Marking the course and refreshing those markings as needed is an ongoing task for which the Committee is responsible.
A well-marked course allows a player to play by the Rules and helps to eliminate confusion for players. For example, a player may not know how to proceed if a pond (penalty area) is not marked.
In order to ensure that play is conducted under the Rules, it is important for the Committee to properly mark the boundaries and maintain the markings so that a player who hits a ball near a boundary is able to determine if their ball is in bounds or out of bounds. Areas beyond the course boundary are out of bounds and a ball must not be played from such areas.
The Committee can mark the course’s boundary in many ways. For example, stakes or painted lines can be placed in position by the Committee, or existing fences or walls can be used to define boundaries, as can the edge of other permanent structures such as roads or buildings.
In determining the boundaries for the course and marking them, there are a number of items for the Committee to consider:
a. Properties Bordering the Course
Where private properties and public roads border the course, it is strongly recommended that the Committee mark these areas as out of bounds. Often these properties will have walls or fences which can be used as the boundaries for the course. When these exist, there is generally no need to move the boundary inside them by placing stakes. But the Committee may wish to move the boundary inwards (for example, by using stakes) to provide some additional protection to the adjacent properties.
There is no requirement for a course to have boundaries, but it is advisable to prevent play from property that does not belong to the course. But there may be locations where there are large open areas bordering the actual property lines where there would be no objection to players playing from. In this case there is no need to place stakes or otherwise define the boundary.
Where an existing structure such as a wall or fence is used to define the boundary, the entire object will be a boundary object from which free relief is not available.
b. Use of Stakes
Boundary stakes should be white, but another colour may be used.
There may be existing stakes already in place that are a different colour, or the Committee may have a reason for using a different colour to distinguish them from some items on the course. When this is the case, the Committee should notify players on the scorecard, on a notice board in the clubhouse, on a Local Rules sheet or by some other means. The Committee should avoid the use of red or yellow stakes for marking a boundary to avoid confusion with penalty areas.
The distance between stakes may vary, but, ideally, it should be possible to see the base of one stake from the next one to determine if a ball is out of bounds. It is important to check that bushes, trees or the like do not obscure stakes or make it difficult to see from one to the next. In general, stakes should be separated by a distance of no more than 30 paces to allow players to see easily between them.
c. Use of Paint Lines
Painted lines used to define the boundary should be white, but another colour may be used. The Committee should avoid the use of red or yellow lines for marking a boundary to avoid confusion with penalty areas.
When the boundary is defined by a line painted on the ground, the Committee can also place stakes to make the boundary visible from a distance. It should be made clear that the painted line defines the boundary while the stakes are placed to show players that the boundary is there. These stakes do not define the boundary, but they are boundary objects from which free relief is not available unless otherwise specified in the Local Rules (see Model Local Rule A-6).
There may be times where the Committee may not wish to paint a white line on a road or pavement. In this case, the most unobtrusive way of marking the boundary may be to paint a series of white dots on the ground. When this is done, the Local Rules should be used to advise the players as to how the boundary has been marked (see Model Local Rule A-1).
d. Other Ways of Marking Out of Bounds
Where a boundary is defined by a wall, edge of a road or anything other than stakes, fences or lines, the Committee needs to clarify where the edge of the boundary is. For example, when a wall is used to define the boundary, the Committee should specify if the course-side edge of the wall defines the boundary or if a ball is only out of bounds when it is beyond the wall (see Model Local Rule A-2).
A boundary may be defined by a trench, with the ball being out of bounds if it is in or beyond the trench. Stakes may be used to draw attention to the boundary trench. These stakes are boundary objects from which free relief is not available unless otherwise specified in the Local Rules (see Model Local Rule A-6).
e. Other Considerations
Certain features such as maintenance areas, clubhouses and practice grounds, may be marked or defined by Local Rule as out of bounds even though they are on the course’s property (see Model Local Rule A-1).
The Rules do not contemplate an area having more than one status during the play of a hole, and so an area must not be marked as out of bounds for certain strokes, or strokes made from certain areas such as the teeing area.
Committees are not authorized to establish a Local Rule stating that a ball played over a certain area is out of bounds even if it does not come to rest in that area.
To maintain the character of a hole or to protect players on adjacent holes, the Committee may establish boundaries between two holes.
If the internal boundary is not connected to other boundaries on the course it is important to mark where the boundary starts and finishes. It is recommended that two stakes be placed side-by-side and at an angle that indicates that the boundary extends indefinitely in the direction desired.
The internal boundary may apply for the play of only one hole or to more than one hole. The hole or holes for which the internal out of bounds applies, and the status of the stakes during the play of holes that the boundary does not apply, should be specified by a Local Rule (see Model Local Rule A-4).
The Committee should always attempt to position the tee-markers far enough forward so that there is sufficient tee height grass behind the tee-markers to enable players to use the entire two club-length teeing area allowed.
There are no restrictions on the width of the teeing area, but it is good practice to place the two tee-markers 5 to 7 paces apart. Placing them farther apart makes it more difficult for a player to determine if the ball has been teed within the teeing area and can result in divot holes covering a much larger area on par-3 holes.
Each set of tee markers should be positioned such that the front edge of the teeing area is pointed at the centre of the landing area
For guidance on where tee-markers may be located in order for acceptable scores to be submitted for handicap purposes, consult the rules or recommendations contained within the World Handicap System publications or other guidance as provided by the handicapping body in the local jurisdiction.
Penalty areas are areas of the course from which a player is allowed to take relief for one penalty stroke at a spot outside the penalty area that is potentially a significant distance from where their ball may have come to rest. As provided in the definition of “penalty area”, areas which contain water such as lakes, streams, rivers or ponds are penalty areas and should be marked as such.
The Committee may mark other portions of the course as penalty areas. Among the reasons the Committee may choose to mark other parts or features of the course as penalty areas are:
To provide an alternative to the stroke-and-distance procedure under Rule 18.1 when the likelihood is that a ball that is in the area will almost always be lost, for example, an area of dense vegetation.
To provide an alternative to the stroke-and-distance procedure under Rule 19.2 (Unplayable Ball) when the likelihood is that taking relief in relation to the position where the ball lies under the options available in Rules 19.2b and 19.2c will not provide any effective relief, for example, an area of volcanic rock or desert.
The Committee should take the following points into consideration before deciding to mark an area that does not contain water as a penalty area:
The fact that marking a difficult area as a penalty area may improve pace of play does not mean that the Committee should feel compelled to do so. There are many other competing considerations, such as retaining the challenge of the hole, the integrity of the architect’s original design intention and providing reasonably consistent outcomes for balls hit into similar types of areas throughout the course. For example, if a jungle borders the fairway on one hole and it has been marked as a penalty area, the Committee should consider treating similar areas the same way on other holes.
The Committee should consider that a player who loses their ball outside a penalty area will have a greater penalty than someone whose ball is lost in the penalty area. If there are areas of thick rough close to the edge of the penalty area where balls could be lost, the Committee may want to consider including such areas in the penalty area.
The Committee should remember that a player whose ball lies in a penalty area will not be able to use the unplayable ball options in Rule 19. Requiring the player to return to where the ball crossed the edge of the penalty area to take relief rather than having the option of dropping within two club-lengths of where the ball was found may be a significant disadvantage to the player and could negatively impact pace of play.
The Committee should not define sandy areas that would normally be bunkers as penalty areas. There may be cases where areas of sand flow naturally into a penalty area such as a beach. In this case the edge of the penalty area and the bunker may be immediately adjacent to each other with a portion of the sand being in the penalty area.
The Committee should not define properties bordering the course as a penalty area where the properties would normally be marked as out of bounds.
If a Committee is considering marking an out of bounds area as a penalty area to assist with pace of play, as an alternative the Committee may decide to use the Local Rule giving an alternative to stroke-and-distance relief (see Model Local Rule E-5). While this results in the player getting a two-stroke penalty, it also provides the player the opportunity to move out to the fairway, which might not be an option if the area was marked as a penalty area.
When penalty areas are added or removed, the Committee should consult the rules or recommendations contained within the World Handicap System publications or other guidance as provided by the handicapping body in the local jurisdiction to determine if the change will have an impact on the issued Course Rating.
In taking relief from a penalty area, a player will usually need to know the point where the ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area and whether the penalty area is marked as red or yellow at that point.
It is recommended that the Committee mark the edges of penalty areas using paint and/or stakes so that there is no doubt for players.
Where lines are used to define the edge of a penalty area and stakes are used to identify the penalty area, it is at the Committee’s discretion whether the stakes should be placed on the line or just outside the edge of the penalty area. Placing stakes just outside the painted line ensures players are entitled to free relief from the hole made by the stake if the stake was to fall out or be removed and the ball came to rest in the hole.
A Committee may define the edge of a penalty area by clearly describing it in writing but should do so only if there will be little or no doubt where the edge is. For example, where there are large areas of lava or desert that are to be treated as penalty areas, and the border between these areas and the intended general area is well defined, the Committee could define the edge of the penalty area as being the edge of the lava bed or desert.
Marking the edge of a penalty area clearly is important to allow players to take relief. The Committee should consider the following in determining where to mark the edge of a penalty area:
Lines and stakes defining the edge of a penalty area should be placed as near as possible along the natural limits of the penalty area, for example, where the ground breaks down to form the depression containing the water. This will ensure that players will not be forced to stand with the ball significantly above or below their feet or in the water after taking relief. Consideration should be given for both right-handed and left‑handed players.
When a penalty area is bordered by parts of the general area where a ball could be lost, it may affect the player’s ability to establish if it is known or virtually certain that the ball is in the penalty area and the player would, therefore, not be able to take penalty area relief using Rule 17. For this reason, the Committee may decide to extend the edge of the penalty area outside the normal natural boundaries and include other areas where it may be difficult to find a ball.
The Committee should consider that a player is not allowed to take free relief from an abnormal course condition when their ball lies in a penalty area. For example, if there is an immovable obstruction such as a cart path or sprinkler head close to an area that the Committee is considering marking as a penalty area, the Committee may want to keep the obstruction outside the penalty area in order for a player to be entitled to free relief from it.
Most penalty areas should be marked red to give players the additional option of lateral relief (see Rule 17.1d(3)). However, where part of the challenge of the hole is to carry over a penalty area such as a stream that crosses the front of the putting green and there is a good chance that a ball that carries over the stream could fall back into it, the Committee may decide to mark the penalty area as yellow. This ensures that a ball that lands on the far side of the penalty area before rolling back into the penalty area cannot be dropped on the far side under the lateral relief option.
When a penalty area is marked yellow, the Committee should ensure that a player will always be able to drop back-on-the-line under Rule 17.1d(2) or consider adding a dropping zone for the penalty area so that a player would have an option other than stroke and distance (see Model Local Rule E-1).
A Committee does not have to mark any penalty areas yellow. For simplicity, a Committee may decide to mark all penalty areas red so there is no confusion for players as to what relief options are available.
The Committee may wish to mark part of a penalty area as red and another part of the same penalty area as yellow. The Committee should determine the best point to make this transition to ensure that wherever a ball enters a yellow penalty area, a player will always be able to drop back-on-the-line under Rule 17.1d(2).
It should be remembered that the player’s relief options are based on where the ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area and not where the ball came to rest in it.
At the point where the edge of the penalty area changes, it is recommended that red and yellow stakes be placed right next to each other to make it clear exactly where the status of the penalty area changes.
a. Status of Penalty Area May Differ Depending on the Teeing Area Used
Where carrying the ball over a penalty area, such as a pond on a par 3, is part of the challenge of a hole from the back tee but not from the forward tee, the Committee may decide to define it with yellow stakes or a yellow line and use a Local Rule to the effect that the area is a red penalty area when played from the forward tee. But this is not recommended when multiple tees are being used for the same competition.
b. Status of Penalty Area May Differ Between Holes
When a penalty area is potentially in play for more than one hole, the Committee may choose to define it as a yellow penalty area during play of one hole and a red penalty area during play of another hole. Where this is the case the penalty area should be marked as yellow and a Local Rule used to clarify that it is to be treated as red when playing the relevant hole (see Model Local Rule B-1).
c. Status of Edge of Penalty Area Must Not Change During Play of Hole
While a penalty area may be played as yellow for players playing from one teeing area and red from another, a penalty area must not be defined so that one specific portion of the edge of the penalty area is red for a stroke made from one location but is yellow for a stroke made from another location by the same player. For example, it would be inappropriate and confusing to say that the edge of the penalty area on the putting green side of a lake is yellow for a stroke from the fairway side of the penalty area but red for a stroke from the putting green side.
The Committee may decide to define all or part of a penalty area as a no play zone (see Section 2G).
Where a body of water such as a stream, lake, sea, or ocean, borders the course, it is permissible to mark such an area as a penalty area rather than marking it as out of bounds. The phrase “on the course” in the definition of “penalty area” does not mean on property owned by the course; rather it refers to any area not defined as out of bounds by the Committee.
When it is possible for a ball to finish on the ground on the opposite side of a body of water, but it is impracticable for the Committee to define the opposite edge, the Committee may adopt a Local Rule stating that when marked on just one side, a penalty area is treated as if it extended to infinity. Accordingly, all ground and water beyond the defined edge of the penalty area is in the penalty area (see Model Local Rule B-1).
When a penalty area is shaped or located such that there would be no reasonable option for a player to drop on one side of the penalty area (for example, when a red penalty area is right next to a course boundary), the Committee may use a Local Rule to allow the player to take relief on the opposite side of the penalty area to where the ball last crossed the edge (see Model Local Rule B-2). Where a penalty area is right next to a boundary, an additional Local Rule may be required so that there is no need to mark that edge of the penalty area (see Model Local Rule B-1).
Normally there is no need to mark the edge of bunkers, but there may be times where the edges of the bunkers are difficult to determine. The Committee should either mark the edges with stakes or painted lines or define the edge through wording in Local Rules (see Model Local Rule C-1).
Position of Rakes
There is not a perfect answer for the position of rakes and it is a matter for each Committee to decide whether it has rakes placed in or out of bunkers.
It may be argued that there is more likelihood of a ball being deflected into or kept out of a bunker if the rake is placed outside the bunker. It could also be argued that if the rake is in the bunker it is most unlikely that the ball will be deflected out of the bunker.
However, in practice, players who leave rakes in bunkers frequently leave them at the side of the bunker which tends to stop a ball rolling into the flat part of the bunker resulting in a much more difficult shot than would otherwise have been the case. When the ball comes to rest on or against a rake in the bunker and the player must proceed under Rule 15.2, it may not be possible to replace the ball on the same spot or find a spot in the bunker which is not nearer the hole.
If rakes are left in the middle of the bunker, the only way to position them is to throw them into the bunker and this causes indentations in the sand. Also, if a rake is in the middle of a large bunker, it is either not used or the player is obliged to rake a large area of the bunker when retrieving the rake, resulting in unnecessary delay.
Therefore, after considering all these aspects, and while recognizing that the positioning of rakes is at the Committee’s discretion, it is recommended that rakes should be left outside bunkers in areas where they are least likely to affect the movement of the ball.
However, a Committee may decide to position rakes inside bunkers to make it easier for maintenance staff to cut fairways and bunker surrounds.
Normally there is no need to mark the edge of putting greens, but there may be times where it may be difficult to determine the edge of the putting green due to the surrounding areas being cut to a similar height. When this is the case, the Committee may wish to paint lines or dots to define the edge of the putting green. The status of these dots should be clarified by a Local Rule (see Model Local Rule D-1).
Immovable obstructions rarely need to be marked in any way, it is recommended that areas of ground under repair are clearly marked by the Committee.
In general, when ground conditions are abnormal to the course or it is unreasonable to require a player to play from a specific area, it should be marked as ground under repair.
Before marking any areas as ground under repair, the Committee should review the entire course to assess what types of areas are abnormal to the course in its current condition. Consideration should also be given to the location of any areas which may need to be marked:
Areas that are in or near a fairway should normally be marked if the Committee considers the damage to the area to be abnormal.
If the fairways of the course are in generally good condition, it might be appropriate to mark a single area of bare ground in the fairway as ground under repair.
When conditions are such that there are wide-spread areas of bare ground, it would make sense not to mark or otherwise define them all to be ground under repair, but only mark the areas where a player may have difficulty being able to make a stroke at the ball, such as a heavily damaged or rutted area.
The farther the area is from the fairway the less appropriate it is that it should be marked as ground under repair. Areas that are well off the fairway or very short of the landing areas should only be marked when the damage is very severe.
If two or more areas of ground under repair are close together such that a player taking relief from one area may well drop in a position where there would be interference from another one, it would be advisable to mark a single area of ground under repair.
It is recommended that the Committee identifies ground under repair by using paint, stakes or some other clear way of defining it such that there is no doubt as to where the edge of the area is.
There is no specific colour of stakes or lines to be used for marking areas of ground under repair, but white or blue stakes or lines are commonly used. Yellow and red stakes or lines should not be used to avoid confusion with penalty areas. The way in which ground under repair is marked should be stated in the Local Rules.
When an area of ground under repair is close to an immovable obstruction, it is a good practice to tie the two areas together to allow relief to be taken from both conditions in one step. This can be done by using paint lines that connect the ground under repair to the immovable obstruction. It should also be clarified by Local Rule that any lined areas connected to an immovable obstruction are one abnormal course condition (see Model Local Rule F-3).
A Committee can define the edge of ground under repair by describing it, but only if there will be little or no doubt over what constitutes the area or its edges.
An example where describing the damage is possible and the Committee is justified in defining any areas as ground under repair without marking them is where there has been significant damage from animal hoof marks (see Model Local Rule F-10).
At other times it is not appropriate to make a general statement. For example, defining all wheel marks and ruts made by maintenance vehicles to be ground under repair by Local Rule is not appropriate as some of the disturbance is likely to be minor and free relief is not warranted.
The definition of “no play zone” states that it is part of the course where the Committee wishes to prohibit play. No play zones must be defined as either an abnormal course condition or a penalty area and can encompass the entire area or just a portion of it.
The Committee can define all or part of an abnormal course condition or a penalty area as a no play zone for any reason. Some common reasons are:
To protect wildlife, animal habitats, and environmentally sensitive areas.
To prevent damage to young trees, flower beds, turf nurseries, re-turfed areas or other planted areas.
To protect players from danger.
To preserve sites of historical or cultural interest.
When deciding whether to mark a no play zone as an abnormal course condition or a penalty area, the Committee should consider the type of area being marked and whether it would be appropriate for the player to be able to take free relief or penalty relief from the area. For example:
If the area contains an area of water such as a stream, lake or wetland it should be marked as a penalty area.
For a small area of rare plants close to a putting green it may be appropriate to mark the area as an abnormal course condition.
If a large area of sand dunes along the side of a hole is environmentally sensitive, it is too generous to mark the whole area as an abnormal course condition, and so it should be marked as a penalty area.
When a course is next to privately-owned property (such as residential homes or farmlands), the Committee should normally mark those areas that are not part of the course as out of bounds. If it is desired that a player should be prohibited from standing in an area off the course to play a ball that is on the course, the area may be marked as a no play zone (see Model Local Rule E-9).
The Committee should define the edge of a no play zone with a line or stakes to clarify whether the area is within an abnormal course condition or a penalty area. In addition, the line or stakes (or the tops of those stakes) should also identify that the area is a no play zone.
There is no specific colour of stakes and lines to be used for marking no play zones, but the following are recommended:
Penalty area no play zone – red or yellow stakes with green tops.
Abnormal course condition no play zone – white or blue stakes with green tops.
Environmentally sensitive areas may be physically protected to deter players from entering the area (for example, by a fence, warning signs and the like). The Committee could specify in a Code of Conduct what the penalty is for a player who enters such an area to retrieve a ball or for other reasons.
Integral objects are artificial objects from which free relief is not available. Examples of objects that the Committee can choose to designate as integral objects include:
Objects that are designed to be part of the challenge of playing the course such as roads or paths from which players have traditionally been expected to play.
Objects that are so close to a boundary or other feature on the course that if free relief is available from the obstruction, it also results in the player being able to drop away from the boundary or other feature when this is not desirable. For example, designating wires that are attached to trees as integral objects ensures that a player does not incidentally get relief from a tree just because they have interference from the wire.
Objects such as artificial walls or pilings that are inside penalty areas or artificial walls or liners of bunkers. For example, when an artificial wall is close to the edge of the penalty area, a player whose ball is just outside the penalty area could be standing on the wall and get free relief if it was not defined as an integral object while the player whose ball is just inside the penalty area does not.
The Committee should define these objects as integral objects in the Local Rules (see Model Local Rule F-1).
When only a portion of the obstruction is to be considered an integral object that portion should be distinctively marked and that information communicated to the players. This may be done by marking with distinctively coloured stakes at either end of the portion of the object where free relief is not available or using paint to mark the area.
A dropping zone is a special relief area that may be provided by the Committee. When taking relief in a dropping zone, the player must drop the ball in, and have it come to rest in, the dropping zone. The Committee should add a Local Rule stating under what circumstances the dropping zone may be used (see Model Local Rule E-1).
Dropping zones should be considered when there may be practical problems with players using the normal relief options under a Rule, such as:
Rule 13.1f – Wrong Green.
Rule 16.1 – Abnormal Course Conditions (Including Immovable Obstructions).
Rule 16.2 – Dangerous Animal Condition.
Rule 17 – Penalty Area.
Rule 19 – Unplayable Ball.
Model Local Rule F-23 – Temporary Immovable Obstructions.
Dropping zones should normally be used to give the player an extra relief option. But the Committee may also require use of a dropping zone as the player’s only relief option under a Rule, other than stroke and distance. When the Committee does make the use of a dropping zone mandatory, the use of the dropping zone replaces any other relief options provided by the relevant Rule and this should be made clear to players.
The Committee should attempt to place a dropping zone so that the architectural challenge of the hole is maintained, and it is typically not closer to the hole than where the player would be dropping the ball when using one of the options under the relevant Rule. For example, when situating the dropping zone for a penalty area, it should be set in a position where the player would still need to negotiate the penalty area rather than being located on the putting green side of the penalty area.
Dropping zones can be marked in many ways (such as by painted lines on the ground, markers such as tee-markers, or a stake or a sign), and can be any shape, such as a circle or a square. The size of the dropping zone may depend on how often it is likely to be used and where it is located, but the size would normally be expected to have about a one club-length radius or smaller. When marked with paint, a sign or painted marking on the ground should be used to let players know its status.
If a dropping zone is likely to be used frequently, the Committee may wish to consider marking the dropping zone by defining the area in the Local Rules. For example, the dropping zone may be defined as being within one club-length of a physical object such as a sign or a stake. This allows for the object to be moved as needed to ensure the dropping zone remains in good condition.