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Is there really a “Leaf Rule” when playing golf in the Fall?

Playing golf in the leavesIf you read The Forecaddie last week and live in a part of the country where the seasons change, no doubt you’ve heard that fall golf is the best time to play.  The demand on the courses ease up since many golfers don’t play after Labor Day, so it’s easier to get a tee time and pace of play is usually faster.  You may wear a light pull-over and have an opportunity to walk the course.  With the temperatures and leaves falling, it does pose a problem with playing fall golf, since a golf ball can easily get lost in a pile of leaves on the course. 

Many golfers in the fall invoke “The Leaf Rule” even though there is no such approved rule in the Rules of Golf.  In the interest of pace of play, some courses will institute a local rule in the fall allowing the natural accumulation of leaves to be treated as ground under repair.  If you or your partners are positive your ball is lost under the leaves, you may find the nearest point of relief from the spot where the ball last crossed the outermost limit of the leaves and take a drop, without penalty, within one club-length of that point, no closer to the hole (Rule 25-1, Decision 33-8/31).

If you are playing a course that hasn’t allowed such a local rule, those pesky leaves are loose impediments and may be removed without penalty.  Be extremely careful when looking for your ball so that it doesn’t move while you are searching in the leaves.  Under this rule, you can't move your ball when removing leaves or it's a one-stroke penalty and the ball must be replaced.  If you find your ball in leaves piled for removal, you can drop it, without penalty, within one club-length of the nearest point of relief, no closer to the hole (Rule 25-1b).

In a bunker, remove as many leaves as needed to see part of the ball.  Do not touch the leaves with your club while making a backswing or you will incur a two-shot penalty in stroke play (Rule 13-4c) or lose the hole in Match Play.

Golf purists feel the “Leaf Rule” is a cop-out to allow golfers to “cheat” with a free drop for hitting a not-so-good shot (that landed in the leaf pile.)  They feel the local rule should only be in effect on holes with piles of leaves – stating that most golfers don’t request the “leaf rule” when their ball is in the fairway or on the green.

Take advantage of the fall weather and get out and play!