Winter Rules All Season Long
By kickntrue on 7/27/10
By Matt Snyder, ClubSG Contributor

Matt is an opinionated* golf enthusiast from Pennsylvania. He coaches at the high school level, molding the minds and swings of our next generation. His column will appear each Monday on ClubSG. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts and opinions of Matt in the comments. Don't hold back- because Matt won't.

Most everyone that plays golf knows that it is not legal to touch your golf ball from the time that you tee off until after you hole out. However, there are some special circumstances that allow for "winter rules" to govern play. Under this set of regulations, players are allowed to mark their ball, clean it, and place the ball within one club length (or sometimes one grip length) from the original lie, unless that original lie is in a hazard. We refer to these regulations as "winter rules" because most of us amateurs still like to play during the colder months of the year when the grass has stopped growing and the course conditions have deteriorated. During that time, since there is little grass, there are rarely any good lies to come by naturally and playing would not be enjoyable at all if you couldn't move your ball to a feasible lie. However, during the warmers seasons, winter rules are occasionally instated because of unusually wet conditions. If the course is soaked, balls will often plug or collect large amounts of mud, which can ruin shots and create impossible lies. Thus, winter rules make the course playable when conditions would otherwise make it unplayable.

However, when you make a perfect swing and you do everything possible to ensure a good result, that's exactly what you should get.

Ok, those are the reasons and circumstances that surround winter rules. Now, I want to make an argument for why winter rules should always be a part of the game. First of all, let me specify by saying that I believe that winter rules should always be part of the game for shots that are in your fairway only. In other words, I believe that if you hit the ball off the tee and into the fairway, you should be allowed to improve your lie if necessary. Think about it. What is the best possible thing you can do when you are hitting your tee shot? If you hit the best possible shot, you hit it down the middle and long. You’ve done everything you can possibly do by stripping it with good solid contact. But, you are still not guaranteed to have a decent lie for your next shot! Is that fair? Absolutely not! Once that ball lands on the fairway, your future depends solely on luck. If your ball ends up in some sort of depression, hole, or divot, you are at a distinct disadvantage on your next shot. Is it your fault that this happened? No. In fact, you could be suffering from someone else’s ignorance. Why should that be part of our great game?

Listen; if you hit it in the rough or in a bunker or in someone else's fairway, then you reap what you sow. Bad swings should have consequences and sometimes, those consequences are worse than others. However, when you make a perfect swing and you do everything possible to ensure a good result, that's exactly what you should get. Are you allowed to fix ball marks on the green? Are you allowed to mark your ball, clean it, and replace it on the green? Why is that any different than the fairway? If you hit a good second shot and put your ball on the green, being allowed to do all of those things is your reward. However, if you hit a good first shot, you have to be lucky to be rewarded with a good lie! That is a double standard that I believe should not be part of golf at all.

Instead of screwing around with grooves, the USGA should consider this change to make the pros care a little more about hitting fairways.

If it were up to me, the same rules that apply on the green would apply in the fairway. Additionally, you would have a standard grip length from where you marked your ball (obviously no closer to the hole) to replace it. This would ensure that, after you hit a perfect shot, you weren't forced to play from a bad lie that was created by one of your competitors. The other thing that this rule change would create is even more of a premium on hitting fairways. Instead of screwing around with grooves, the USGA should consider this change to make the pros care a little more about hitting fairways.

Trust me, I’m about as close to a purist and traditionalist as you can find, but there is no room for a great round of golf to be ruined by someone else’s ignorance. And, I should also mention that it doesn’t have to be ignorance that leaves divots. Sometimes, the grass just blows up and there is no divot to replace. In those cases, even if the divot is filled with sand, the next player to end up in it is punished by an unavoidable situation. I vote for correcting the rules so that this situation can be avoided. It makes no fundamental sense for someone to be punished for hitting a great shot. So, why is it a part of the game of golf? Until the NFL starts subtracting points from a team’s score for every time they earn a first down and MLB takes runs away from a team when they get a base hit, golf shouldn’t penalize its’ players for hitting the ball in the fairway.

* Matt's views and opinions are his own do not necessarily reflect those of SkyGolf.

photo source

[ comments ]
NEdomer says:
I'm fairly new to golf and still learning the rules so I've never heard of this. What would dictate when winter rules are instated? Is it a club ruling or just a playing partner agreement such as a putt we both look at and agree is good?
paddyhibernian says:
"Trust me, I’m about as close to a purist and traditionalist as you can find, but there is no room for a great round of golf to be ruined by someone else’s ignorance".

Aye Right!

Why don't we go the whole hog and bring a tee to play from when we hit a good shot. If we feel our putt was 'dead centre' and just veered at the last second to deny me that elusive Eagle why not just take it anyway. Reload would be a good idea for the poor shots. Maybe 'Second Serve' as with our tennis friends. I agree with Winter Rules for the cold months but to have placing all year round is just silly and ridiculous. It's a game of skill and you should be able to develop strategies for dealing with all types of shot both physically and mentally. It is a typical attitude of 'Oh why me? when you get a bad break. Rubbish article!
SteelerCat says:
I completely agree with Matt. There are so many unfilled divots and unfair situations where you a penalized for doing nothing wrong. The biggest challenge today is the rules are made for PGA players - not the average golfer playing on average golf courses that doesn't have PGA money. If everyone had nearly perfect conditions and every divot filled properly every time they played a round, then it makes perfect sense to play the ball down in the fairway. Not many of us have that luxury - winter rules should = all the time.
tjh225 says:
Golf, as in life is not always fair and dealing with the adversity that a round of golf is sure to hand you is one of the joys of our game. Where do you take this next, relief from a ball slightly above your feet, "ooh, it looks flatter over there", I am in the fairway, but that tree branch won't allow me to hit the shot I want, relief. Quit whining and play it where it lies.
martin1956 says:
Opinionated he might be, but I cannot agree with this at all. Golf should be played as the ball lies. If it is in a puddle okay move it, but as for having a less than perfect lie or even mud on the ball, well that is tough.

Some of my most rewarding shots have been played out of someone else's divot, or with a mud ball. If you want ot play golf play golf, if you want to play this other game get a PC as it is as far from golf as some of the simulators.
nbryden says:
Although I am in favor of "winter rules" in certain situations, I am strongly opposed to a general implementation. Golf is not solely a game of skill, it's also about managing adversity and creating shots to handle situations (a skill in it's own right). We play this great game in a natural environment which has numerous variances and that is how it should be - dealing with those variances, i.e., the "rub of the green" is an integral part of the game.

That said, I play on several municipal courses where the probability of playing from a fairway divot "the size of Rhode Island" is near 50%. In such circumstances, I have seen local rules permitting a form of "winter rules". "Poor conditions" are already covered within the existing Rules of Golf, but there is a vast difference between "poor conditions" and a less than perfect lie.
el_pato_real says:
My problem with relaxing on the rules is more of a course maintenance issue. Why do I fix my pitch mark plus one other when I'm on the green? Out of courtesy to the groundskeepers and other golfers. Why do I replace my divots? Same reason. If we know that people can move out of divots, I can see a lot more people shrugging their shoulders and getting back in their carts when they take a big ole pancake out of the middle of the fairway, figuring that nobody will have to hit out of his excavation site.

One of the things I love about golf is that it teaches us (or tries to) to collectively take care of the playing field. Making damage to the course something that the next groups can just play around would decrease the number of people who take care of the course.
dicampbell says:
It is scary that this guy is "molding the minds and swings of our next generation".
He is perpetuating the misconception that we shouldn't bear the consequences of our actions.
Play it as it lies is one of the basic tenets of golf. It is a big part of what makes the game great.
I agree with an earlier poster; if you always want a perfect lie play a simulator, or mini-golf.
drive4sho says:
@Buffalo, interesting perspective on the topic. I wonder if that would have an impact. I think most people that replace divots and fix ball marks do it because it's the right thing to do, but it would be something to watch. Your actual logic in your stance is refreshing!

This may come as a shock to some, but NOBODY plays it as it lies. Do you mark your ball on the green? Do you take relief from a cart path, mulched area, yardage marker, fence, etc? If you answer any of those questions with a "yes", then you don't "play it as it lies"! Why is it ok to move your ball when it's on the cart path but not in the fairway? Is it impossible to hit off the cartpath? I don't think so. "I might hurt my wrist or damage my club!" Well, looks like you have some adversity to learn to overcome. Maybe you will have to just chip it off the path or take an unplayable lie penalty. After all, we're playing it as it lies!
drive4sho says:
The contradiction here is the issue. Why is it ok to move the ball sometimes, but not when you are in the middle of the fairway? It seems to me like you should have the advantage in the fairway and not in the rough, where all the other oppurtunities for relief are found.
richardo37 says:
Stewart Payne was an advocate for improving lies out of a divot. He disliked hitting balls out of sand filled divots on the fairway. As a local rule at the club named after him in Branson, MO it is allowed to improve your lie out of them.
Annabelle11 says:
You've done all that you can do by stripping it with great strong contact. Be that as it may, you are still not ensured to have an average lie for your next shot! Is that reasonable? In no way, shape or form! Once that ball arrives on the fairway. However, I actually try to get mhr writer reviews but yes a good piece of content have this site.
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