When to Leave the Leaves | Oregon Golf Association

When to Leave the Leaves

OGA Senior Rules Officials: Pete Scholz and Terry McEvilly

As autumn slowly threatens the perfect golf weather Oregon has enjoyed, it is only fitting to focus on leaves and how they make the game interesting at times.  It is true that leaves are loose impediments and, in most instances, may be removed.  However, there are also situations when a club may not even touch a leaf.  Test your knowledge by taking this month’s True/False quiz on the most prominent loose impediment.


  1. The player makes a stroke from the putting green and while the ball is in motion a leaf falls onto the ball and deflects it.  The ball must be played as it lies.
  2. As a player makes her back swing for a stroke in a bunker her club touches leaves that had accumulated in the bunker.  There is no penalty provided she completes her stroke.
  3. The player may remove leaves from an area in which he intends to drop his ball.
  4. A player’s ball lies on the putting green and she lifts a leaf near her ball causing the ball to move.  There is a one stroke penalty in both match and stroke play for causing her ball to move.
  5. A player is searching for his ball in a water hazard by moving leaves with his hands.  There is a penalty for touching and moving loose impediments in a hazard when his ball lies in the same hazard.
  6. A player may touch the line of putt while brushing aside small leaves with his hand or a club.
  7. A player is unable to find his ball which is believed to be covered by leaves in a hazard.  He moves the leaves to find his ball and when replacing the leaves he must completely cover the ball as before.
  8. A player’s ball is believed to be covered by leaves in a bunker and she probes for it with a club which touches the ground in the hazard.  She incurs a loss of hole penalty in match play or two strokes in stroke play for touching the ground in a hazard.
  9. Through the green a small leaf adhering to the ball may be removed.
  10. A player is searching for her ball in a large area of fallen leaves and as she swipes leaves off of a cart path running through the area she accidently moves her ball in play, which had been covered by leaves on the path.  She incurs a one stroke penalty and must replace the ball or proceed directly under Rule 24 for relief from the cart path.


  1. False.  Rule 19-1b covers situations when a ball in motion after a stroke from the putting green is stopped or deflected by a moving outside agency.  The stroke must be cancelled and replayed.  In this situation, the leaf falls (pun intended) into two definitions; a loose impediment and moving outside agency.
  2. False.  Under Rule 13-4, when a ball lies in a hazard the player is not allowed to touch or move a leaf or any loose impediment in the hazard prior to making a stroke.  The stroke is defined as the forward motion of the club made with the intention of moving the ball.  Therefore, touching the leaf on her back swing results in a loss of hole penalty in match play or a two stroke penalty in stroke play. 
  3. True.  While Rule 13-2 prohibits a player from improving the area of a drop by eliminating irregularities of surface, loose impediments are not considered part of the surface of the ground.  Rather, they are considered to have become detached from the course and may be removed prior to dropping a ball.   See Decision 23-1/6.
  4. False.  Rule 23-1 absolves the player of penalty for moving her ball in play on the putting green when removing a loose impediment (leaf) provided the movement of the ball is directly attributable to the removal of the leaf.  This applies only when the ball lies on the putting green.
  5. False.  When a ball is believed to be covered by leaves in a hazard, Rule 12-1b allows the player to move the leaves in order to find or identify his ball.  It is important to note that if the player finds his ball, the leaves must be replaced unless the player takes relief outside the hazard under Rule 26 (Water Hazards).
  6. True.  By Decisions 23-1a/9 and 23-1a/10 the player is allowed to touch his line of putt when removing leaves or other loose impediments.  However, both decisions contain a caution to the player.  His actions must not be with the intention of testing the putting surface and the line of putt must not be improved.
  7. False.  This is one instance in the Rules where the golfer is allotted a small amount of liberty.  By Rule 12-1, a player is not necessarily entitled to see their ball when making a stroke but a sub-section of the same rule gives the player permission to leave a small part of the ball visible if it was entirely covered by leaves in a hazard.
  8. False.  This action is permitted under Rule 12-1 which overrides the prohibitions of Rule 13-4 which prescribes a penalty for touching the ground in a hazard with a club prior to the player’s stroke.
  9. False.  By definition, a fallen leaf is a loose impediment provided it is not adhering to the ball.  To remove the leaf constitutes cleaning the ball and the player incurs a one stroke penalty under Rule 21. 
  10. False.  While caution should always be used when removing leaves, Rule 12-1d allows the player to search for her ball on the obstruction (cart path) without the fear of penalty.  If the ball is accidentally moved, as in this case, there is no penalty.  If the ball had not been on the obstruction, she would incur a one stroke penalty for moving her ball and must replace the ball.

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