Rules school: The unfortunate truth (for you) about the ‘Leaf Rule’

If you’ve ever played golf in the fall, you’ve likely heard of the “leaf rule.” The rule essentially says that if a ball cannot be found in an area heavily populated with fallen leaves, then you get free relief. It’s a rule that’s cited quite frequently in the fall (especially in northern states) and has likely saved many of you strokes from time to time.

But did you know that the leaf rule isn’t really a rule at all? In fact, it’s totally made up.

Although your friends might be OK with you taking a drop with no penalty, the Rules of Golf are not so lenient. According to Rule 18.2, “your ball is lost if not found in three minutes after you or your caddie begin to search for it” — no exceptions. When your ball is declared lost, you must replay your ball from the previous spot with a stroke-and-distance penalty.

However, some piles of leaves may be declared ground under repair via a local rule. If this is the case, then you are allowed to take free relief. It all depends on how the course marks leaf piles during the fall.

So next time someone tries to invoke the “leaf rule,” remind them that it isn’t a rule at all.


Zephyr Melton Editor

Zephyr Melton is an assistant editor for where he spends his days blogging, producing and editing. Prior to joining the team at, he attended the University of Texas followed by stops with Team USA, the Green Bay Packers and the PGA Tour. He assists on all things instruction and covers amateur and women’s golf.