Stick with your original ball or switch it up? Our expert talks you through an intriguing winter rules scenario
Even after years spent with my head in the rule book, it still has the capacity to surprise me. Sometimes it can make me sit straight up at my desk.
This scenario did just that and it’s timely with us all shrouded in winter and preferred lies in full effect at most of our clubs.
So here’s a question for you: when taking preferred lies, can you change your ball? We know we must normally hole out with the same ball we played from the tee, but are there any exceptions to that?
Think about it. The endless possibilities if you could switch balls using preferred lies. Would you use a harder ball from the tee, and then swap to a ball that spins more after you’ve lifted to take preferred lies relief?
The rules surely wouldn’t allow that. Would they?
Can I change my original ball when taking relief from preferred lies?
Firstly, let’s get into what preferred lies are. You won’t find it in the 25 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.
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.
Got a question for our expert?
Despite the changes to the Rules of Golf in 2019 and 2023, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. I’ll try to help by featuring the best of your queries in this column.
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