Has your ball been buried under a swept up stock of leaves? Our Rules of Golf expert Steve Carroll reveals what your options are

Harvesting season is upon us at many of our clubs. That ankle-deep rough that’s been disguising your ball over the summer has met its match – the greenkeeper’s mower. The first sign that autumn is on its way and, if you play at a course with a lot of trees, watch out! So, can you get relief from a pile of leaves?

Let’s see what we can figure out if you’ve found yourself in a spot of bother, and your ball is being assaulted by grass cuttings, leaves, and other vagaries of nature…

Rules of Golf explained: Can I get relief from a pile of leaves?

This question appears in my inbox a lot and the answer is slightly more subtle than you might think. The best way to put it is: it depends.

If your ball just happens to be under some randomly spread loose grass or leaves, you wouldn’t normally be getting free relief.

But, grass cuttings, leaves, and any other material “piled for later removal”, are classed as ground under repair and are abnormal course conditions.

It’s written right in the definition of the term. And, as you know, you are allowed free relief from ground under repair under Rule 16.1.

Where it can get a little complicated is whether the materials enveloping your ball are actually intended to be moved. If they’re not, then they aren’t GUR “unless the committee has defined them as such”.

Clubs that are on the ball usually try and remove any uncertainty, by doing just that and issuing a temporary Local Rule.

It can be as straight forward as this: “Grass cuttings piled for removal are ground under repair and free relief is allowed under Rule 16.1”.

If a Local Rule isn’t in place, it’s wise to just ask your committee directly: “Are those piled-up leaves going to be removed?”

Common sense can also play a part. If piles of straw-like rough are baled up on the side of a fairway, it’s pretty clear they’re going to get shifted.

If you’ve smacked your ball miles wide into the cabbage, though, and you’ve landed in what looks like a refuge for deserted old hollow cores, then you’re probably not going to be getting away with it.

Here are a couple of other things to consider. Natural materials that are piled for removal are also loose impediments. So if those leaves aren’t going to be removed, you can still shift them – just make sure you don’t move your ball in the process.

Your committee could also decide to bring in another Local Rule, which covers accumulations of loose impediments in the general area or in a bunker.

It’s F-14 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”.

Finally, if your ball is lost in such materials that are piled for removal (I need to keep repeating that), as long as it’s known or virtually certain to be in there you can then avail yourself of Rule 16.1e, which allows relief for a ball not found but which is “in or on an abnormal course condition”.

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 3 rules exam with distinction, I’ll try to help by featuring the best in this column.

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