Preferred Lies

This is the time of year that many clubs in the northern hemisphere will consider introducing “winter rules” to cope with adverse weather. Bad weather, such as heavy snow, frost or prolonged wet conditions, combined with a general lack of growth during the winter months, can render a course less than satisfactory for play. In such circumstances, to help promote fair play and protect the course during the winter months, a Committee can introduce certain permissible Local Rules to counter these conditions. Here are some commonly asked questions in relation to these Local Rules.

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 the detail of the Local Rule so the player knows how to proceed correctly.

The recommended Local Rule for preferred lies is contained in Appendix 1, Part B, 4c of the Rules of Golf.

A player is entitled to prefer the lie of the ball when the ball lies on a closely-mown area through the green. 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, e.g. the rough, the player cannot take a preferred lie under this specimen Local Rule.

Q. So how do I prefer the lie under the Local Rule?

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 similar sized object is suitable. Once the position of 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 important to note that the specified area in which to place the ball can vary. The specimen Local Rule does not specify the distance; it is up to the Committee to do so depending on the course conditions. Some Committees will stipulate the ball is to be placed within six inches, others a score card-length or perhaps even one club-length – generally, the worse the conditions, the bigger the distance. Always check the Local Rules in advance of play to ascertain the distance to avoid any unnecessary penalties.

This is something PGA Tour golfer Ryuji Imada should have done to avoid the massive 26-stroke penalty he incurred during the Star Trophy at Mission Hills in China a couple of years ago. Imada assumed he could prefer the lie of the ball within a club-length of its original position, as is standard on the US PGA Tour; however 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 and was assessed a two-stroke penalty for each of the thirteen times he had preferred the lie of his ball outside of the prescribed distance. He 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.

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, the player would incur a penalty of one 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, it may be that the ground is just wet and muddy and the ball is picking up a lot of dirt. In such circumstances a Local Rule authorising the player to simply clean the ball can be useful. If a Committee introduces such a Local Rule, the player is permitted to mark, lift, clean and replace the ball on the exact spot where it lay – see the recommended Local Rule in Appendix 1, Part B, 4b.

Q. 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 to anywhere “through the green” which includes the rough and semi-rough. Such a Local Rule is common on the professional tours and the recommended wording is contained in Appendix 1, Part B, 4a.

Q. How should we publicise these Local Rules?

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. The Local Rules should be displayed prominently in key locations such as the locker room, pro shop and the first tee or starter’s hut. These Local Rules are meant to be temporary in nature; once course conditions improve sufficiently they should be withdrawn. Their withdrawal should be appropriately publicised to avoid any unnecessary uncertainty and confusion.

Key Points to Preferred Lies:

  • 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 when placed and cannot be lifted again