What is a No Play Zone in golf? Here’s what you need to know


Club committees can set up areas of your golf course from which you are not allowed to play. Our Rules of Golf expert explains why they exist

Play it as it lies. The driving principle behind golf, right? If you’ve ever seen Happy Gilmore, you’ll have laughed at the extremes to which they take that.

Golf rule 101 or not, there are times, though, when it needs to be bent. There are a number of occasions in the Rules of Golf where you don’t have to play the ball as it is – where you can take relief. Think abnormal course conditions: animal holes, ground under repair, temporary water and immovable obstructions and so on.

But there is another occasion where there is not even the element of choice. Find yourself in a No Play Zone and your actions are forced under the Rules of Golf. So what are they and how do you proceed? Let’s get stuck in…

What is a No Play Zone?

Simply put, it’s a part of the course from where you are prohibited from playing. The definition of No Play Zone says it must be either part of an abnormal course condition or a penalty area.

Why would you have a No Play Zone? For any number of reasons, actually, but it’s generally about protecting something – whether that be wildlife, animal habitats, environmentally sensitive areas, flower beds, replanted areas, historical sites. The list goes on.

They can also be used to stop golfers playing from anywhere they may face danger.

How are No Play Zones marked?

Committees should define them in the usual way, using lines or stakes, but the rules say this should be done differently from an abnormal course condition or penalty area. You might see another colour used – such a blue – or a cap at the top of a stake.

What can I do in a No Play Zone?

Not much, to be honest. Rule 16.1f deals with No Play Zones in abnormal course conditions and Rule 17.1e does the same for penalty areas and both are unanimous: You can’t play the ball as it lies.

How do I take relief from a No Play Zone?

This depends on whether you’re in an abnormal course condition or penalty area. Let’s look at the first.

Rule 16.1f says that if your ball is in a No Play Zone in “or on an abnormal course condition in the general area, in a bunker, or on the putting green”, then you must take free relief under either Rule 16.1b (general areas), 16.1c (bunkers), or 16.1d (putting greens).

What if your ball isn’t in a No Play Zone, but you’re standing in it or it affects your stance or your swing?

This is slightly more complicated, but you must take relief, depending on whether your ball is, using one of the three subsections above or unplayable ball relief under Rule 19.

Remember that, when taking relief, it’s the nearest point of complete relief that is always key – and that can mean you might end up with more fortunate, or less favourable, conditions when you drop.

How does this change when it comes to penalty areas? If your ball is in a No Play Zone in a penalty area, scratch the idea that you’re going to get free relief. You’ll need to take penalty relief under Rule 17.1d or 17.2.

Right. Now brace yourselves. What if your ball is in a penalty area, outside a no play zone but that zone interferes with your area of intended stance or swing?

Yes, this is actually a scenario outlined in Rule 17.1e. Thoughts?

Break it down. You can either take relief outside of the penalty area – that will cost you one penalty stroke as usual.

You can also take free relief from the interference, but you’ve got to drop a ball in the penalty area and you got to make sure it’s no closer to the hole. Again one of these two options has to apply, the Rule states it is a must.

But can you always get free relief in this instance? No. Rule 17.1e (2) reminds you that if the interference only exists because you’re choosing a club, swing, stance, or direction that’s “clearly unreasonable under the circumstances” then you’re not going to qualify.

That’s also the case if when playing it as it lies is also unreasonable. If your ball is in a bush, for example, the No Play Zone won’t save you.

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