Most people who read my articles are, most likely, serious golfers who understand that the game is governed by 34 Rules. These same people probably play some tournament golf where Rules Officials are present to assist players in playing by the Rules and interpreting Rules situations. Not all players of the game are serious golfers who abide by the Rules. Many are “recreational” players who tend to play by “winter rules” or “preferred lies” on a year round basis. The term “preferred lies” is one of the most misunderstood concepts in golf.
In areas of the country where winter weather can be brutal and in turn create negative effects on golf courses, some courses will post signs saying “winter rules” or “preferred lies in effect today”. This means that golfers may improve their lies in certain areas of the course that may been effected by the weather conditions. Those areas are usually limited to the fairway. This could mean that if your drive is in the fairway and it comes to rest on patch of bare ground where the grass has died or is dormant, winter rules allow you to move the ball onto grass.
Sometimes, golfers interpret “winter rules” or “preferred lies” to mean an assortment of things, mostly because golf course fail to explain what the term means. Without an explanation, we will see golfers improve lies in sand bunkers, water hazards, and in general, in all areas of the golf course. There is no Rule that covers “winter rules” or “preferred lies” in the Rules of Golf, but there is an explanation in Appendix I, Part A, Local Rules that says: “Adverse conditions, including the poor condition of the course or the existence of mud, are sometimes so general, particularly during winter months, that the Committee may decide to grant relief by temporary Local Rule either to protect the course or to promote fair and pleasant play. The Local Rule should be withdrawn as soon as conditions warrant”.
Even if you are a “recreational” golfer I would still encourage you to play the game in the traditional fashion which is to play the ball as it lies. Here’s hoping that you are “Playing By The Rules”.
Frank Guastella, PGA Master Professional
Michigan PGA Rules Official
Staff Writer for Mike Fay Golf