Can I change my ball when taking preferred lies relief?


Stick with your original ball or switch it up? Our expert talks you through an intriguing winter rules scenario

Sometimes my inbox pings with a rules query that makes me sit up straight at my desk. This one, from Mark Wickham, did just that…

“Does lift, clean, and place (preferred lies) qualify as free relief and enable me to change a ball on any hole following the tee shot i.e. during and not at the beginning of a hole?”

I’d never really thought about this – the prospect of switching balls during the play of hole when lifting, cleaning the rubbish that accumulates on your ball during the winter, and then placing it. So, can you? Let’s get stuck in…

Rules of Golf explained: Can I change my original ball when taking relief from preferred lies?

Firstly, let’s get into what preferred lies are. It’s not in the Rules of Golf but, when there are abnormal course conditions such as snow, a lot of rain, or extreme heat that can damage the course or anything that might otherwise interfere with fair play, a committee can bring in a Local Rule for preferred lies.

We all know what they are, that they generally apply to parts of the general area cut to “fairway height or less”, and that they’re more colloquially referred to as “winter rules”.

Now, when you are taking free relief or penalty relief, you’ll know that the original ball, or a substituted ball, must be dropped in a particular relief area.

It’s essentially the same here, but you place it instead. Model Local Rule E-3, which deals with preferred lies in the Committee Procedures outlined in the Official Guide to the Rules of Golf, says a player may take free relief “once by placing the original ball or another ball in and playing it from this relief area”.

It outlines the reference point as the spot of the original ball and then asks committees to specify the size of that relief area – it’s usually six inches but other examples, such as a scorecard or one-club length, can also be given.

So choose a spot to place the ball in that relief area and replace it under the procedures that are outlined in Rules 14.2b(2) and 14.2e.

There you have it, if you want to switch balls when using preferred lies E-3 says you can.

But, as always, just make sure to have a look at your club’s notice board and make sure what they’re doing. Don’t confuse Model Local Rule E-3, for example, with the similar looking E-2, which requires players to replace the ball on its original spot.

Have a question for our Rules of Golf expert?

Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf at the beginning of 2019, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s level 2 rules exam with distinction, I am more than happy to help.

If you’ve sent me an email and are yet to hear back from me, I will try to answer your query. I’m still inundated with requests and trying to get through them.

Just to reiterate, I continue to receive emails from players hoping I can intervene in a club rules dispute. For fairly obvious reasons, I can’t do that and would direct those players either to their county or to the rules department at the R&A for a definitive judgement.

Click here for the full Rules of Golf explained archive and details of how to submit a question to our expert.

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