I have a hot stock tip for you… find the company who makes red stakes and buy their shares now. Oh, and short those who make yellow and white stakes.

As we all know, the 2018 Rules allow relief with penalty when a ball is in a “water hazard” (marked yellow) or a “lateral water hazard” (marked red). These hazards are limited to areas with water or where water may flow; no other areas may be marked as water hazards, even if they might present similar obstacles to play.

Under the 2019 Rules, “water hazards” would be superseded by the expanded concept of “penalty areas,” with most of the same basic options for relief:

A penalty area would include both (1) all areas currently defined in the Rules as a water hazard or lateral water hazard and (2) any other areas the Committee chooses to define as penalty areas. Penalty areas may therefore include areas such as woods, deep rough, deserts, jungles, lava rock fields, etc.

Contrary to popular belief, there will still be two types of penalty areas which retain the same two colors as water hazards before them: red penalty areas and yellow penalty areas. Committees may mark all penalty areas as red if they wish to allow lateral relief options. And, I can safely predict that most will, in due course.

Though, some that may remain as yellow penalty areas include the gimmick island 17th green at TPC Sawgrass, just to prevent players from dropping on the putting green or fringe when their ball finds the water.

Of course, you may always play your ball without penalty from any red penalty area. Or, at a cost of one penalty stroke, you may take back-on-the-line relief or two club-length lateral relief from the near edge of any red penalty area.

Why the change?

The options to take relief back-on-a-line behind any penalty area or within two club-lengths of where a ball entered a penalty area will become important for pace of play, as the player can usually play from near the hazard rather than having to go back some distance to play from where the previous stroke was made.

The broader use of “penalty areas” would allow Committees to respond to the wide range of settings in which golf is played by giving relief from areas that present similar obstacles to existing water hazards such as difficulties with finding and playing a ball and similar practical needs about pace of play. For example, an area of tall grass in which a lost ball is likely can be marked as a penalty area in 2019 and beyond, leading to more options for continuing play besides stroke-and-distance.

Now what?

First, expect to see red stakes replace many existing yellow ones. Second, don’t be surprised to see red stakes marking areas where you or I might lose a ball due to an errant shot. The net effect might be to make the average round a smidgen  shorter and our annual budget for replacement golf balls go up.

(Note: we’ll cover Penalty Areas more on days 8, 16, and 25. In other words, you might see the video above a few times throughout December here at RulesGeeks.com!)