This is always a topic of discussions in golf clubs. I won’t talk about the difference between Yellow and Red Stakes but rather on how to define the limits of an unmarked penalty area.
Red and Yellow lines
In regular play we never see any lines on the ground. When we have a line, the ball is considered in the penalty area the minute the ball touched the line.
Red and Yellow stakes
Some golf courses have few stakes around a lake or near a river or ditch. Sometimes it does not make sense to draw an imaginary line between two stakes. In other areas, stakes are almost not visible being in high rough.
How to define the limit?
It is important to define properly the limit of a penalty area. Under rule 17, we need a reference point to take a relief other than stroke and distance. (Back on the line or 2 club lengths). The reference point is where we estimate the ball last cross the edge of the penalty area. When we don’t have any line and the stakes are not properly positioned, we will use these different methods:
- High grass or native grass. We may, by local rule say that the limit is define by the presence of uncut grass.
- Cart path. We may determine that the penalty area starts at the edge of a cart path situated on a certain hole.
- Tree lines. This one is more complicated. Sometimes we want to determine that a forest is a penalty area. We must be very clear on the wording. For example, the forest on the left of hole # 11 is a penalty area. The limit is defined by a line drawn between the trees nearest to the fairway.
Here is a general local rule that should be used in all golf course in the absence of lines on the ground:
« Red and Yellow stakes are used to identify the penalty area, but those stakes don’t define the edge. On certain holes, the edge is defined by the uncut grass, when the ground starts to break toward the water or the tree line. »