Just because it's winter doesn't mean you should be playing "winter rules."
That's a misconception many amateurs have about playing this time of year. The Bermuda may be dormant and the lies may not always be the best, but if it's a dry, sunny day, you're probably not allowed relief.
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As Bryan Jones, co-vice chairman of the PGA Rules Committee, explains, the decision to allow "lift, clean and place" has little to do with temperature and everything to do with course conditions. And the ultimate decision to allow "preferred lies" -- as one of the Local Rules -- falls into the hands of the course officials or tournament committee.
That's why you'll sometimes see "lift, clean and place" implemented after a heavy rain. If the tournament committee determines that there are "adverse conditions," the Preferred Lies/Winter Rules section of the Rule Book comes into play, even if it's hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk.
None of the 34 Rules of Golf directly address the issue of "winter rules," but Appendix 1, Part A, Definition 4b specifically deals with adverse conditions. Here is the exact phrasing from the Rule Book:
Adverse conditions, including the poor condition of the course or the existence of mud, are sometimes so general, particularly during winter months, that the Committee may decide to grant relief by temporary Local Rule either to protect the course or to promote fair and pleasant play. The Local Rule should be withdrawn as soon as the conditions warrant.
Jones, who is at the PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Fla., this week for the PGA Winter Championships tournament, said "abnormal playing conditions that interfere with the proper playing of the game" is the key point to consider.
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"Interestingly enough, we will play our first event utilizing the 'Preferred Lies/Winter Rules' authorized by the Rules of Golf because of adverse conditions," Jones said. "In our situation, the adverse conditions exist due to extreme wet fairways where virtually every stroke that lands on a closely mown area will collect a great deal of mud on the ball, whereas a ball that lands in the rough will not, because the thicker grass prevents the ball from penetrating the ground.
"That inequity to well-struck shots is the key, as is the frequency of occurrence. If only a couple of fairways yielded this result, the Committee would not utilize this option."
Jones said three conditions must be met for "winter rules" to be in place.
1. The Committee (or course officials) must authorize this Rules extension granted by Appendix 1, part A.
2. The majority of the golf course must be impacted to consider this.
3. The Committee should utilize the wording provided by Appendix 1, part B 4c ,which explains exactly how to proceed: lift and place, lift and drop, and the distances allowed.
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So why do Local Rules exist?
"When we need to stray from the purity of the Rules, we have guidance on how to do so and will be backed by the (sanctioning bodies) should a dispute arise," Jones said.
So the rule of thumb?
"Play golf as normal, unless normal golf is really challenged by mother nature."