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USGA Rules Team Helps You Navigate Your Fall Round

By Danny Vohden

| Oct 18, 2022 | Liberty Corner, N.J.

Leaves in the fairway? Aerated greens? Navigate some of the most common Rules situations you might encounter during a Fall round. (Fred Vuich/USGA)

I hit my ball into a pile of leaves, now what?

This involves what the Rules of Golf calls “loose impediments.” In other words, any unattached, natural objects that can be easily removed – things like stones, loose grass and yes, leaves.

Since 2019, golfers are allowed to move those loose impediments anywhere on the golf course, including in a bunker or penalty area. If your ball moves while removing the loose impediment, it’s a one-stroke penalty and you must put the ball back… except if you’re on the putting green. In that case, just put the ball back where it was and play on without penalty.

So feel free to move those leaves out of your way before making your next stroke, but do so carefully. And keep in mind that you can remove leaves, and other loose impediments, by any means. That could mean your hands, a towel, your hat – whatever you’ve got in your bag. Just don’t move the ball!

But wait, isn’t there a “leaf Rule” that gives me free relief?

The short answer is, it depends. The golf course or the Committee running a tournament has the authority to enact Model Local Rule F-14, which allows areas with temporary accumulations of loose impediments (like a pile of leaves) to be treated as ground under repair. This means that you can take free relief from this area, including for a ball that you know is in the pile, even if you can’t find it.

My course is aerating the fairways and greens; what happens if my ball lands in one of the holes?

Aeration holes are not considered ground under repair, so relief is not allowed. But like the so-called “leaf Rule” above, relief may be permitted if a Model Local Rule (E-4) is in effect.

Everyone understands that golfers don’t necessarily want to play on greens and fairways that have just been aerated, but it’s important to keep in mind that the short-term disruption is significantly outweighed by the long-term benefits. For more on that, listen to the USGA Green Section.

What about other Fall maintenance projects underway at my course?

Let’s say there’s been a tree removed or new irrigation system installed – any holes or trenches created by the maintenance staff during those types of projects are considered “ground under repair,” and you’re entitled to free relief.

How do Fall conditions impact posting scores for my Handicap Index®?

The USGA Handicapping Department has you covered there. Check out the five things you need to know about Fall golf and the World Handicap System™.

Looking for more details? Check out the Rules of Golf Explained: