Are you prepared for playing in colder weather on the golf course? Find out how winter rules can affect play...

“Winter rules” are local rules adopted by an individual golf course if the winter conditions of the course are less than perfect. These rules can vary greatly from course to course; some courses close during winter completely!

Playing during winter conditions often involves inconsistent fairway conditions, mud, and water. This could be for the entire course, a single hole, or a particular area.

Winter rules provide players with “preferred lies” also referred to as “lift, clean, and place.” This allows golfers to enjoy a lie more consistent with conditions that they enjoy during the rest of the year.

Note: The term “general area” is used several times in this article. The general area refers to the fairway and rough. It excludes the teeing ground, the penalty areas, the bunkers, and the putting greens. Some golf courses will limit winter rules to fairways only. In this article, the golf course is permitting winter rules in the general area.

How to Follow “Winter Rules”

If a player’s ball is in the general area, the player may take free relief and improve their lie using “lift, clean, and place.” To do this, mark the ball’s original position using a tee or a marker before lifting. Clean the ball to get rid of any mud. Place the ball within a specified relief area no closer to the hole (commonly within six inches). The ball can only be placed once. 

Additional Helpful Rules

There are rules that apply to course conditions that occur more frequently in the winter:

Temporary Water in the General Area

Temporary water is an accumulation of water on the surface of the ground. It is clearly visible on the ground surface before or after a player takes a stance. Examples are puddles from rain, irrigation, or an overflow from a body of water.

Players get relief from temporary water if their ball is in it or if they are standing in it. The player must drop within one club length from the nearest point of relief.

Temporary Water in a Bunker

Players may play the ball as it lies, or drop within one club length within the bunker, no closer to the hole. If there is no relief from the water in the bunker, players have two options: they may play the ball from the water or they may take the ball out of the bunker back in line with the hole for a penalty stroke.

Temporary Water on the Putting Green

A player may take the closest free relief from temporary water on the putting green, no closer to the hole. Additionally, if temporary water is between the player’s ball and the hole, the player does not have to putt through the water. The player moves to the nearest side that provides a clear path to the hole. In either event, the closest relief might be off the green. If so, the player must play from off the green.

Embedded Ball

If a player’s ball is embedded in its pitch mark below the ground level in the general area, a player may take free relief. Free relief is not permitted from sandy soil. Drop within one club length, no closer to the hole. 

Lost Embedded Ball

Players who have the misfortune of playing into a soggy area that swallows the ball are entitled to free relief (unless the ball is plugged in a bunker or penalty area). It must be known, or virtually certain, that this has happened to the ball. Drop within one club length of the best-estimated location, no closer to the hole.

Cart Path

While it is common in warm, summer weather to be able to drive right up to your ball, winter conditions can make it damaging for carts to drive on the course.

Courses will often amend their cart path rules to the “90-degree rule” or “cart path only” during winter.

The 90-degree rule means that carts must travel on cart paths at all times, but may leave the cart path at a 90-degree angle to go to a ball on the fairway.

“Cart path only” requires power carts to remain on designated cart paths at all times.

Pay attention to the posted cart path rules at the course where you are playing, as these can change by the day or even by hole!

As cold and uncomfortable as playing in winter can be, your game doesn’t have to be ruined by mud and water! Check out our list of favourite winter accessories to keep you warm and dry this season.

Special thanks to Alison Murdoch for confirming the above rules for playing in winter conditions.