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Rules you can use: The 9 rules every golfer needs to know for dealing with leaves on the course

October 31, 2019

Fall foliage is half gorgeous and half a pain in the neck, at least for golfers trying to avoid bogeys. But know the rules and don’t make a stupid mistake when the leaves start to drop on the fairways… and in the rough…and on the greens, and you’ll be just fine. Until you add a leaf blower to your golf bag, here’s what you need to know.

1. Leaves are loose impediments. You can move them!

2. Even when you are in the bunker, you can move the leaves around you — see loose impediments — but be careful when doing so. Your hand could touch the sand while doing this. “Reasonable touching or movement” is permitted, but any deliberate touch of the sand with your hand where it could be deemed as testing the condition of the sand is a penalty.

3. Speaking of testing the sand with your hand, you also can’t do that with a club, rake or other object. So don’t get lazy when you are clearing leaves away from your ball.

4. If a ball was removed and has to be replaced (except for on the putting green) due to a match-play agreement or from play being suspended due to weather or another reason (Rule 5.7a), a player must not deliberately remove a loose impediment that, if moved when the ball was at rest, could have likely caused the ball to move. Yep, that’s another penalty.

5. If it is virtually certain your ball came to rest in a pile of leaves, one that was perhaps raked by the grounds crew for removal, and you can’t find it, it can be played as ground under repair and free relief can be rewarded. This is thanks to Rule 16.1e, Relief for Ball Not Found but in or on Abnormal Course Condition.

6. But don’t forget about this important local rule, Model Local Rule F-14. We’ve touched on this one before, but here it is one more time — if loose impediments (in this case leaves) are accumulating on a course at a furious pace and it’s difficult for the maintenance crew to keep up, then a club could exercise this local rule. It says you can play these lost balls as ground under repair instead of stroke and distance. That entitles you to a free drop. Congrats!

7. If you move a leaf near your golf ball and it causes the ball to move anywhere except the tee box or green, it’s a one-stroke penalty under Rule 9.4b. Although there’s no penalty if…

8. …you happen to move your ball while searching for it. As long as you find the ball under the new three-minute time limit, you can move it back to its original location with no penalty.

9. Leaves in your line on the putting green? No biggie. Move ’em out of there!

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