Major Change: Touching Loose Impediments or Ground in a Penalty AreaGolf's New Rules


Golf's New Rules: Major Changes


New Rule: Under Rule 17:

  • There are no longer any special restrictions when a ball is in a “penalty area” (the expanded designation for the area that includes what were previously called water hazards).
  • A player is allowed to touch or move loose impediments and touch the ground with hand or club (such as grounding the club right behind the ball) for any reason, subject only to the prohibition on improving conditions for the stroke (see Rule 8.1a).


Reasons for Change:

A strict prohibition on touching or moving loose impediments or touching the ground in a water hazard has never been practical, and so a series of exceptions had to be recognized in previous Rule 13-4 (see Exception 1), Rule 12-1 and various Decisions.

This created confusion and complications in applying the Rules, such as needing to decide when a player had or had not “tested”, what constituted touching “as a result of or to prevent falling”, and similar questions about applying the many exceptions.

The previous prohibitions led to penalties that some viewed as overly harsh, such as:

  • Where the breach was so inconsequential that the player could not have gained any advantage or where even a careful player could not have avoided the penalty, and
  • In a televised competition, where the breach could not have been detected by the player or others on the course and was discovered only through later video review.


Treating a penalty area the same as the general area for these purposes simplifies the Rules, reduces confusion and eliminates unnecessary penalties.

Removing these restrictions is consistent with the purpose of a penalty area – which is not necessarily to require the player to face a more difficult challenge in playing the ball, but to address the practical need to give the player appropriate relief options because it is often difficult or impossible to play a ball from the penalty area (such as when the ball is under water).