ve wondered… Can you ground your club in a hazard? Can you remove loose impediments?
Or, you might wonder what are the relief options if your ball finds the water or penalty area.
Today, we’ll help you understand how to navigate hazards, play from long grass (and other obstacles) and how to take relief if needed.
Can You Ground Your Club in a Hazard?
- Lateral and water hazards were renamed penalty areas in the more relaxed rules of golf update in 2019.
- Grounding your club in a hazard used to result in a penalty for grounding but is now allowed in all places except bunkers.
- You can remove loose impediments from penalty areas and bunkers thanks to the new rules change as well.
Keep reading to learn more about the best way to play out of hazards and not get any unnecessary penalty strokes.
New Rules Update
In 2019 the rules of golf got a massive update that helps the everyday player.
One of the most important rules changes was that the word hazard was redefined as penalty area. This changed what you were and were not allowed to do in the hazard/penalty area.
Prior to the updated rules of golf you could still choose to play a ball that was inside the lines of a red or yellow hazard. However, you were not allowed to ground your club – meaning it had to hover above the grass, water, rocks, etc.
Not being able to ground your club made it a lot harder for most golfers as you couldn’t determine what was beneath the surface. Essentially it was the same way you play out of a bunker.
Luckily, these rules have been updated and you can ground your club in a penalty area – whether it’s red or yellow. However, you still always have the option to take relief as well (more on that below).
Loose Impediments in Penalty Area
Another big change to the rules is the ability to remove a loose impediment from a penalty area. Under the old rules this would cost you two strokes in stroke play or automatic loss of hole in match play.
Here’s what the USGA had to say about loose impediments.
“Loose impediments and movable obstructions are two categories of items that the Rules do not consider part of the challenge of playing the game, and therefore they can be moved. Loose impediments are unattached natural objects such as sticks, leaves, twigs, and blades of grass so long as they are not fixed or growing, solidly embedded in the ground, or sticking to the ball.”
Removing loose impediments is allowed anywhere on the golf course – including bunkers and hazards.
However, it’s vital to make sure that removing a loose impediment does not move your golf ball. Otherwise, it will result in a one shot penalty and need to move the ball back to the original position.
Penalty Area Relief Options
If you choose to take relief from a penalty area, you have three options on where you can drop the ball (all options come with a one stroke penalty):
- Lateral relief: If you’re in a red penalty area (not yellow) you have the option to identify the spot where the ball last crossed. Then, drop a ball within two club lengths of that spot as long as it’s not closer to the hole. This can be backward or lateral, as long as you’re not giving yourself a closer shot.
- Back on the line relief: Whether you’re in a red or yellow penalty area, you can always choose this relief option – also known as line of sight. With this drop option you must go back on a line that extends straight from the hole and take your drop within two clubs of that spot. This could be 20 yards or 100 yards, as long as you go back in line with the flagstick.
- Stroke and distance relief: The final option in red or yellow penalty areas – is to replay the shot from the previous spot. This is the same rule as a lost ball or out of bounds ball and is the most penalizing option. This is typically the least used option when you have a ball in a penalty area as it’s basically a two shot penalty.
If you do need to take a drop, make sure to use a driver with the head cover removed for your two club lengths. Since the driver is the longest club in the bag, this will give you the biggest dropping area and might change your angle on the next shot.
Also, don’t forget that the 2019 rules change also updated how to drop a ball.
Prior to the change, all drops were from shoulder height.However, this has been updated and must make all drops from knee height. This is another big advantage as players can typically get less bounce and hopefully a better lie for the next shot.
If the ball moves closer to the hole or outside the drop area after your second drop, you’re allowed to place it.
Sand Trap Rules
A sand trap – both greenside and fairway bunkers – also got a rules update in the past few years. You can now remove a loose impediment without a two-stroke penalty or loss of hole in match play.
The USGA also has more relaxed rules if you accidentally touch the sand too. As they noted, “New rule: No penalty except when a player touches sand (1) with his or her hand or club to test the conditions of the bunker, (2) in making a practice swing, (3) with the club in the area right behind or in front of the ball or (4) in making the backswing for the stroke.”
Previously any touching of the sand with a hand or golf club would result in a two-stroke penalty. But you can’t take practice swings and touch the sand.
How to Play From Penalty Areas
If your ball finds the tall grass in a hazard, sitting in mud near the water, or other areas, here’s how to decide if it’s worth hitting.
- Start by checking out the lie of the ball as different lies determine how much the club can get on the ball or if it’s worth attempting.
- If the lie is good, try to get in a stance and work on improving conditions if needed without moving the ball. Don’t forget, removing loose impediments is allowed.
- If the lie and stance are good, try to take several practice swings to make sure you don’t hit a tree limb, bush, fence, or other obstacle.
- If everything feels good, stick to your pre-shot routine and execute the shot.
Finally, go with your gut. If you feel like you can get it out of the hazard go for it. But if there is any doubt, take relief, try to make your bogey and move on.
FAQs About Common Golf Rules
Do you have more questions about common golf rules? If so, keep reading through the most frequently asked questions and answers now.
Can you ground your club in a red hazard area?
Whether it’s red or yellow, you can now ground your club in a penalty area (which used to be called hazards). This makes it much easier to play shots out of penalty areas without taking a penalty stroke.
However, if the lie is too poor or you can’t find it, you must take one of three drop options as outlined above with one penalty stroke.
What is the penalty for grounding your club in a hazard?
No penalty! Thanks to the USGA rules changes in 2019 it’s no longer a penalty to ground your club in a hazard. This makes it much easier to hit shots from challenging spots like hazards without worrying about a penalty stroke.
Can you ground your club in a sand hazard or remove loose impediments?
No, this is the only area of the golf course that you can not ground the club. However, the new rules change do allow you to remove loose impediments such as rocks, sticks, or other debris like a cigar.
It’s important to note that you cannot take a practice swing and touch the sand in the bunker. This rule remains the same and feels very unlikely to change in the near future.
Can you ground your club in a penalty area? Or take a practice swing?
Yes, you can now ground your club thanks to a 2019 rules update. You can also take a practice swing in a penalty area too.
Can you remove debris in a bunker?
Yes, you are allowed to move debris around the area you might hit the ball. For example, if there is a small stick or rock that might interfere with your swing, you can move it from the bunker.
However, you cannot move it if it will move your ball. In the previous example if the stick is underneath your ball and moving it will move your ball, you can’t move the object.
If you ground your club in a bunker or accidentally move your ball, it’s a one shot penalty.
Can you hit from a water hazard?
Yes, you can hit from a water hazard (now referred to as a penalty area) and ground your club too.
However, taking relief might be the best option as it’s one of the harder shots in golf. You need the right lie, distance, and stance to hit from the water and prevent falling into the hazard.
But if you think you have the right lie and shot, make sure to read our guide on how to hit out of the water here.
There are a lot of rules in golf and it’s easy to get overwhelmed as a beginner. But knowing how to use rules to your advantage – such as cart path relief. the lost golf ball rule, when to hit a provisional and knowing your drop options in a penalty area – can make a huge difference in score.
Grounding the club in a hazard makes tough shots a little easier as you can take practice swings and figure out the lie better. Also, anytime you’re in a bunker it’s a good idea to remove loose impediments that the club touches or might affect your line of sight.
The old rules of golf were quite outdated and needed an update like removing loose impediments, touching grass in a hazard, grounding your club, and more. Also, by renaming water hazards and lateral hazards as penalty areas it also is easier to understand different drop options.
If you find your ball in a penalty area, always try to get in a stance, take a back swing, and see if you can play the shot. Since you can now take practice swings it’s much easier to determine if it’s worth attempting or if it’s impossible and should take relief.
Don’t forget, sometimes taking relief is the right move and can help avoid a costly blowup hole.
Make sure to check out our guide to golf etiquette here.