As part of the NJSGA’s ongoing Rules of Golf educational program, the NJSGA Rules Committee will “bring you along” with a group of players during their round to review common Rules scenarios. The third of the series involves Penalty Areas.
The scenario is:
In a match between A and B, player A’s second shot on the par 5, 7th hole is well-struck but travels left of the fairway toward a penalty area. The ball is quickly found in the penalty area in a very playable position, but the red stake identifying the penalty area interferes with A’s swing, so A removes the stake (which was easily done.) Before making a stroke, Player A moves several stones and twigs lying near the ball, and then takes several practice swings touching the ground in the penalty area each time.
Player A then executes a great shot, and the ball comes to rest on the putting green very near the hole, leaving a sure birdie putt - which he holes. Player B makes par, so he loses the hole. However, while walking to the 8th tee, player B approaches a Rules official and makes a claim that the player A violated several rules with respect to permitted actions in a penalty area.
What happens now?
Good news for player A. Stakes used to identify penalty areas are considered movable obstructions. When a player’s ball is in a penalty area, a player may remove a movable obstruction anywhere on or off the course. In this case, the red stake was moved with reasonable effort and did not damage the course, so it met the definition of movable obstruction. Therefore, there is no penalty for this action.
Secondly, the Rules official explained that when a ball lies in a penalty area, the player has the option to play the ball as it lies without penalty under the same rules which apply to a ball lying in the general area (e.g., the fairway). This includes taking practice swings that touch the ground.
While a player cannot improve the conditions affecting a stroke (such as improving your lie by bending long grass or repairing divots), a player is permitted to move loose impediments such as stones or unattached twigs or sticks. There is no penalty to the player for any of these actions.
The referee rules that the player A won the hole.
(For more information key Rules references are R 17.1b, R 15.2, Definition of Obstruction/ Movable Obstruction, R 8.1. 8.1a, 8.1b)