Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Loose Impediments and Movable Obstructions (Rules 23-1 and 24-1)

It seems that many golfers are confused as to whether objects on the course are loose impediments or movable obstructions. This is an important distinction to make, as there are a number of relevant Rules where players could incur penalties if they get it wrong.

In fact, in most cases, the distinction should be easy enough. Loose Impediments are natural objects and movable obstructions are anything artificial that can be moved without unreasonable effort. Here is a sample list of some of the items that may be encountered on the golf course during a round;

Loose Impediments


Movable Obstruction (artificial)


bunker rakes


other players’ golf clubs

branches and twigs

stakes (except out of bounds)

pine cones

signage and ropes

dung and droppings

bottles and cans


score cards

worms and their casts

pens and pencils

spiders and their webs

paper, tissues

half-eaten fruit

plastic bags

fruit skins

packets and boxes

ant hills


dead birds and animals

match sticks or cigarettes

aeration plugs

abandoned balls

clods of earth

loose stones from a wall


wood manufactured into planks

crushed shells


wood chips

doors or windows

Be aware, that under the Rules sand and loose soil are loose impediments on the putting green, but not elsewhere; snow and natural ice, other than frost, are either casual water or loose impediments, at the option of the player; and dew and frost are not loose impediments.

Some loose impediments may be transformed into obstructions through processes of construction or manufacturing. For example, a log (loose impediment) that has been split and has legs attached has been changed by construction into a bench (obstruction), or a piece of wood (loose impediment) becomes an obstruction when manufactured into a charcoal briquette. Also, there may be loose impediments that when placed together make up an obstruction. An example of this would be a manufactured path (immovable obstruction) made of wood chips. If a player’s ball lies on such a path and he chooses not to take relief then he may move any of the wood chips before making his stroke, providing that he does not move his ball in doing so,

Except when both the loose impediment and the ball lie in, or touch, the same bunker or water hazard, any loose impediment may be moved. But if the player causes their ball to move while removing the loose impediment, they are penalised one stroke and the ball must be replaced, unless the ball is on the putting green when there is no penalty.

Movable obstructions can be removed anywhere on the course, including when the ball lies in a hazard, and there is no penalty if the ball moves during the removal, but again it must be replaced where it was before it was moved. If the ball lies in or on the obstruction, the ball may be lifted and the obstruction removed. The ball must then be dropped, or on the putting green placed, as near as possible to the spot directly under the place where the ball lay in or on the obstruction, not nearer the hole.

As already mentioned, if a player’s ball lies in a bunker they are not permitted to remove any loose impediment from that bunker. However, very often there will be a Local Rule that says, “Stones in bunkers are movable obstructions”, because it is considered that the stones could represent a danger to players if they are hit during a stroke. This is a good illustration of why it is so important to read the Local Rules before commencing a round on an unfamiliar course. Whilst on the subject of bunkers, if a player cannot find their ball in a bunker because it is covered by sand, leaves or other loose impediments, they are permitted to probe or rake with a club or otherwise, as many loose impediments, or as much sand, as will enable them to see a part of their ball. When making a stroke out of a bunker, or water hazard, the player may not touch any loose impediment in that hazard before making their stroke, which commences with the downswing. So, for example, if a player brushes leaves in a bunker during their practice stroke or backswing they incur a penalty of two strokes in stroke play, or loss of hole in match play.

I have only attempted to cover the more important matters in the Rules relating to loose impediments and movable obstructions in this short piece. I hope that I have been able to clarify the status of different objects for you, to assist you in making the correct decision on how to proceed with your round, if and when they come into play.

Good golfing,

Barry Rhodes


ptrdmdc said...

You mention that dew is not a loose impediment on the putting green.
A mate of mine alerted me to a situation where a player had marked a line of putt by laying a club on a dewy putting green.
I told him that I thought that this was a breach because you are not permitted to mark the surface of the putting green to indicate a line of putt.
It would also seem that by removing the dew by placement of the club that the dew is being treated as a loose impediment, which it is not.
Do you agree on both counts?

Barry Rhodes said...


Yes, I agree that if the person lay down his club in order to mark his line of putt on the dew, or to clear away some dew on his line of putt than a penalty of two strokes would apply in stroke play. Only two penalty strokes would be incurred as two different Rules were breached by a single act). However, if he had laid down his club for some other reason and this act had incidentally left a mark on the putting green, then no penalty would have been incurred.


Stuart Kemp said...

I've been playing for a number of years but have just recently taken an interest in learning a bit more about the rules.
At the Verizon Heritage in April 2010 Brian Davis lost in a playoff to Jim Furyk after calling a penalty on himself for "a violation of rule 13.4 against moving a loose impediment during a takeaway".
My confusion arises because rule 13.4 states "before making a stroke at a ball that is in a hazard". Davis was on the shore which I assume is just like being in the rough and not in a hazard.
So I would have thought the rule would not have applied.
You can read a report on the incident here: http://sports.espn.go.com/golf/news/story?id=5110442
Hope you can shed some light on this.

Barry Rhodes said...


I remember the incident well. The area was indeed designated as a lateral water hazard and the penalty was incurred for moving a loose impediment (the dead palm frond) on the backswing of the stroke from the hazard. If you watch the video of the incident at this link you can clearly see a red stake designating the hazard at 1 min 57 sec.



Barry Rhodes said...

Apologies, the link above does not work. Here it is in full;


You will have to cut and paste.


AndyP said...

I understand that snow and natural ice, other than frost, are either casual water or loose impediments, and the dew or frost is not a loose impediment, but what about the accumulation of 'stuff' that falls off a players shoes when they play in frosty & icy conditions?

Player A and B are playing on a icy frosty morning. Their balls lie on the green. Both players have their putt lines blocked by clumps of what looks like frost that looks to have fallen off the shoes of players who have played the green before them.

Player A's clump has frozen solid to the greens surface. Player B's has not.

What can each player do and under which rule.

I think it boils down to whether in the Rules/Decisions of Golf 'frost' become 'ice' by the process of compression?

I've searched but cannot find a ruling (Decision) on it, but that may just be my Googling skills.

Barry Rhodes said...

Andy P,

An accumulation of frost that gathers on a players shoe and falls off is natural ice, which is a loose impediment and may be removed.



AndyP said...

Thanks Barry.

What if the clump is not 'loose' any more and has frozen onto the surface of the green (Player A)?

Regs, Andy

Barry Rhodes said...


If the clump of ice cannot be easily lifted (unusual!), the player may treat the natural ice as casual water, as in the Definition of Loose Impediment. This means that if their ball lies on the putting green they may take line of putt relief from it.

I have to say that if frost that drops of shoes is freezing solidly onto the surface of the putting green, you should probably not be playing, as greens can be badly damaged in these conditions.


AndyP said...

Hi Barry,

I agree we should not be playing when the greens are frozen. That has happened though in the past winter month in at my club in medals though.

There are often clumps of shoe-frost within the lumpy-donut area of the pin on greens due to multiple clumps having fallen off players whom have already passed through the hole, and quite a bit of it has frozen onto the surface.

Thanks for your advice.

Anonymous said...

Hi Barry
If a players ball lies on the fringe of the putting surface and he chooses to putt the ball is he allowed to clear loose impediments (grass clippings) that lie on the fringe and within the path to the hole? Thanks, JoeB

Barry Rhodes said...

Joe B,

Yes, except when both the loose impediment and the ball lie in or touch the same hazard, any loose impediment may be removed without penalty, Rule 23-1.


Unknown said...

On a couple of occasions I have witnessed players being penalised by referees for moving loose impediments on the line of a putt when the ball has been off the green. I have been lead to understand that any loose impediment on the line of the putt and on the green can be moved but not those loose impediments off the green. Didn't Rory McIlroy suffer once? I cannot remember which tournament. If I remember correctly he was off the green near a bunker and moved sand off his line that was not on the green. He incurred a penalty.

Barry Rhodes said...


If your ball lies on the putting green or through the green you may always remove loose impediments on your line of play, Rule 23-1. I would be surprised if any referee did not know this. Your confusion arises because the Definition of Loose Impediments states that sand and soil are loose impediments on the putting green, but not elsewhere.

If you had entered "Rory McIlroy sand" in the search box at the top right corner of each of my blog pages you would have been led to a blog on this incident, dated Friday, 27 January 2012.


Unknown said...

Are clipboards used to record 'closest to the pin' score movable obstructions?...if ball in flight hits them..is relief allowed?

Barry Rhodes said...


The clipboard that you describe is a movable obstruction if if it may be moved without unreasonable effort, without unduly delaying play and without causing damage (Definition of Obstruction). There is no relief if a ball in motion hits one; this is a rub of the green.


s4mmy says said...

If a green is protected by poles and guide ropes (e.g in winter to stop players walking or taking trolleys in particular area) and

1. the line of play is obstructed byy the pole

2. swing is obstructed by rope or pole

is relief available ?

Barry Rhodes said...


1. the line of play is obstructed by the pole
There is no line of play relief, Rule 24-2.

2. swing is obstructed by rope or pole
If the ropes/poles are easily movable they should be removed (and replaced after the stroke). If not, the player may take relief from an immovable obstruction, Rule 24-2.


Unknown said...

I don't understand the para 1 above. Aren't a line and pole moveable obstructions anyway, which allows them to be removed for line of play relief?

Barry Rhodes said...


I now see the ambiguity in my previous answer. Yes, the poles and lines may be moved if they are easily movable. The point that I was trying to make was that there is no no line of play relief from these obstructions.


Unknown said...

Hi Barry

If your ball is in the bunker can u remove a loose impediment(leaf) from the green ?
Also is thr any rule against subjecting your opponent to a wrong application of penalty causing additonal pressure ?

Barry Rhodes said...


1. Yes, Part of Rule 23-1 states, "Except when both the loose impediment and the ball lie in or touch the same hazard, any loose impediment may be removed without penalty."

2. No, Rule 6-1 states that a player is responsible for knowing the Rules. They should not be put off by someone suggesting a penalty has been incurred when it has not. If this happens more than once the offending player should be reported to the Committee, who should interview the player and if necessary, issue a warning.


AndyP said...

Barry, I believe there can be a local rule making a stone(s) a movable obstruction(s) in a bunker and thus a player may take relief, without penalty, if the ball lies on the obstruction (on a stone) in a bunker. If when after lifting the ball and removing the obstruction, the player cleans then drops the ball back in the hazard and it again comes to rest on a stone again, how many times/much time can this process (lift ball; remove obstruction; clean ball; drop ball back in hazard) go on?

We have bunkers that get very washed out due to heavy rain, and they're not marked as G.U.R.

I am loathed to declare it unplayable in incur a penalty by taking an unplayable relief.

Barry Rhodes said...


A Local Rule declaring that stones in bunkers are movable obstructions is common to many courses. It enables a player to remove any stones lying close to their ball. If a ball is definitely lying on a stone then the ball may be lifted, the stone removed and the ball dropped on that spot. However, if it turns out that the ball was not lying on a stone, or the apparent stone turned out to be compacted sand, then the player incurs a penalty of one stroke for touching their ball in play, Rule 18-2. In the scenario you describe it would be advisable for a player to clear the stones from the spot where the ball must be dropped, where their ball was at rest, before making the drop, so that it would not come to rest on another stone.



AndyP said...

Not sure if I can add links, but here are some pictures of bunkers at my course that are not marked GUR and have lots of stones in them: https://goo.gl/photos/sL45hMTmSiDfiBWP7

Clearing all the stones from the spot I must drop from and the ball is likely to come to rest would take quite some time by hand. To speed things up, am I allowed to use a sieve to clear the stones from the spot I must drop from and/or where the ball is likely to roll to?

Barry Rhodes said...


I do see the problem from the photos, but believe that it is possible for the player to move all the stones from around the spot where the ball has to be dropped before dropping the ball there. The only other way to proceed, without incurring a penalty stroke, is to ask all fellow competitors to stand well clear and make a stroke at the ball as it lies.


Sharon said...

What is the correct procedure when your ball comes to rest on a fallen pine branch in the middle of the fairway? It was my tee shot and not being sure of how to procede, I played the ball as it lay on the pine needle...

Barry Rhodes said...


A fallen pine branch is a loose impediment. You were correct to play the ball as it lay. If you had caused your ball to move while removing the pine branch you would have incurred a penalty of one stroke, Rule 18-2, and the ball must be replaced to avoid the penalty being increased to two strokes for playing from the wrong place..


Martijn said...

Hi Barry,

If my ball is in the bunker, a worm is moving along behind it, am I to kill/surprise/upset(?) the worm in order to avoid a penalty?

Alternatively, can I agree to remove the worm (without moving the ball) - the preferred option - without incurring a penalty?

Would waiting for the worm to move out of danger endanger me to a slow play penalty?

Barry Rhodes said...


Worms are loose impediments and may not be removed by a player from the bunker in which their ball lies, without incurring a penalty of two strokes! You could try encourage the worm to move by waving something over it, but I am not confident that this would work! The good news is that from 1st January 2019 you will be able to remove loose impediments from bunkers, but you may not want to wait that long!


Anonymous said...

, love the last part of that answer Barry :)

Unknown said...

Hi Barry

Our parkland course had a devastating storm run through it 2 years ago which left many pine and gum trees felled. Our course committee has been slowly removing the debris over the past 2 years but has left a few large logs still on the course, due to financial restrictions. These are causing confusion when coming to rest near them. Are they automatically unmarked ground under repair or immovable obstructions? Note these have been trimmed by chainsaws and are completely detached from the ground i.e. no root system.
Wingate Park Golf Course

Barry Rhodes said...


In my opinion, the sawn logs are likely to be removed at some time in the future and therefore come within the Definition of Ground Under Repair. A simple clarification from the Committee would avoid the confusion. If the logs are movable players are entitled to move them, rather than take relief, even if they require assistance.