Golf Winter Rules vs Lift Clean and Place vs Preferred Lies: What’s the Difference?

A guy hitting a golf ball in the winter

Erik Schjolberg

By Coach Erik Schjolberg – Oct 11, 2023

*Read our review guidelines.

Playing golf in the winter is a privilege. You can trust us on this one; not everyone has this opportunity. When you look out the window and see a foot of white coating your golf course, playing in slightly cold weather will feel like a dream come true.

Most golf courses put winter rules into play, a local rule that allows you to get a bit of relief when golf course conditions are less than ideal. Let’s take a look at winter golf rules, why it pays to know them and how you can see if your golf course has winter golf rules in play.

Key Takeaways

  • You do normally get relief in the winter due to worse/unfair course conditions, otherwise known as “winter rules golf”
  • Some courses play “Lift Clean and Place”, others play “Preferred Lies Golf” for their specific course’s golf winter rules
  • The main difference is that in “Lift Clean and Place” you can clean your ball, and in “Preferred Lies” you can’t.
  • Both versions allow you to improve your lie due to unfair course conditions

What Are Winter Rules in Golf?

Winter rules are not official rules in the rules of golf, but instead, a local rule that can help players struggling with difficult conditions during the off-season. Many times in the winter months, the golf course is wet, and the grass is short or dead in areas.

Trying to hit a golf shot off of these types of lies is a bit unfair. This is where winter rules come into play. Golf courses will call these preferred lies or lift clean and place, and the object is to give players a fair lie to play off of.

Winter golf rules are not always in effect, and you must confirm with your local course to make sure you can adjust and change the position of the ball. The key to ensuring you follow this local rule correctly is knowing how to play winter rules.

Difference Between Lift Clean and Place VS Preferred Lies Golf

Lift clean and place allows a golfer to pick up their golf ball, clean it and then place it back down, typically within a few inches of the ball (sometimes within one club length).

Preferred lies do not generally mean that you can clean the ball; instead, you will pick the ball up and place it down within a few inches of where it originally lay to help improve the lie.

There is a distinct difference between these two, and it’s worth understanding to ensure you follow the rules.

How To Play Golf’s Winter Rules?

There are a few steps you can follow to make sure that you are playing winter rules or lift clean and place correctly. Here are the steps that you should follow.

Step 1: Mark The Position Of The Ball

To start, it’s important to note that winter rules or preferred lies are only going to apply to shots that are in the fairway. If you hit your shot into the rough or the sand trap and attempt to lift clean and place, you won’t be following the USGA rules or the local rule. 

This is for golf shots in the fairway and on the approach to the green. The first step is to make where the player’s ball lies; using a tee is perfectly acceptable.

Step 2: Lift and Clean The Ball

In the winter, golf balls often get caked in mud and debris. You can pick the ball up, clean it with a towel, and then prepare to place it back down on the turf. It is important to double check with the course you play; there are times when winter rules will allow for lifting and placing but no cleaning of the golf ball. This is called preferred lies.

Showing the lift clean and replace winter golf rule

Sometimes you see this in a tournament situation as the conditions warrant. The idea is to promote fair playing conditions, not make the golf course easier. If a player fails to follow the rule and subsequently moves or cleans a ball when they shouldn’t have, they will be subject to a one-stroke penalty.

Step 3: Place The Ball

Most of the time, placing the ball within one club length of where the ball originally lays is considered acceptable. However, some of golf’s governing bodies try to keep it within one scorecard length or six inches. Again, your local rules will define this for you.

Serious golfers can tell you that in winter weather, embedded balls can be quite common. There could be a temporary local rule called the Embedded Ball Rule that is in effect instead of or in addition to the winter rules. This would allow for free relief from an embedded ball through the green, not just in the fairway.

How Do I Know The Golf Winter Rules At My Course?

Golf committees will determine if the winter rules are in play. The superintendent and golf professional will often meet with each other to discuss the conditions and whether or not it is fair to players. Fair and pleasant play is important for any type of course, and it’s the ultimate goal. Adverse conditions that make it unfair to play golf will not help fair play.

A golfer on the green during a winter snow


Here are a few of the most commonly asked questions about winter rules. A fundamental principle in the game of golf is to play the ball as it lies, but when the winter months hit and the player’s ball lies in a bad position, the winter rules can help.

Do winter golf rules apply on the putting green?

Winter golf rules almost automatically apply on the putting green as you can always lift clean and place your golf ball on the green. If you happen to hit your shot into a pitch mark, you can also fix that pitch mark before you place your ball back down.

Two golfers putting using the winter golf rules

Can you lift clean and place it in the rough?

The local golf rule that allows players to lift, clean, and place does not apply in the rough. Most golf clubs will say that winter rules are in effect in the closely mown area around the green as well as the fairway. If the ball fails to come to rest in these areas, you will have to play it as it lies.

When can you pick up your ball on the fairway?

Golfers should only pick their golf ball up on the fairway if the preferred lies or lift clean and place rule is in effect. In addition, occasional local abnormal conditions allow for this, but those are almost always marked as ground under repair.

Can you have a qualifying competition with preferred lies golf?

Golf tournament committees will address the conditions of a golf course the day before or even the morning of an event. Many times the local rules will allow for lift, lean, and place if the player’s ball lies in the fairway.

Final Thoughts

Now that you have a better understanding of winter golf rules, you should feel more confident with one of golf’s most misunderstood concepts.

A guy golfing in the winter snow

Sometimes golfers interpret lift clean and place and preferred lies as the same thing, but you must check with the course you are playing to see what they expect and how it will apply to your game.

In the end, winter rules can save you from some really terrible golf shots; it’s amazing what six inches and placement of the ball can do for you!

In addition to knowing the rules, it helps to have the right winter golf attire

About the Author

Erik Schjolberg

By Coach Erik Schjolberg – Last Updated Oct 11, 2023



Coach Erik actively coaches several PGA Tour Professionals. He’s the head golf instructor and writer here at Swing Yard, was voted the “#1 Golf Coach in Scottsdale, Arizona”, and has been coaching for over 20+ years. Erik also owns and operates his own online golf school, EJS Golf Academy. His other credentials include: Active PGA Coaches Membership, Titleist TPI Level 1 and 2, Trackman Certified Level 1, Dr. Kwon’s Biomechanics Level I and II, Scott Cowx Certified Level I Advanced, BodiTrack and V1 Sports Pressure Mat Certified, Titleist Club Fitting and Ball Fitting Certified, PGA Hope, and Sportsbox AI. Check out Erik’s full bio and certifications for more info.

Leave a Comment