In 2019, ‘water hazards” will be replaced by the expanded concept of ‘penalty areas.’ As now, players will get relief with a one stroke penalty if their ball comes to rest in this area. But, there will no longer be any special restrictions when a ball is in a penalty area. Here’s the detail:
The options to take relief back on a line behind any water hazard or within two club-lengths of where a ball entered a lateral water hazard have become important for pace of play. They mean the player can usually play from near the hazard, rather than having to go back some distance to play from where the previous stroke was made.
It has been recognised that requiring areas to contain water was an arbitrary reason for permitting such relief options.
For reasons such as safety and pace of play, many Committees have expanded the use of lateral water hazards by marking areas that do not contain water and by marking water hazards as red where that is not specifically contemplated by the Rules.
The broader use of penalty areas will allow Committees to respond to the wide range of settings in which golf is played. They will be able to give relief from areas that present similar obstacles to existing water hazards and cause difficulties with finding and playing a ball. This will also meet practical needs about pace of play.
Giving Committees the discretion to mark all penalty areas as red will make it simpler for players to learn the relief options and will further help the pace of play. The current distinction between yellow and red water hazards is not always well understood.
Individual Committees will remain free to choose what to mark as a penalty area, so they could decide to mark only traditional water hazards. They can also choose when to mark a penalty area as yellow, for example, to preserve the challenge of playing a particular hole.
A strict prohibition on touching or moving loose impediments or touching the ground in a water hazard has never been practical. It created confusion and complications in applying the Rules. For example, it was necessary to decide when a player was or was not ‘testing’, what constituted touching ‘as a result of or to prevent falling’, and similar questions. So a series of exceptions were recognised in Rule 13-4 (see Exception 1), Rule 12-1 and various Decisions.
The current prohibitions have led to penalties that some view as overly harsh, such as:
Treating a penalty area the same as the general area for these purposes will simplify the Rules, reduce confusion and eliminate unnecessary penalties.
Removing these restrictions is consistent with the purpose of a penalty area. It’s not intended to require the player to face a more difficult challenge in playing the ball, but to give the player appropriate relief options because it will often be difficult or impossible to play a ball from the penalty area, such as when the ball is under water.
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