What Are Winter Rules In Golf? [Main Three]

Winter rules in golf are designed to help protect golf courses during the Winter, but also to help promote fair and pleasant play, especially when playing golf in the rain.

So what are these Winter rules and how can you use them out on the golf course?

What Are Winter Rules?

What Are Winter Rules?

What Are Winter Rules In Golf?

Winter rules are specific rules of golf that are designed to help golfers during the Winter months when the golf course ground gets wet and softer, and are often referred to as “preferred lies”.

Winter rules can be broken down into a few separate rules which are all closely linked:

Preferred Lies

Preferred lies simply means that when a player’s golf ball finishes on closely mown areas of the golf course, they’re allowed to lift it, clean it and then replace the back down no closer to the hole.

A closely mown area is the shorter grass on the golf course, cut to fairway height. Think fairways, putting green aprons, greens and fringes.

This distance at which the ball can be moved can depend on the rules set by the club but usually means no more than six inches or a club length.

When picking up the ball and cleaning it, it’s always a good idea to stick a tee peg or marker in the ground so that there’s no chance of the ball being replaced closer to the hole.

Essentially, this Winter rule gives golfers a lie that they’d more likely receive in the dry Summer months and they don’t need to contend with mud balls.

But don’t get confused between closely mown areas and rough. I’ve played with a few golfers in my time who interpret the rough as somewhere where they get preferred lies. This is certainly not the case.

Embedded Ball

The plugged or embedded ball rule is a hugely important one for Winter golf.

Embedded balls mean that the ball is in its own pitch mark and part of it is below the ground level, so hitting a shot from it would be very difficult.

The rules update in 2019 meant that you now can take relief from a ball that is embedded in the ground in all general areas, meaning fairways and rough but it does not include bunkers.

Golfers get to take free relief, dropping the ball within one club length of the point directly behind the location of the embedded ball.

Sometimes it can be difficult to determine whether a ball is actually embedded or if it’s just a poor lie in thick rough.

If that’s the case, it’s always a good idea to get a playing partner to take a look to avoid any uncertainty, before you start taking relief.

Standing Water

Another common situation in Winter golf is areas of the course that are underwater, and we’re not talking about actual water hazards.

These areas might be on the fairways or even the greens, and a result of a heavy downfall.

If this situation arises and you walk up to find your ball sat in a puddle, Rule 16.1 states that the ball can be dropped within one club length from the nearest point of relief and no nearer the hole.

This is great to have, but sometimes the puddle can be more of a mini pond and you’re struggling to find the ball let alone pick it up.

These rules essentially help a golfer when their ball is not lying well simply because of the muddy golf course conditions.

These rules are a temporary local rule of the golf club and can be implemented or removed at any time at the club’s discretion.

But that doesn’t mean that you can just decide that Winter rules apply when it begins to get a little wet unless, of course, you’re just playing for fun with your mates.

Usually, the rules will be in place from the 1st of October until the 30th of April the following year. This means that they’re in play for all the months when the course is most likely to be muddy and wet.

Final Thoughts

Golf’s winter rules are hugely important to playing golf during the wetter and colder months of the year. Without them, we’d all be having to play muddy balls out of plugged lies and it all wouldn’t be much fun at all.

Playing Winter Rules is the perfect option for Winter weather which, unfortunately, I’m oh so used to having spent my life in the UK.


How do you play winter rules?

Winter rules are played by marking your ball when it’s in a closely mown area and then lift clean and place it somewhere within six inches of the original position of the ball, but without it being nearer to the hole.

Can you pick and place in the rough?

No, preferred lies aren’t allowed when the ball is in the rough. However, if the ball is plugged in the rough, a free drop may be taken.

What does placing on the fairway mean?

Placing on the fairway is a Winter rule that allows golfers to pick up their ball off the fairway, give it a clean and then replace it on a good lie within six inches of the original position, but no closer to the hole.

What are winter greens in golf?

Winter greens are temporary greens, often next to the normal green, used to prevent the actual green from getting damaged during wet or cold conditions.

Ed Welton

Founder, Editor

Ed is the founder and editor at EEE Golf. He’s been playing golf for over 20 years, competing in many top amateur events. He’s played courses all over the world and played with some of the best players in the game. His aim is to help educate people about the game of golf and give insights into the sport he loves most.

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