Penalty areas (Definition)
Previously, water hazards could only be marked as such if they actually contained water.
Now, water hazards are called penalty areas and no longer have to contain water.
Good to know: This means that golf clubs are free to mark other parts of the course as penalty areas in order to allow sideways drops and thus speed up the game.
Dropping options with penalty areas (Rule 17)
Previously, with lateral water hazards, it was possible to drop on the opposite side of where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard.
Now, it is called a red penalty area and it is no longer possible to drop on the opposite side.
Good to know: This option was previously hardly ever used and it only led to confusion.
Touching the ground and water in penalty areas (Rule 17)
If you decide to play a ball from a water hazard as it lies, you were previously not allowed to touch the ground or the water before your stroke.
Now, you are allowed to ground the club in or out of the water when you play the ball out of a penalty area.
Good to know: Experience has shown that it usually doesn’t make sense to try and hit a ball out of the water if it is completely covered by water.
Loose impediments (Rule 15)
Previously, touching leaves, twigs, stones, branches and other loose impediments in water hazards was not allowed.
Now, you can remove them anywhere without penalty, including in penalty areas (new name for water hazards).
Good to know: Please bear in mind that the ball is still not allowed to move when removing loose impediments.