Rules in Focus: Preferred Lies

Preferred lies Shona McRae, Manager – Rules of Golf, explains more about preferred lies, also known as “winter rules”.

With the winter upon us in the northern hemisphere, this week we examine some appropriate seasonal Rules. Adverse conditions such as heavy snow, frost, prolonged wet conditions and general lack of growth during the winter months can render a course less than satisfactory. In such circumstances, to help promote fair play and protect the course during the winter months, a committee can introduce Local Rules to counter these conditions.

Q. Can I automatically prefer the lie of my ball during winter?

Only when a committee has introduced a Local Rule for preferred lies is a player entitled to prefer the lie of their ball. Simply saying “preferred lies in operation” or “winter rules apply” is inadequate; the Committee has to spell out what the Local Rule is. Under the wording of The R&A’s recommended Local Rule, a player is entitled to prefer the lie of the ball when the ball lies on a closely-mown area through the green, such as the fairway. A closely-mown area is any area of the course that is cut to fairway height or less and includes paths cut through the rough and the fringe/apron around the green. If the ball does not lie on a closely-mown area, the player cannot take a preferred lie.

Mud on the ball does not neccessarily mean that you can prefer your lie. Q. So how do I prefer the lie?

If the player chooses to prefer the lie of the ball, the position of the ball must be first marked. Most players will use a tee to mark the position of the ball but a coin or other similarly sized object is suitable. Once the ball has been marked, the player can then lift the ball and clean it if desired. The ball must then be placed on a spot no nearer the hole within the area specified by the Committee, e.g. within six inches.

It is worth noting that the specified area in which to place the ball can vary from club to club. Some committees will stipulate within six inches, others a score card-length or perhaps even one club-length. There is no hard and fast Rule, therefore it is best to check in advance the distance the placement has to occur, to avoid any unnecessary penalties.

This is something PGA Tour golfer Ryuji Imada would have been advised to do, to avoid the 26-stroke penalty he incurred at a recent tournament in China. Imada assumed he could prefer the lie of the ball within a club-length of its original position, as is standard on the PGA Tour.  But the Local Rules for this tournament stated that the placement had to occur within the length of one score-card.  When this was brought to Imada’s attention he informed tournament officials before signing his card.  He was assessed a two-stroke penalty for each of the thirteen times he had preferred the lie outside of the prescribed distance and finally signed for a first round total of 24-over-par, 97!

Q. What happens if I do not mark the position of the ball or move it in another way to prefer the lie?

If the player fails to mark the position of the ball before lifting it or moves the ball in any other manner, such as rolling it with the club, the player incurs a penalty of one stroke.

How to prefer your lie:
  • Mark the position of your ball
  • Lift and clean your ball
  • Place your ball within the stipulated area, no nearer the hole
  • The ball is in play

Q. What happens if I do not like the spot that I have placed my ball on and want to change it?

The player is only entitled to prefer the lie once, so the spot on which to place the ball must be chosen carefully! The ball is in play as soon as it is placed on the ground. If the player picks it up again and moves it, he would incur a penalty stroke for moving his ball in play and the ball must be replaced (Rule 18-2a).

Q. Are there any other options to preferred lies?

Not all conditions merit preferred lies. For example, when the ground is wet and muddy and the ball is picking up a lot of dirt, a Local Rule for cleaning the ball can be useful. If a committee introduces such a Local Rule, the player is permitted to lift the ball, clean it and replace it on the exact spot where it originally lay. The position of the ball must be marked before it is lifted.

Make sure you mark the original position of the ball with a tee, or similar, before lifting it.Q. So is there any relief if my ball lies embedded in soft ground in the rough?

Generally, there is no free relief for a ball embedded in the rough as relief for an embedded ball is restricted to closely-mown areas (Rule 25-2). However, if the conditions merit it, a committee can choose to extend relief by Local Rule for an embedded ball to anywhere through the green.

And finally, to assist committees introducing these Local Rules:

The recommended wording for these winter Local Rules is contained in Appendix 1, Part B, 4 of the Rules of Golf (pages 131-133).

Members and visitors to golf clubs should have easy access to the Local Rules for the course, especially when a committee decides to introduce temporary Local Rules such as preferred lies, or other winter rules. These should be displayed prominently in key locations such as the locker room, pro shop and the first tee or starters hut. At such time that the conditions merit the withdrawal of the relevant Local Rule, it should be publicised appropriately so that there is no uncertainty.