Golf Rules Explained: Local Rules

We explain what Local Rules are, where to look out for them and discuss one or two examples you might encounter

Golf Rules Explained Local Rules
(Image credit: Howard Boylan)

Golf Rules Explained: Local Rules

Given that it is played on a wide open natural landscape, the rules of golf need to cover a whole host of different scenarios to keep the game as equitable as possible. The are 24 different rules in total but each golf course will also have its own set of laws, called Local Rules. In this video and article, rules guru Jeremy Ellwood looks at what Local Rules are for and covers some of the most common elements that every golfer should be aware of. 

The Local Rules for each course are usually written on the back of the scorecard and you will also find them on club noticeboards and websites. For the most part, they tend to focus on features that are unique to the particular course you're about to play. For instance, there might be a road that runs parallel to a part of the course that could be either out of bounds or an immovable obstruction. The local rules on the back of the scorecard will explain exactly how areas like this are to be treated and whether on or over the road designates out of bounds.

Golf Rules Explained Local rules scorecard

(Image credit: Howard Boylan)

Probably the most common Local Rule surrounds preferred lies. As many golf courses get wet during the winter months, this Local Rules allow for players to mark their ball, pick it up, clean it and find a good lie within six inches of where it was initially sitting (or another distance specified, sometimes the length of a scorecard or occasionally even a club-length). These are often also referred to as winter rules. Likewise, it is not uncommon for Local Rules to offer relief from temporary conditions like staked trees or open drains. 

Golf Rules Local Rules preferred lies

(Image credit: Howard Boylan)

Another common (but certainly not ever-present) Local Rule relates to sprinkler heads near greens. Under the Rules of Golf you only get relief from a sprinkler head if it directly affects your lie, the line of your intended swing or your stance. However, many clubs adopt a Local Rule that allows relief to be taken if a sprinkler head within two club-lengths of the green lies directly on your line and your ball is within two club-lengths of the sprinkler head. 

A Local Rules is no longer required for the removal of stones in bunkers

Finally, when the last major set of golf rules revisions came into play at the beginning of 2019, three things that were previously only permissible via Local Rule became Rules of Golf, so Local Rules are no longer required for...

1) Removing stones in bunkers - With the 2019 Rules now allowing the removal of loose impediments in bunkers, Local Rules allowing the removal of stones are no longer required. A note of caution, though: you will still be penalised if your ball moves when you're removing a loose impediment from a bunker.

2) Embedded ball relief away from closely mown area - Unless a Local Rule was in force, free relief for embedded balls was previously restricted to closely mown areas. From 2019, such free relief is available anywhere in the 'general area' of the course other than when embedded in sand. Clubs may still limit it to areas cut to fairway height or less via Local Rules, but we doubt many will.

3) Use of Distance Measuring Devices (DMDs) - They may now be almost universal, but until 2019 DMDs were still only permitted via Local Rule. That has now changed although clubs or committees may still choose to outlaw them via Local Rule (again, we doubt many will!).

Jeremy Ellwood
Contributing Editor

Jeremy Ellwood has worked in the golf industry since 1993 and for Golf Monthly since 2002 when he started out as equipment editor. He is now a freelance journalist writing mainly for Golf Monthly. He is an expert on the Rules of Golf having qualified through an R&A course to become a golf referee. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 91 of the Next 100, making him well-qualified when it comes to assessing and comparing our premier golf courses. He has now played 1,000 golf courses worldwide in 35 countries, from the humblest of nine-holers in the Scottish Highlands to the very grandest of international golf resorts. He reached the 1,000 mark on his 60th birthday in October 2023 on Vale do Lobo's Ocean course. Put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content.

Jezz can be contacted via Twitter - @JezzEllwoodGolf

Jeremy is currently playing...

Driver: Ping G425 LST 10.5˚ (draw setting), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 55 S shaft

3 wood: Ping G425 Max 15˚ (set to flat +1), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 65 S shaft

Hybrid: Ping G425 17˚, Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro Orange 80 S shaft

Irons 3-PW: Ping i525, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Wedges: Ping Glide 4.0 50˚ and 54˚, 12˚ bounce, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Putter: Ping Fetch 2021 model, 33in shaft (set flat 2)

Ball: Varies but mostly now TaylorMade Tour Response