If you've ever played golf in the fall in certain parts of the world, you've no doubt experienced playing a golf course where leaves have fallen all over the place. They cover the ground and make it much more difficult to find a golf ball -- particularly in the rough.
Sometimes, a golfer hits a shot, and they have a really good idea of where the ball landed. But they just cannot seem to find the golf ball amidst a collection or a pile of leaves. Does that mean they have to take a penalty under the Rules of Golf?
It turns out, the Rules of Golf are here to help.
Is there a real rule for golf balls lost in leaves?
The leaf rule is a real thing in golf. How you probably understood the leaf rule -- getting a free drop if you can't find the ball among any leaves -- is not true. Leaves are considered loose impediments and can be moved, but there's not a blanket rule to get relief from them.
The real "leaf rule" is not exactly called that by the governing bodies of the game -- the people who write the rules for the sport. However, a collection of leaves, including a pile of them, is considered an "abnormal course condition."
If a golfer hits a shot, and it cannot be found, but it is practically known or nearly certain that the ball wound up in a pile or grouping of leaves, then you can take a free drop and relief under Rule 16.1 of the Rules of Golf. The golfer has to identiy the estimated point where the ball last crossed the edge of the abnormal course condition on the course as the reference point. Then they take complete relief from the leaf pile so that it doesn't interfere with the golfer's lie, stance or intended swing path and drop a full clublength from that spot.
Can golfers get a free drop if they can't find their ball among leaves?
There's a difference in the Rules of Golf between leaves scattered on the golf course and a pile or grouping of them. If fallen leaves are just sitting naturally, not in a pile or grouping, on the golf course, and a golfer can't find a ball amid them, that's not an opportunity to use this rule. Of course, lots of golfers will and take a free drop anyway, but they're not supposed to do that.