Rules Guy: Can I play a ball that lands in between yellow stakes and an environmentally sensitive area?

December 29, 2018

The Rules of Golf are tricky! Thankfully, we’ve got the guru. Our Rules Guy knows the book front to back. Got a question? He’s got all the answers.
On my home course there are several areas designated with environmentally sensitive areas (ESA) signs. I know that a ball hit into the ESA can be dropped, no closer to the hole, without penalty. The course added yellow stakes outside some ESA areas to establish another, larger perimeter that suggests a new, expanded ESA. My understanding is that only a municipality, not a course, can define an ESA. Therefore, I’d think I can play a ball between the yellow stakes and the ESA signage without penalty. Also, shouldn’t the club either move the signs (with municipal approval) or use white stakes with green tips to increase the area of the ESA? —JOHN HERALD, VIA E-MAIL
Wow, it’s quite a high-stakes question for Rules Guy! The short answer: Ask the committee. But that suggestion aside, yes, an ESA needs to be defined by the appropriate government authority.
The club’s committee defines how to play the ESA — it could be a water hazard (if it meets the definition of one), ground under repair or out of bounds.

If this is in fact a water hazard as the yellow stakes suggest, remember that you can’t play it as it lies but must take relief and a one-stroke penalty under the water hazard rule. You do have the option, in a stroke-play situation, of playing two balls and then clarifying with the committee ex post facto (EPF).
Got a rules question? Of course you do! Whatever it may be, send yours to [email protected] and the question may be answered in an upcoming issue of GOLF. Until then, play by the Rules!