Handicap Hub: Preferred Lies & Posting Scores – Or, There’s No Free Lunch
By Kelly Neely, Sr. Director of Handicapping
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Though no one wants to be the first to say it, it seems that the rainy season has begun. When course conditions deteriorate, what’s a golfer to do? Here in the Northwest, you simply don the proper gear and show up for your tee time anyway. But questions always come up regarding Preferred Lies, what to do about plugging balls and mud, or whether or not scores should be posted. This is a great time to remember that it’s always important to start with the fundamentals – “Play the ball as it lies, play the course as you find it, and if you can’t do either: do what’s fair.”
Q: When golf course conditions decline, can I still play under the Rules of Golf and get relief?
A: Yes! But only if you know how to proceed under your Committee’s established Local Rule for the specific situation. For example, Preferred Lies (Winter Rules or “lift, clean & place”) is different than Cleaning Ball (“mark, lift, clean and replace”). The OGA publishes a document listing helpful options, called Playing Golf Under the Rules in Unpleasant Course Conditions, which we encourage all Committees to adopt. This provides consistency club to club and golfer to golfer.
Q: The sign in my Pro Shop says “Winter Rules Today.” Is this a Local Rule?
A: No. A sign such as this doesn’t give the player enough information, and can be widely misunderstood. The Committee needs to publish a specific Local Rule with clear language in order to allow the player to proceed to play their round. Any restrictions (specifically affected areas of the course) must be detailed. A Local Rule for Preferred Lies should only be posted when conditions merit and removed as soon as it is no longer needed. Remember that the calendar doesn’t tell you when to enact Preferred Lies, but the course conditions might, so a Local Rule needs to be at the ready.
Q: If my Committee hasn’t published a Local Rule, and I decide on my own to play Preferred Lies, do I still post my score?
A: Yes! During the OGA active season, which is March 1 – November 30, it’s always important to get the score posted. Even if you decide independently to play some form of preferred lies, the score must be posted for handicap purposes during this time frame.
Q: Adopting the recommended Preferred Lies policy sounds pretty straightforward, and isn’t against the Rules. So what’s the catch?
A: You know the old adage “there’s no free lunch”? Well, that applies here. Preferred Lies isn’t a standard way to play the game, and conflicts with the fundamental principle of playing the ball as it lies. While it might be nice at the moment to improve your lie, know that this practice tends to lower scores and thus Handicap Indexes. Although a player and a Handicap Committee might not see an issue with this, it can be penalizing in a competition when the player cannot play Preferred Lies. It can also become habit forming (and not in a good way!).
Q: Course conditions are really bad and might be for quite a while. Shouldn’t we just stop posting?
A: If adverse conditions such as flooding, mud, heavy snow and the like are widespread throughout the course, the Handicap Committee should consider temporarily suspending score posting until conditions improve. This would be a rare occurrence. A rule of thumb might be: can maintenance standards still be met during current conditions or not? If the Committee decides that an interruption to score posting is in the best interest of fair play, allowing time for the course to recover, a notice should be posted to inform the players.
- Click here for USGA Handicap System Section 7 – Preferred Lies (Winter Rules) & Adverse Course Conditions
Questions regarding the Rules of Golf or the USGA Handicap System? Contact the OGA!