The idea behind winter rules is that in the off-season or after prolonged spells of poor weather, when course conditions can adversely impact on what might be seen as the fair playing of the game, they give you the chance to improve your lie to a degree that might be deemed to be equable.
So, for example, if you play at a course where some or all of the fairways get soggy in the winter, and balls are likely to either end up in poor, muddy lies or accumulate a lot of mud as they roll out, the adoption of winter rules or preferred lies under a suitably worded temporary Local Rule would allow you to play your next shot from something closer to the lie you would probably have enjoyed in the summer.
Typically, winter rules would allow you, in accordance with Appendix 1 of the Rules of Golf, to lift, clean and place your ball within six inches of where it has come to rest, although that distance is not mandatory and may vary (e.g. one club length at some courses) but only on “closely mown areas”.
A typical Local Rule announcement specifying that winter rules are in force might read as follows: “If a player’s ball lies on a closely-mown area through the green (it can be more specific and apply only to the holes where poor conditions prevail) the player may mark, lift and clean his ball without penalty. Before lifting, he must mark the position of the ball. The player must then place the ball on a spot within six inches (typically, though not set in stone) of and not nearer the hole than where it originally lay, that is not in a hazard or on a putting green.”
Things to remember…
- Winter rules must be introduced by the committee and advised via a suitably worded and published temporary Local Rule. You cannot just decide that winter rules apply because conditions aren’t great during competition play, though of course, what you decide between you and your regular golfing pals in your own friendly fourball is up to you.
- Winter rules only apply to “closely mown areas” – those parts of the course cut to fairway height or less, including paths through the rough, and the fringes or aprons around the greens.
- You MUST mark the position of the ball before lifting, cleaning and placing – failure to do so leads to a one-stroke penalty.
- Typically, you only get one chance at placing the ball and once you let go of it, it is in play. However, if the ball fails to come to rest at all on the spot you have carefully chosen, you may try again on that spot and if it still fails to come to rest “place it at the nearest spot where it can be placed at rest that is not nearer the hole and not in a hazard.” But be warned, if you place it on the most inviting tuft and it does initially come to rest, but then falls off or moves before you play, there is no penalty but you must now play it as it lies. In such circumstances, if you pick your ball up and place it again, you will incur a penalty stroke for moving your ball in play and must replace the ball under Rule 18-2a – i.e. put it back in the spot where it had rolled or moved to.
Finally, there is no automatic relief from plugged lies in the rough under winter rules, and for this to be in force, it must be covered by a separate Local Rule allowing relief from plugged lies away from closely mown areas. If no such Local Rule exists, then like it or not, you have no choice but to either play the ball as it lies or take relief under penalty… and then complain to the committee afterwards that there really should be relief from plugged lies in the rough given current conditions!