The USGA Handicap System™ enables golfers of all skill levels to compete on an equitable basis. This section of the site will help golfers understand why having a Handicap Index® is important. There are links to "The USGA Handicap System" manual, the USGA's handicapping equivalent of "The Rules of Golf", and a Course Handicap™ calculator to allow players to convert their Handicap Index to the Course Handicap for any course that has been properly rated. Articles and resources are available for anyone interested in starting a golf club or for current Handicap Committee chairmen who need assistance in maintaining handicaps for their respective clubs. The current version of the USGA Handicap System went into effect on Jan. 1, 2012, and the next revision will take effect on Jan. 1, 2016. Any modifications to the System are noted on this Web site. 





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Within each section, all defined terms are in italics and are listed alphabetically in Section 2 - Definitions.

7-1. Acceptability of Scores When Playing Preferred Lies

Scores made when a Local Rule for preferred lies (winter rules) is in effect must be posted for handicap purposes unless the Committee (preferably the Handicap Committee in consultation with the Committee in charge of the course) determines that course conditions are so poor that such scores are not acceptable and should not be posted. Individual players playing the course do not independently decide whether scores are acceptable because of the conditions. If an individual decides to apply some form of this Local Rule, and the Committee has not invoked such a rule, the player's score is acceptable and must be posted for handicap purposes.

If adverse conditions such as flooding, mud, heavy snow, etc. are widespread throughout the course, the Committee should consider suspending score posting until conditions improve. If the Committee decides to suspend score posting due to poor course conditions, it should notify all players playing the course that scores should not be posted.

If the Committee decides to adopt a Local Rule for preferred lies, it should publish Specimen Local Rule 4c in "The Rules of Golf," Rule 33-8a and in Appendix I of "The Rule of Golf." However, Specimen Local Rule 4c may not be printed or referred to on a score card as it is of limited duration. The Local Rule should be withdrawn as soon as the conditions warrant.

("The Rules of Golf," Appendix I, Part B, 4c.)

Preferred Lies (Winter Rules) and Adverse Course Conditions

Occasional local abnormal conditions that might interfere with fair play and are not widespread may be defined as ground under repair ("The Rules of Golf," Rule 25).

However, adverse conditions, such as heavy snows, spring thaws, prolonged rains, or extreme heat can make fairways unsatisfactory and sometimes prevent use of heavy mowing equipment. When these conditions are so general throughout a course that the Committee believes preferred lies (winter rules) would promote fair play or help protect the course, the following Local Rule is recommended:

"A ball lying on a closely mown area through the green [or specify a more restricted area, e.g., at the 6th hole] may be lifted without penalty and cleaned. Before lifting the ball, the player must mark its position. Having lifted the ball, he must place it on a spot within [specify area, e.g., six inches, one club-length, etc.] of and not nearer the hole than where it originally lay, that is not in a hazard and not on a putting green.

A player may place his ball only once, and it is in play when it has been placed (Rule 20-4). If the ball fails to come to rest on the spot on which it was placed, Rule 20-3d applies. If the ball when placed comes to rest on the spot on which it is placed and it subsequently moves, there is no penalty, and the ball must be played as it lies, unless the provisions of any other Rule apply.

If the player fails to mark the position of the ball before lifting it or moves the ball in any other manner, such as rolling it with a club, the player incurs a penalty of one stroke.

Note: "Closely mown area" means any area of the course, including paths through the rough, cut to fairway height or less.


Match play - Loss of hole; Stroke play - Two strokes

*If a player incurs the general penalty for a breach of this Local Rule, no additional penalty under the Local Rule is applied."

For example, as noted above, in stroke play, a player who incurs a two stroke penalty for incorrectly invoking the Local Rule when it was not declared in effect will not also receive a one-stroke penalty for failing to mark the position of the ball before lifting it.

7-2. Pitfalls in Adopting Preferred Lies

Before a Committee adopts the Local Rule permitting preferred lies (winter rules), the following facts should be considered:

(a) Such a Local Rule conflicts with the fundamental principle of playing the ball as it lies;

(b) Preferred lies is sometimes adopted under the guise of protecting the course when, in fact, the practical effect is just the opposite - it permits moving the ball to the best turf, from which divots are then taken to injure the course further;

(c) Preferred lies tends generally to lower scores and a Handicap Index, thus penalizing players in competition with players whose scores are made without preferred lies;

(d) Extended use or indiscriminate use of preferred lies will place players at a disadvantage when competing at a course where the ball must be played
as it lies.

7-3. Maintaining Normal Scoring Difficulty

When the Local Rule for preferred lies is adopted, the Committee should ensure that the course's normal scoring difficulty is maintained as nearly as possible through adjustment of tee markers and related methods. (See Course Setup, Section 15.)

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