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

Friday, 20 February 2009

Golf Rules - Asking For and Giving Advice

Most golfers know that they are not allowed to ask for, or give advice, during their round of golf, but they are not always sure as to what constitutes advice. Later in this article I will give practical examples on what is permitted and what is not. First, let us consider the Rule book definition, which states;

"Advice is any counsel or suggestion which could influence a player in determining his play, the choice of a club, or the method of making a stroke. Information on the Rules, distance, or matters of public information, such as the position of hazards, or the flagstick on the putting green, is not advice."

The word ‘distance’ was added to this definition from 1st January 2008, to allow the exchange of information on distance, as this is not now considered to be ‘advice’. In a related matter, a clarification was published at the same time confirming that Local Rules may be introduced to allow the use of distance measuring devices. However, it seems that most Clubs have not adopted such a Local Rule and these devices are not permitted in their competitions.

The subject of advice is further developed in Rule 8-1, which states;

"During a stipulated round, a player must not:
a) give advice to anyone in the competition playing on the course other than his partner, or
b) ask for advice from anyone other than his partner or either of their caddies."

Note that in golf a ‘partner’ is a player associated with another player on the same side, as in a four-ball or foursomes competition, and is not a fellow competitor.

Rule 8-2 deals with anyone indicating the line of play to a player, which is permitted, unless the ball lies on the putting green. However, any mark that is placed to indicate a proposed line of play by the player, or with the player’s knowledge, must be removed before the stroke is made. An example of this would be that if a player drops his glove at a position on a hill marking the line over which he intends to play, and then makes his stroke, he is penalised two strokes in stroke play or loss of hole in match play. Similarly, if someone has positioned themselves so as to indicate a line of play to a player, they must move away from that point before the stroke is made, to avoid the player incurring a penalty.

The following are ten examples of what is allowed within the Rules;
"What distance do you think it is from my ball to the flagstick?"
"Do you think that the 150-metre marker is accurate?"
"Now that we’ve both played our tee shots, tell me which club did you use?"
"What are the options if I declare my ball unplayable?"
"What is my line of play for this blind tee shot?"
"Is there a ditch between my ball and the hole?"
"Is that a sand bunker or a grassy hollow at the side of the putting green?"
"Could you please position yourself on top of that mound to show me my line of play to the green?" (But the marker must move before the player makes their stroke).
"When you lift your ball because it’s interfering with my next stroke you must not clean it."
“There are red stakes here, so you can drop your ball within two club-lengths of where it crossed the margin.”
None of the above incurs any penalty.

However, the following ten questions and statements, do incur a penalty of two strokes in stroke play, or loss of hole in match play, for the player asking for, or giving the advice:
"Do you think that an 8-iron will get me to the green?"
"Am I swinging too fast?"
"I think that this putt is dead straight, what do you think?"
"Should I try and play this ball out of the water hazard or take a penalty drop?"
“That was my 7-wood, what are you going to use?”
"Keep your head still as you putt."
"You haven’t really got a shot; if I were you I’d declare your ball unplayable."
"The wind is against us, you need at least one extra club."
"Don't use your driver here or you may end up in the water hazard."

Finally, there is one statement that many of us regularly use but probably shouldn't if the Rule on Advice is very strictly interpreted. When a fellow competitor's putt just lips out and he goes charging up to the hole to tap it in we should try and refrain from saying ……….… "Take your time"!

Barry Rhodes

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

The Rule of Golf that is broken most often - Nearest Point of Relief

Probably the most misunderstood area of the Rules of Golf is when, where and how to take relief at the nearest point. I don’t find this surprising, as the Rule book definition of ‘Nearest Point of Relief’ is, by necessity, long-winded, and there are several different factors that have to be considered. I think that the following video will assist in clarifying this important subject for you.
Corrections: Thanks to Jeff Gilham who has pointed
out that in my second illustration the nearest point
of relief for a left handed player is probably below
the GUR area rather than to the right hand side.

Also, check out the third comment below re standing
on a wrong putting green to play a ball that is not
on the putting green.
I hope that you are now clear as to how to find the nearest point of relief and when that option is available to you. The most important thing to remember is that it is the ‘nearest’ point of relief, and not the ‘nicest’. You don’t get to choose where to drop, as it is a matter of fact. Where most golfers go wrong is that they assume that taking ‘relief’ means that they should be left with a clear, unobstructed shot in the direction of the putting green, whereas the relief is only from the condition that the Rules allow the drop from and does not relate to any other adverse condition or difficulty on the course. Hence, the nearest point of relief, from which the one club-length’s relief must be taken, could be in deep rough, on a steep slope, in the middle of a bush, on cracked earth, behind an immovable obstruction, or even, in the middle of the trunk of a large tree (see Decision 24-2b/3.7).

I am confident that if you watch your fellow competitors, or opponents, carefully over your next few rounds you will soon come across situations where they are about to drop in a wrong place because they don’t know how to locate the nearest point of relief. Handle the situation tactfully and you could save them incurring penalties in the future.

Good golfing,

Barry Rhodes


Saturday, 7 February 2009

Ball Lodged in Tree – What Are Your Options?

I saw an item on a TV news station last week of a caddie climbing a palm tree to recover his player’s ball, which was stuck in the branches of the tree. Unfortunately, I did not hear who, or where it was. Why would the caddie do this when players receive as many golf balls as they can use from their sponsors, free of charge?

The answer lies in the Rules of Golf. In the unlikely situation that the ball is at rest on a branch it is possible that the player could play it from there and not incur any penalty. As you can see here Bernhard Langer did it quite successfully back in 1981;

However, in most instances climbing the tree is not practical. The remaining options for the player are to declare the ball unplayable, under penalty of one stroke, or treat it as lost and go back to where the last stroke was played from, under penalty of stroke and distance. In order to declare the ball unplayable, which is usually the most favourable option for the player, they must be able to identify their ball. Hence, we have the situation where the caddie is climbing the tree. It is not sufficient to identify that there is a ball stuck in the tree, the player must be able to positively identify it as the ball that he is playing.

If the player can identify his ball from the ground then he is permitted to declare it unplayable and may then shake the tree to dislodge it. However, if he moves the ball without having declared it unplayable he is penalised one stroke, under Rule 18-2a, and is required to replace the ball back in the tree where it was, or incur a further penalty stroke in stroke play or loss of hole in match play (see Decision 18-2a/28). The player does not have to recover the ball from the tree once he has positively identified it as Rule 28, Ball Unplayable, says that the player must drop a ball (not the ball) to continue play of the hole.

Where does the ball have to be dropped, assuming the player takes the most likely option of dropping within two club-lengths of the spot where the ball lay, but not nearer the hole? The spot from which you measure the two club-lengths is that spot on the ground directly under where the ball rests in the tree.

Finally, it is worth reminding readers here that the player may deem their ball unplayable at any place on the course, except when the ball is in a water hazard.

I will be posting my new video on Rule 28 - Ball Unplayable, next week, so please bookmark this page in your favourites now.

Wishing you good golfing and play by the Rules,

Barry Rhodes

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Losing Your Ball in Casual Water

Andy Brown has published another of my answers to questions that he receives from his global subscriber list. Check out this, and many other Rules Q&As at;

Losing Your Golf Ball in Casual Water

Remember to bookmark Andy's site, as well as this one!



It's now less than 7 weeks to the publication of
'999 Questions on the Rules of Golf'