The grass has been cut, the clippings are piled high, and your ball is in the middle of them. What now? Our rules expert takes up the mantle

I love the smell of freshly cut grass in the morning, don’t you? What I like less, though, is when a pile of clippings envelops my ball. Firstly, finding it is enough of a challenge but, secondly, what happens when you finally locate your precious Titleist among all those discarded blades?

Many of you might have a vague idea of being able to take relief and, in that spirit, I received the following question from Gary Martin…

“A ball lands on top of loose impediments piled in the general area. It’s clear to see the greenkeepers have been tidying the area and piled them for later removal. This area isn’t marked as GUR.

“My understanding is that, in these circumstances, it would be GUR by default and you can take free relief, one club length from the nearest point of relief?

“If you could advise me, it would be a great help.”

Rules of Golf explained: Our expert says…

Right, there’s a bit to go at here and there’s a little Local Rule twist at the end so let’s get into it.

The definition of ground under repair includes ‘grass cuttings, leaves and any other material piled for later removal’. That’s the case even if the committee has not defined them as such.

You can opt to take relief under Rule 16.1b because ground under repair is classed as an abnormal course condition.

You find the nearest point of complete relief and drop in a relief area. That area is one club length from the reference point, not nearer the hole then that point and, in this case, must be in the general area.

Remember you’ve got to take complete relief from all interference by the ground under repair.

You’re going to ask me about lost balls now, aren’t you? It’s not quite a needle in a haystack but, sometimes, you’re going to get almost shoulder deep in there and not come out with your Pro V1.

Regular readers will yawn now, as we return once more to ‘known or virtually certain’. If you can’t find your ball, but it is known or virtually certain it came to rest in or on an abnormal course condition on the course, you can take relief under Rule 16.1e.

You use the estimated point where the ball last crossed the ground under repair as the spot of the ball to find the nearest point of complete relief.

Don’t hurry off, there’s more. Let’s go back to the definition of ground under repair.

Natural materials that are piled for removal are also loose impediments, and the rules further say that ‘any materials left on the course that are not intended to be removed are not ground under repair unless the committee has defined them as such’.

So what if it’s the autumn, for example, and your ball is buried in a pile of conkers, or you’re struggling in a sea of leaves that aren’t piled up for removal?

Your committee can decide to bring in a Local Rule, which covers accumulations of loose impediments.

It’s F-14, for anyone who wants to look it up, and it also allows you to treat them as ground under repair.

But the rule should be limited in use to the hole, or holes, where there are issues. And committees should withdraw it “as soon as conditions allow”.

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.

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

Subscribe to NCG