Rules you can use: An important rule you MUST know when playing fall golf in the leaves
There’s nothing grander than fall golf — but there’s also nothing worse than losing a great drive in those beautiful, lousy leaves. But it’s important to be prepared before your round even starts so there’s no need to fret if your ball disappears.
As most of you surely know, if you lose your ball in that Insta-worthy fall foliage, we’ve got bad news: you’ll have to play it like a lost ball — although there are exceptions. When courses see significant accumulations of loose impediments — i.e. leaves, acorns, etc. — and it’s difficult for the grounds crew to keep up, a local rule can be used to play lost balls as ground under repair instead of stroke and distance. That means it’s a free relief drop with one club length, no closer to the hole. Better yet, you keep your cool since you don’t have to take penalty strokes for a shot that wasn’t even that bad.
Make sure to find out if this local rule — Model Local Rule F-14 — is in place before you start, otherwise your options aren’t as favorable. Your first would be to go back to where you hit your last shot, adding a two-shot lost ball penalty. Alternatively, if you’re playing under the new stroke-and-distance local rule from the tee, you’ll need to identify where the ball was likely lost, go to the nearest part of the fairway and drop between those two points (with two club lengths on either side), no closer to the hole and take two penalty strokes.
But even if this local rule isn’t in place, you do have another option your situation could fall under that’s covered in Rule 16.1e, Relief for Ball Not Found but in or on Abnormal Course Condition. An Abnormal Course Condition is defined as either an animal hole, ground under repair, immovable obstruction or temporary water. So if your crushed drive happens to just miss the fairway and trickle into that pile of leaves — something the grounds crew would have raked for pending removal, for example — and if it is “known or virtually certain” your ball is somewhere in there even though you can’t find it (don’t cheat!), you can play it as ground under repair, not stroke and distance.
But remember, these leaves are also now considered loose impediments, so once you’ve found that ball, be careful moving those leaves around.
Good luck, and keep the ball in the fairway. There are fewer leaves there.