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golf ball lost in leaves

My ball’s buried in a pile of leaves – what happens now?

Autumn has swallowed up your ball and there isn’t a simple way to find it. What do the Rules of Golf say? Our expert wades in

 

What an autumnal scene! Yes, that’s me. Knee deep in a bunker with my golf ball somewhere in those leaves.

I wasn’t putting a card in, so I could have a laugh about it. Even if I eventually abandoned my ball to the elements.

But if this was a competition, or my round was counting for handicap, what would I do? Is any relief available, or am I sucking it up? Would I even have to go back to the tee if I couldn’t locate it? Let’s – both literally and metaphorically in this case – get stuck in…

golf ball lost in leaves

Golf ball lost in leaves: Accumulations of loose impediments

Leaves are loose impediments. Rule 15.1a says you can remove a loose impediment anywhere on the course and can do so in any way – using a hand, foot, club or other equipment (a leaf blower would come in very handy here).

So don’t be afraid to start shifting big piles about – or getting other people involved to give you a hand. Because you’re searching for a ball, you can also use Rule 7.1a and 7.4 to your advantage.

That means you can take “reasonable actions” to find your ball and, if that’s part of a fair search, there is no penalty if you improve the conditions affecting the stroke.

If you – or anyone else – accidentally move the ball when trying to either find, or identify it, there is no penalty. Just make sure to put it back where it was, or estimate if you don’t know exactly.

You are still subject to search times. Once the clock runs out on those three minutes, if you haven’t found it the ball is lost. Stroke-and-distance is all that’s left for you.

If that doesn’t sound fair, and let’s be honest it is not, there are things clubs can do to prevent inflicting this kind of misery upon you.

A Model Local Rule – F-14 for those you who wish to look it up – allows committees to treat piles of loose impediments in the general area, or in a bunker, as ground under repair and you can take relief under Rule 16.1.

It needs to specify the particular areas of the course where that rule applies, otherwise there would never be a lost ball where leaves are dropped!

But once the area with the accumulation of loose impediments is classed as GUR, I don’t even need to find the ball buried within it.

Rule 16.1e says if it’s known or virtually certain the ball came to rest in or on an abnormal course condition you can take free relief.  

You use the estimated point where the ball last crossed the edge of that condition to find the nearest point of complete relief. That area must be in the bunker. If it’s full? Well, then it’s the point of maximum available relief.

So you’d be dropping in the area least affected by leaves but still in the bunker.

Could you pick up and move leaves from your relief area before dropping the ball? Good question. An exception to Rule 15.1a says that before replacing a ball a player must not remove a loose impediment that “if moved when the ball was at rest” would have been likely to cause the ball to move.

But, and this is significant in our context. a clarification to that rule also says “when a ball is to be dropped or placed, the ball is not being put back in a specific spot and therefore removing loose impediments before dropping or placing a ball is allowed”.

If you don’t think there is any place in the bunker where you could take relief, you can still take penalty relief outside of the bunker.

It’ll cost you a shot unless the committee has declared the bunker itself, rather than just the accumulation of loose impediments, to be GUR. If that happens, the bunker is considered part of the general area and no longer a bunker.

Now have your say

What do you think of this golf ball lost in leaves rule? Have you encountered these Rules of Golf before? Let me know by leaving me a comment on X.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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