Golf’s Winter Rules Explained: What And Why

Golf's winter rules explained, where preferred lies are allowed on closely mown areas

A close up of a Titleist ball with mud on it
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Video: Winter rules explained

As the weather gets colder and underfoot conditions get wetter, 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.

The R&A offers a model local rule that covers this. It reads as follows:

"When a player's ball lies in a part of the general area cut to fairway height or less [or identify a specific area such as 'on the fairway of the 6th hole'], the player may take free relief once by placing the original ball or another ball in, and playing it from, this relief area:

In proceeding under this Local Rule, the player must choose a spot to place the ball and use the procedures for replacing a ball under Rules 14.2b(2) and 14.2e."

Golf's winter rules: Things to remember…

golf's winter rules

It's worth marking the spot where your ball is before you clean and place it back - usually within six inches

(Image credit: Future)
  • 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.
  • Although it's not essential under the Rules to mark the position of the ball before lifting, cleaning and placing, it's not a bad idea to do so.

An embedded ball in the mud

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. Golfers are allowed relief from an embedded ball anywhere in the general area. This means that if your ball plugs in the rough, you're entitled to free relief. 

The reference point for relief is the spot right behind where the ball is lying embedded. You then have a one club-length relief area arc no nearer the hole in which to drop your ball, based on the longest club in your bag that isn’t your putter. 

This rule applies anywhere in the general area, which includes the rough, but not in bunkers, penalty areas or on the putting green, where it's of no consequence as you have long been able to mark and lift your ball on the putting green whether embedded or not.

Knowing the embedded ball rule and how to prefer your lie when permitted are likely to come in very handy as you play winter golf and ground conditions become softer.

Neil Tappin

In July 2023, Neil became just the 9th editor in Golf Monthly's 112-year history. Originally working with the best coaches in the UK to produce instruction content, he has also presented many Golf Monthly videos looking at all areas of the game from Tour player interviews to the rules of golf. 

Throughout his time with the brand he has also 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. 

Neil is currently playing: Driver: TaylorMade Stealth Plus Fairway Wood: Titleist TSR2 Hybrid: Titleist TS3 Irons: PING Blueprint S (4&5), PING Blueprint T (6-PW) Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM7 50˚, 54˚, 60˚ Putter: Odyssey Triple Track Ten Ball: Titleist Pro V1X