Proposed Change: Touching or Moving Loose Impediments or Touching the Ground in a Penalty Area March 1, 2017

Modernizing Golf's Rules: Overview and Resources

Proposed Rule: Under new Rule 17, there would no longer be any special restrictions when a ball is in a “penalty area” (the expanded designation for the area that includes what are now called water hazards).

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 Rule 13-4 (see Exception 1), Rule 12-1 and various Decisions.

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

The current prohibitions have led to penalties that some view 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 be 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 would simplify the Rules, reduce confusion and eliminate 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 would 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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