Red Stakes vs. White Stakes

Red stakes in golf mark a lateral hazard.

White stakes in golf mark out of bounds.

Yellow stakes mark a water hazard—all three colors represent different problems for the golfer whose ball goes past them.

The color code of the stakes identifies the necessary penalty associated with their marked territories.

After hitting into each type of hazard, the options are different and can be challenging to remember. No matter your experience level, these rules are something you need to commit to memory to give yourself an advantage or even to keep your opponent honest.

Red Stakes vs. White Stakes

An unenforced rule violation could be the difference between winning and losing a match in a serious competition.

What is a Penalty Area at a Golf Course?

By the definition of the USGA, “Penalty areas are one of the five defined areas of the course and can be marked as either red or yellow. When your ball lies in a penalty area, you can play it as it lies or take relief outside the penalty area for one penalty stroke.”

Simply put, a penalty area on a golf course is somewhere you hit the ball but weren’t supposed to. It can be water, woods, or any area deemed “beyond the course” by the golf staff.

Taking relief from these areas costs you a stroke. Making things even more complicated, there are different options for relief for every type of penalty area.

The Most Common - Red Stakes in Golf

Before a 2019 rule change, red stakes in golf typically meant a lateral hazard. Nowadays, red stakes mark not only lateral hazards but plenty of other areas where relief rules come into play.

Red stakes equate to any old penalty area in our modern golf world.

With red stakes, you have options—a lot of options.

1. You can play the ball as it lies.

If a pond has its red line a few feet from the water and your ball is sitting in a spot you can take a stance and make a swing, go right ahead and hit. The same goes for a heavily wooded area. If you see some light at the end of the tunnel and want to go for the hero shot, no one (and no rule) is stopping you.

2. Stroke and distance relief. You play the ball from the spot of your last shot.

Suppose you’re playing a par 4. Your tee shot goes into the fairway, leaving you with a shot over water to the green. You dunk it in the murky depths. Stroke three is your penalty stroke, and you play your fourth shot from the same spot as your second.

3. Back on-the-line relief.

Find where your ball crossed into the hazard. Find the pin. Picture a line between the two that continues past where you’re standing and further from the hole. You can go as far back on this line as you want and take a drop (with a one-stroke penalty).

4. Lateral relief.

Find the spot where your ball entered the hazard. Measure two club lengths, no closer to the hole, lengths from this point. Drop your ball in this area and continue with a one-stroke penalty.

White Stakes

Hitting your ball into an area guarded by white stakes means having hit your ball out of bounds. Your options are limited, and the penalty is more severe than red stakes.

With white stakes in golf, the penalty is non-negotiable. You cannot hit it even if it’s a perfect angle and lie.

Your only course of action is to return to where you hit your original shot, add a penalty stroke, and make another attempt at the shot you just failed to pull off.

In other words, shot one goes OB. Imaginary “shot two” is the added penalty stroke. Shot three is played from the same spot as shot one.

An important thing to remember is you are allowed to re-hit the ball if it was your first shot of the hole. Any other time, it is a drop.

Yellow stakes

Yellow stakes are for water hazards only, and their rules are most similar to red stakes.

When your ball finds this penalty area, you can take either “back on the line” or “stroke and distance” relief, as we mentioned above.

Are Two Club Lengths Enough?

Going back to where you hit your previous shot is a last-ditch option in many cases. In some cases, you’re sacrificing well over 100 yards, and staring at the same scenario that left you in enough trouble you’re now running through penalty protocols while watching your opponent walk to the green.

The USGA gives you two club lengths of relief next to red-staked areas; yes, it is enough to make something happen.

This distance is ample space to find a bit of grass that doesn’t look terrible, give yourself enough room to take a comfortable stance, and take a swing that limits the damage of your previous shot.

One club length wouldn’t be enough room. And in the eyes of many, or at least those with the USGA and R&A, three would be cutting you too much slack. Two club lengths is a distance you will see staying the same for a while.

What Happened to the "Lateral Water Hazard?"

A “lateral hazard” is marked with a red stake and is remedied with a drop and stroke. That’s still in play. But not so long ago, there was a fifth option for a lateral water hazard. It was dropping on the opposite side of the pond or hazard.

Before a rule change by the USGA, a lateral water hazard had the option to take relief on the opposite side of the pond. This was an additional option when “back-on-the-line” relief was unfeasible and gave golfers one more thing to try to remember with red stakes. That option is gone.

With how often the rule was misused and how difficult it was for golfers that knew the rule, the USGA took lateral water hazards out of play altogether.

Stakes vs. Lines

Stakes vs Lines

Colored stakes and spray-painted lines both indicate a penalty area. Red paint lines mean the same thing as red stakes and so on.

With how often golf comes down to inches, most golfers prefer a spray-painted line. The complete boundary is clear, and you can determine your course of action accordingly.

When there are stakes, things can get contentious because judgment comes into play. Unlike sprayed boundaries that jut in and out with the curvature of the hazard, your fate is determined by how the stakes were placed. You must draw straight, imaginary lines from stake to stake to determine the outermost hazard boundary.

This is especially prevalent with white stakes, where relief is mandatory, even if the ball is positioned where you feel you can hit from.

Stakes vs Lines 2

About The Author

Writers of Independent Golf Reviews
Independent Golf Reviews has tested and reviewed 1000+ golf products over the past 10 years. We use our experience and expertise to give golfers an unbiased insight on the market. 
Read more…


Subscribe to Independent Golf Reviews👇

Receive the best golf discounts available exclusively for our subscribers and be auto entered into our monthly golf giveaways!


No spam, ever. 🔒