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Winter Rules

25 OCT 2016

By Peter Mumford

If you’re still game for a round of golf despite the challenge of cold weather, wind and the occasional bout of rain or snow, here’s a few tips on playing within the Rules of Golf:


They look beautiful on the trees as they change colour and sparkle in the sunlight but we all know that at the first cold snap, those brightly coloured leaves will be all over the course, making it harder to find your golf ball. Many golfers adopt what is commonly called “The Leaf Rule”.

It might be assumed this has something to do with the Toronto Maple Leafs but those Leafs are usually findable at this time of year. It’s during the Spring playoffs that they all but disappear.

The Leaf Rule usually stipulates that any ball hit into or near a pile of leaves that can’t be found is deemed to be replaceable and a new ball may be dropped somewhere in the vicinity without penalty.

That’s pretty vague but it usually works in a friendly game. However, under the Rules of Golf, no Leaf Rule exists.

The applicable Rule would be Rule 27 Ball Lost or Out of Bounds which stipulates that you have five minutes to search for your lost ball and if you can’t find it then:

If a ball is lost as a result of not being found or identified as his by the player within five minutes after the player’s side or his or their caddies have begun to search for it, the player must play a ball, under penalty of one stroke, as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played.

Of course, if you suspected that your original ball might be lost in the leaves, then you should also have played a Provisional Ball as stipulated in Rule 27-2

If a ball may be lost outside a water hazard or may be out of bounds, to save time the player may play another ball provisionally in accordance with Rule 27-1. The player must: (i) announce to his opponent in match play or his marker or a fellow competitor in stroke play that he intends to play a provisional ball; and (ii) play the provisional ball before he or his partner goes forward to search for the original ball.

One final note on leaves: they are considered a loose impediment under the Rules of Golf and may be removed from the area of your swing and intended line on the green, so long as you don’t cause undue delay or move your ball.

 Embedded Balls

Fall weather also brings lots of rain, often making the ground wet and muddy. It’s pretty common to find a ball embedded in the fairway or rough.

Rule 25 covers that situation:

25-2. Embedded Ball

If a player’s ball is embedded in any closely-mown area through the green, it may be lifted, cleaned and dropped, without penalty, as near as possible to the spot where it lay but not nearer the hole. The ball when dropped must first strike a part of the course through the green.

 Note 1: A ball is “embedded” when it is in its own pitch-mark and part of the ball is below the level of the ground. A ball does not necessarily have to touch the soil to be embedded (e.g. grass, loose impediments and the like may intervene between the ball and the soil).

 Note 2: “Closely-mown area” means any area of the course, including paths through the rough, cut to fairway height or less.

 Note 3: The Committee may adopt the Local Rule as provided for in Appendix I allowing a player relief, without penalty, for a ball embedded anywhere through the green.

The term “through the green” is defined in the Rules as any area of the course except the teeing ground, the green and any hazards. However, when it comes to the Embedded Ball Rule, Note 2 above makes it clear that the Rule applies only to “closely mown areas”. Unless it has been stipulated otherwise by a Local Rule, that means that embedded balls in the rough must be played as found or deemed unplayable, in which case Rule 28 Ball Unplayable applies:

If the player deems his ball to be unplayable, he must, under penalty of one stroke:

  1. Proceed under the stroke and distance provision of Rule 27-1 by playing a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played (see Rule 20-5); or
  2.   Drop a ball behind the point where the ball lay, keeping that point directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind that point the ball may be dropped; or
  3.   Drop a ball within two club-lengths of the spot where the ball lay, but not nearer the hole.

Winter Rules

This is golf’s version of the “Get Out of Jail Free” card. Essentially, Winter Rules allow a player to do just about anything to give themselves a perfect lie on every shot: tip up their ball, clean mud off it or even move it to a better line of sight, by rationalizing that such a condition would not have occurred during the normal playing season.

The Rules of Golf do give the Committee some leeway in determining the conditions of competition and we’ve all seen “Lift, Clean and Place” used on the PGA Tour in circumstances where the ground is abnormally wet. During fall and winter golf in our area, it’s pretty common to find unplayable areas, aeration holes and ground under repair that is not marked.

In the Appendix to the Rules, the Committee is authorized to adopt Preferred Lies and Winter Rules as follows:

“Preferred Lies” and “Winter Rules”

Ground under repair is provided for in Rule 25 and occasional local abnormal conditions that might interfere with fair play and are not widespread should be defined as ground under repair. However, adverse conditions, such as heavy snows, spring thaws, prolonged rains or extreme heat can make fairways unsatisfactory and sometimes prevent use of heavy mowing equipment. When such conditions are so general throughout a course that the Committee believes “preferred lies” or “winter rules” would promote fair play or help protect the course, the following Local Rule (which should be withdrawn as soon as conditions warrant) is recommended: “A ball lying on a closely-mown area through the green may be lifted, without penalty, and cleaned. Before lifting the ball, the player must mark its position. Having lifted the ball, he must place it on a spot within (specify area, e.g., six inches, one club-length, etc.) of and not nearer the hole than where it originally lay, that is not in a hazard and not on a putting green.

Most players usually have their own version of Winter Rules and play accordingly. When it’s cold wet and windy, we need all the help we can get!

Peter Mumford is the Editor of Fairways Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @FairwaysMag