Rules of Golf

Each month, our Rules Chairperson will highlight one or more Rules of Golf.

May 2022: Championship Course Hole 3 Local Rule

Championship Hole 3 Local Rule (Click to view)

March 2022: Water Penalty Areas

Water Penalty Area (Yellow)

  1. Play again from the previous spot. (Stroke and distance)
  2. Drop the ball behind the hazard, in a straight line provided the spot at which their ball last crossed the water penalty area remains directly between the dropping point and the hole.

Lateral Water Penalty Area (Red)

  1. Option 1 from above – Play your ball from the previous spot
  2. Option 2 from above – Drop the ball behind the penalty area in a straight line from the path of the ball.
  3. Drop the ball two club lengths from the ball’s entry point to the penalty area, not nearer the hole.
  4. Drop the ball two club lengths from the opposite side of the penalty area and no closer to the hole.

17-1. Relief for Ball in Water Penalty Area

It is a question of fact whether a ball that has not been found after having been struck toward a water penalty area is in the penalty area. In the absence of knowledge or virtual certainty that a ball struck toward a water penalty area, but not found, is in the penalty area, the player must proceed under Rule 27-1.

If a ball is found in a water hazard or if it is known or virtually certain that a ball that has not been found is in the water hazard (whether the ball lies in water or not), the player may under penalty of one stroke:

  1. Proceed under the stroke and distance provision of Rule 27-1 by playing a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played (see Rule 20-5); or
  2. Drop a ball behind the water hazard, keeping the point at which the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind the water hazard the ball may be dropped; or
  3. As additional options available only if the ball last crossed the margin of a lateral water penalty area, drop a ball outside the water penalty area within two club-lengths of and not nearer the hole than (i) the point where the original ball last crossed the margin of the water penalty area or (ii) a point on the opposite margin of the water penalty area equidistant from the hole.

February 2022: Fixed Distances Used for Measuring (New Rule in 2019)

When you drop in relief areas defined by one or two club lengths, a club length will ALWAYS mean the longest club in your bag EXCEPT your putter.  For most players, this will be your driver.

Rule:  A club length is defined as the longest club in the players bag, except it cannot be the putter.

  • The relief area for dropping a ball is a fixed size of either one or two club lengths depending on which Rule is being used.
  • The relief area is a fixed size for each player and is pre-determined based on the clubs the player has selected for play.

Reasons for Change:

The definition of a club-length as the longest club other than a putter means that a player cannot choose which club to measure with based on the situation.

For example, players are no longer able to make a strategic choice about the size of the relief area by choosing a longer club so that the player can reach a location that is farther from the nearest point of relief or other reference point.

Using the longest club for measuring minimizes the inconsistency in the size of a relief area between players (including eliminating the advantage for players who previously could have used a long putter for measuring).

December 2021: Penalty Areas

Purpose of the Rule:  Rule 17 is a specific rule for penalty areas, which are bodies of water or other areas defined by the Committee where a ball is often lost or unable to be played.  For one penalty stroke, players may use specific relief options to play the ball from outside the penalty area.

At Palm Valley, we have many of these areas as we have penalty areas (water) on 10 of the 18 holes on the Championship course and 12 areas on the Challenge course.  We are mainly concerned with red and yellow “water” penalty areas.

Penalty areas are defined as either yellow or red.  This affects the player’s relief options.  The following are the options for both:

Yellow penalty areas- Marked by Yellow stakes and or lines

  1. Stroke and distance- The player may play the original ball or another ball from where the previous ball was played.
  2. Back on the line relief- The player may drop the ball in a “relief area” that is based on a reference line going straight back from the hole through the estimated point where the original ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area.  (Reference point is a point on the course chosen by the players that is on the reference line and is farther from the hole than the estimated point)
  • Size of relief area measured from the reference point is one club length with these limits: must not be nearer the hole than the reference point, may be in any area of the course except the penalty area.

Red Lateral Penalty Areas- marked by Red stakes and or lines

Lateral Relief – when the ball last crossed the edge of a red penalty area, the player may drop the original ball or another ball in the lateral relief area.

  • Reference point: The estimated point where the original ball last crossed the edge of the red penalty area.
  • Size of Relief Area measured from the reference point: Two club lengths but with these limits:  must not be any closer to the hole than the original reference point, may be in any area of the course except the same penalty area, but if more than one area of the coursed is located within two club lengths of the reference point, the ball must come to rest in the relief area in the same area of the course that the ball first touched when dropped in the relief area.

We will cover specifics on Holes 3, 5 and 17 at the December Meeting and Lunch on December 7.

Rules Education

The USGA does a wonderful job explaining, diagramming and educating the rules for beginner golfers, everyday golfers and expert officials and players.

Go to the website for example tests. You can take interactively and or print them out. The following are the steps to get to these tests:

Step 1- Go to

Step 2- Go to Rules Education

Step 3- Scroll down to Rules Quizzes

There are two different types of quizzes, printable or interactive. The interactive it will show whether you answered the question correctly or incorrectly.

These tests also come in three different degrees of difficulty as well as number of questions.

Our Rules Chair took the first interactive with 10 questions and missed two!!! But the quiz will give you the rule number in the book that covers the specific question. It’s a great way to learn the rules and how to use the rules book.

Have a current USGA Rules of Golf book and keep it in your golf bag.

It’s also very important to understand how to use the book in a timely fashion.  Most situations that come up on the course need to be rectified quickly so as to not slow down play.  So I ask that you take your book out and review it at your leisure!

Pace of Play

Always keep up with the group in front of you.  A good rule is to look forward and not behind you.  It doesn’t matter if the group behind you is not in sight, it’s your responsibility to stay up with the group in front of you.  A great way to save some time is to complete your scoring at the next tee box, NOT at the green you just played.  Get moving!



Official rule books can be purchased from the USGA  It is also recommended that you download the app to your cellphone for easy use on the course (not for team play).  The Player’s Edition is available at the Clubhouse.

Another good resource, Golf Rules Quick Reference can be purchased at for $14.95.

If you click on one of the links and you are not redirected, copy the link and paste it into your browser.