Rules and Rants

Why you shouldn’t use the Preferred Lies rule

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JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JANUARY 10: A muddy ball sits on a muddy crosswalk on a fairway during the resumption of the weather delayed third round of The BMW SA Open at Glendower Golf Club on January 10, 2016 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Canadian golfers are used to all kinds of playing conditions. Blistering hot, cold and windy, wet days and, of course, those dreaded frost delays. When such challenging conditions exist, a superintendent or club committee may take action to try to preserve areas of the course — or the entire course — by instituting a Preferred Lies rule. Comically, I’ve heard this referred to as Lift, Clean and Cheat on more than one occasion.

While professional competitions are rarely played under these circumstances — when weather is extremely poor, they simply suspend play until they can resume or cancel the round — we get numerous questions regarding these so-called “Winter Rules.” The most common one is whether scores for handicapping are permitted when these rules are in effect.

First, let’s define what preferred lies are. Preferred Lies (or Winter Rules) is a local rule that may be adopted by the committee in charge of a course when adverse conditions are so apparent throughout a course that improving the lie of the ball in a specified way would promote fair play and help protect the turf. Scores made when this local rule is in effect must be posted for handicap purposes unless the committee (preferably the Handicap Committee) determines that conditions are so poor that such scores are not to be posted, in which case the committee should really consider suspending play anyway. For clarification, individual golfers playing the course do not independently decide whether scores are acceptable because of this condition.

It’s important to note that there are also pitfalls in adopting Preferred Lies. When invoked, it conflicts with the fundamental principle of playing the ball as it lies. Winter rules are sometimes adopted under the guise of protecting the course when, in fact, the practical effect is just the opposite — it permits moving the ball to the best turf, from which divots are then taken and the course is injured further. Also, Preferred Lies generally lead to lower scores and Handicap Factors. To mitigate this, a committee should ensure that its course’s normal scoring difficulty is maintained as much as possible through the adjustment of tee markers and related methods.

Therefore, while Preferred Lies may seem like a good idea for players and courses, adopting them may be counterintuitive. It’s a good idea to carefully consider each situation or condition before coming to a final decision.

Active score posting season for each province can be found here.

This article was originally published in the Fall Issue of Golf Canada Magazine. Click here to view the full magazine.