Golf’s Winter Rules: What And Why

Golf's winter rules explained!

golf's winter rules
(Image credit: Future)

Golf's winter rules are there to help you as the temperatures dip and the course gets wetter. Our video and article explain exactly what golfers need to know.

As the weather gets colder and underfoot conditions are wetter, so most golf clubs will allow players to use winter rules. The idea here is that as 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 during the rest of the year.

Typically, winter rules would allow you 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”. The video that accompanies this article explains the procedure.

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 penalty area 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.

There is now free relief for embedded balls anywhere in the general area

From 2019 onwards the Rules of Golf have allowed for free relief from an embedded lie anywhere in the general area

Embedded Ball

One other thing worth knowing is the rule relating to embedded balls, which changed at the start of 2019. Now, you get relief from an embedded ball anywhere in the general area. This means that if your ball plugs in the rough, you get free relief. 

The process here is to place a tee peg in the ground just as you would if you were preferring your lie - this would be your nearest point of relief. Then mark out a club length (using the longest club in your bag that isn’t your putter) and drop within this area, no nearer the hole. 

This rule now applies anywhere in the general area which includes the rough but doesn’t include bunkers, penalty areas, the tee of the hole you are playing or the putting green (but in this situation you can mark your ball and repair your pitch mark so it isn’t really applicable). 

Knowing the embedded ball rule and how to prefer your lie is likely to come in very handy as you play winter golf.

Neil Tappin
Neil Tappin

Neil has worked for Golf Monthly for over 15-years. Originally working with the best coaches in the UK to produce instruction content, he is now the brand's Digital Editor and covers everything from Tour player interviews to gear reviews. Neil is currently a 3-handicap golfer who has played the game for as long as he can remember. In his role at Golf Monthly, he has covered equipment launches that date back well over a decade. He clearly remembers the launch of the Callaway and Nike square drivers as well as the white TaylorMade driver families, such as the RocketBallz! If you take a look at the Golf Monthly YouTube channel, you'll see his equipment videos dating back over a decade! He has also conducted 'What's In The Bag' interviews with many of the game's best players like Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm. Over the years, Neil has tested a vast array of products in each category and at drastically different price-points. 

In his current role, Neil is responsible for testing all new drivers and is part of a team testing golf balls. He is able to compare performance between models, brands and generations. For 2022 he thinks the main trend in drivers is: "In a word, consistency. Whilst all the brands talking about ball speed (and the new drivers are certainly long), my biggest finding has been how much more consistent the ball flights are. Mishits don't seem to be causing the same level of drop-off or increase in the spin numbers. This means that more shots seem to be flying the way you want them to!"


Neil is currently playing: Driver: Titleist TSi3 Fairway Wood: Titleist TSi2 Hybrid: Titleist TS3 Irons (4-9): Mizuno JPX 919 Forged Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM7 46˚, 50˚, 54˚, 60˚ Putter: Odyssey Triple Track Ten Ball: Titleist Pro V1X