Golf winter rules: a guide


The slow fade of summer brings up lots of questions for budding golfers. Is golf a winter sport? Are golf courses open in the winter? While golf is typically associated with warm, sunny weather, that’s not always possible - especially in the UK. Playing golf in winter can be a unique experience due to the colder weather and potential challenges that come with it - but with the right know-how and quality equipment, it’s still possible to have a great game. 

Here, we discuss golf winter rules, what to consider as the weather gets colder, and give tips to improve the game in winter conditions.

What are golf winter rules?

As temperatures drop and the ground becomes wetter, many golf clubs opt to implement winter rules, also known as ‘preferred lies’ or ‘lift, clean, and place’ rules. The likelihood of balls landing in muddy lies or accumulating mud as they roll increases, so winter rules permit players to take their next shot from a position more akin to the lies they’d typically encounter throughout the rest of the year.

In general, winter rules allow golfers to lift, clean, and place the ball within a six-inch radius of its original position. However, this distance is not universally fixed and may vary - for example,certain courses may allow the equivalent to one club-length. These allowances typically apply only to areas that are closely mown.

When do winter rules start in golf?

Most golf courses will do their best to stay open in winter, and will implement ‘winter rules’ to compensate for the effect the season may have on play, and to protect the course from excessive damage caused by divots and foot traffic on soft or wet turf. Winter rules may not have a specific start date but are usually applied when course conditions are wet, muddy, or otherwise unfavourable due to rain, frost, or other factors.

It's important to note that the decision to implement winter rules is usually at the discretion of the golf course management. They’ll assess the condition of the course and determine when it’s appropriate to allow preferred lies.

When do winter rules end in golf? 

The end date for winter rules in golf also varies by golf course and the region in which it’s located. Once the course management determines that the turf has sufficiently recovered and the conditions have improved, they may choose to revert to the standard rules of golf.

Winter golf considerations

While there aren't strict ‘rules’ set by golf's governing bodies specifically for winter play, there are some general guidelines and considerations to keep in mind:

  • Check course conditions: Before heading out to play, contact the golf course to inquire about their winter policies and course conditions. Some courses may have temporary greens, tee boxes, or altered layouts to protect the grass during the colder months.
  • Tee placement: Courses may move tee markers closer to the fairways to reduce yardage and make the game more manageable in colder conditions. This can help players avoid long and challenging shots.
  • Greens and putting: Winter greens may be slower and less smooth than during other seasons. Adjust your putting stroke accordingly, and be prepared for potential bumps or inconsistencies in the putting surface.
  • Cart usage: Depending on course conditions, cart usage may be limited, and players might be required to use trolley carts or carry their bags. Some courses might implement ‘cart path only’ rules to minimise damage to wet or soft fairways.
  • Course etiquette: Maintain proper golf etiquette, repairing ball marks, replacing divots, and raking bunkers. Be mindful of your pace of play, especially if the course is less crowded during winter months.
  • Safety: Be cautious of frost, ice, or slippery conditions on the course. Spiked golf shoes can help stabilise your swing, but if the weather is severe, it might be best to reschedule your round or seek indoor golfing options.
  • Hydration and nutrition: Even though it's colder, staying hydrated is still important. Drink water and bring some snacks to maintain energy levels throughout your round.

Remember, each golf course may have its own specific guidelines and rules for winter play, so it's always a good idea to contact the course directly for information before you head out to play.

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