Clearing Up Some Myths About Preferred Lies April 18, 2019 By USGA Handicap Department

"Preferred lies", "Lift, clean and place", "Playing the ball up". Whatever you call it, your scores can be posted. (USGA/Chris Keane)

We have all been in a situation similar to this: it’s springtime, active handicap season is finally here, and we are anxious to play. Unfortunately, Mother Nature has a different idea. Leftover puddles from yesterday’s rainstorm are scattered throughout the golf course and saturated fairways lead to golf balls plugging and retaining mud.

These unwelcome conditions may cause the handicap committee to implement a Local Rule allowing preferred lies (also known as “winter rules”). Can these scores still be posted? Many golfers believe that scores cannot be posted to their scoring record under these circumstances, especially when a player takes the liberty of implementing preferred lies without the Committee’s consent. Let’s clear up some myths about posting with preferred lies.  

The simple answer is yes, the score is to be posted, as long as it is made during the active (posting) season. An individual can choose to apply preferred lies, without consultation, and still have an acceptable score for posting purposes. The player should try to consult with the club’s handicap committee for guidance; however, sometimes that’s not feasible and the player may have to make the call.

There are also some circumstances where score posting is suspended. If conditions such as flooding, mud, heavy snow, etc., are widespread throughout the course, the Committee should consider suspending score posting. The handicap committee is responsible for observing course conditions on a daily basis and in the event that posting is temporarily suspended, it is that committee’s duty to inform players not to post.

There are drawbacks to adopting preferred lies: First and foremost, implementing this Local Rule conflicts with the fundamental principle of playing the ball as it lies. It also generally tends to lower scores and a player’s Handicap Index®. Although a player and handicap committee may not see an issue with this, it can be penalizing in a competition when the player cannot play preferred lies.

The truth is that scores made using preferred lies are acceptable for handicap posting purposes, but players and handicap committees alike should be judicious in implementing them. Consulting the club’s handicap committee for guidance and exercising good judgment when applying the Local Rule independently is the best course of action to ensure the accuracy of a Handicap Index.

Please see Section 7 of “The USGA Handicap System” for more information on preferred lies. 

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