When a golfer hits their ball in a yellow-stake water hazard, they know they have two options for relief.
- They can take a stroke-and-distance penalty, dropping a ball and replaying from the original spot before the ball went in the hazard, after taking a one-stroke penalty.
- They can drop as far back as they want on a line between the hole and where the ball crossed the margin of the hazard, after taking a one-stroke penalty.
Under the 2019 Rules of Golf, those options still exist. However, the second option now has a formal name: back-on-the-line relief.
What is back-on-the-line relief?
Back-on-the-line relief is the new name given by the USGA and R&A to taking relief from a regular, yellow-stake water hazard. However, starting in 2019, water hazards are now a penalty area, as the governing bodies are allowing courses and tournament operators to declare more parts of the course as places where golfers can get relief. Still, the same steps apply.
- When taking back-of-the line relief, a player should determine where their ball last crossed the margin of the penalty area.
- On a line from the hole and through that entry point, a player can go back as far as they wish before determining where to drop the ball.
- Using this reference point, a golfer can use the new drop procedure to take relief by dropping within one club length.
The USGA and R&A made this change to standardize how relief areas are determined and to make it simpler to find a relief area and move on with the round. However, the option to drop within two club lengths of the point of entry from a lateral penalty area — marked in red — remain the same as under the old Rules of Golf.