Stick with your original ball or switch it up? Our expert talks you through an intriguing winter rules scenario

Sometimes my inbox pings with a rules query that makes me sit up straight at my desk. This one, from Mark Wickham, did just that…

“Does lift, clean, and place (preferred lies) qualify as free relief and enable me to change a ball on any hole following the tee shot i.e. during and not at the beginning of a hole?”

I’d never really thought about this – the prospect of switching balls during the play of hole when lifting, cleaning the rubbish that accumulates on your ball during the winter, and then placing it. So, can you? Let’s get stuck in…

Rules of Golf explained: Can I change my original ball when taking relief from preferred lies?

Firstly, let’s get into what preferred lies are. It’s not in the 24 Rules of Golf but, when there are abnormal course conditions such as snow, a lot of rain, or extreme heat that can damage the course or anything that might otherwise interfere with fair play, a committee can bring in a Local Rule for preferred lies.

We all know what they are, that they generally apply to parts of the general area cut to “fairway height or less”, and that they’re more colloquially referred to as “winter rules”.

Rule 6.3b (1) says that “certain Rules allow a player to change the ball he or she is using to play a hole by substituting another ball as the ball in play”, such as when taking relief under a Rule.

And Model Local Rule E-3, which deals with preferred lies in the Committee Procedures outlined in the Official Guide to the Rules of Golf, does this. It says a player may take free relief “once by placing the original ball or another ball in and playing it from this relief area”.

It outlines the reference point as the spot of the original ball and then asks committees to specify the size of that relief area – it’s usually six inches but other examples, such as a scorecard width or one-club length, can be given. There are also the usual limits on the location of the relief area that you’d see in other relief opportunities – no nearer the hole, for a start.

So, substitute the ball if you wish and choose a spot to place it in that relief area under the procedures that are outlined in Rules 14.2b(2) and 14.2e.

But, as always, just make sure to have a look at your club’s notice board and make sure what they’re doing.

Don’t confuse Model Local Rule E-3, for example, with the similar looking E-2, which is about cleaning a ball rather than preferred lies but may also be seen at this time of year. It requires players to replace the ball on its original spot. When doing that, Rule 14.2a says that, unless it falls into one of four exceptions, the original ball needs to be used.

Have a question for our Rules of Golf expert?

Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf at the beginning of 2019, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s level 2 rules exam with distinction, I am more than happy to help.

If you’ve sent me an email and are yet to hear back from me, I will try to answer your query. I’m still inundated with requests and trying to get through them.

Just to reiterate, I continue to receive emails from players hoping I can intervene in a club rules dispute. For fairly obvious reasons, I can’t do that and would direct those players either to their county or to the rules department at the R&A for a definitive judgement.

Click here for the full Rules of Golf explained archive and details of how to submit a question to our expert.

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