Tuesday, 20 September 2016

What a Golfer May Move Without Penalty

I know that some regular readers of this blog like to have lists to assist them in understanding the Rules, so I am going to address what a player may move when their ball in play is stationary and when it is in motion.

Player’s Ball in Play is Stationary;

•    Artificial objects that can easily be moved are movable obstructions, which may be moved from anywhere on the course, or out of bounds, Rule 24-1. Examples are course signage, distance markers, water hazard stakes, cans, abandoned balls and other rubbish.
•    Natural objects that are not fixed or growing, solidly embedded, or adhering to the ball, are loose impediments, which may be moved from anywhere on the course, except when both the loose impediment and the ball lie in or touch the same hazard. Rule 23-1. Examples are grass clippings, leaves and pine cones.
•    A player is not penalised for moving, bending or even breaking anything growing or fixed, providing this happens while they are fairly taking their stance, which means using the least intrusive course of action that is reasonably necessary for the selected stroke, Decision 13-2/1.
•    A player is entitled to move a natural object for the specific purpose of determining whether the object is loose; if it is not it must be returned to its original position before making the next stroke, Decision 13-2/26.
•    If a player considers that another ball might interfere with their play, they may have it lifted, Rule 22-2.
•    Sand and loose soil may be moved from the putting green, but not from anywhere else, Definition of Loose Impediments.

Player’s Ball is in Motion after a Stroke;

•    When a ball is in motion after a stroke, no player may move any movable obstruction that might influence the movement of the ball, except the equipment of any player and the flagstick that has been removed from the hole, Rule 24-1. Examples of player’s equipment are their clubs, clothing and golf bag. 
•    When a ball is in motion after a stroke, no player may move any loose impediment that might influence the movement of the ball, Rule 23-1. Examples are divots, a detached branch and insect-like creatures, Definition 23-5/5.
•    Obviously, a player must not purposely stop any ball that is in motion, Rule 1-2.

Dustin Johnson Has Gotten Spit-Roasted
The first line of this article in this week’s Golf Digest reads;

"Dustin Johnson has gotten spit-roasted in the wake of his victory in the BMW Championship on Sunday for his incessant spitting on the golf course."

I am not going to expand on Johnson’s bad habit, other than to register my abhorrence that a professional golfer would consider that this is acceptable behaviour on a golf course, knowing that they are being watched by millions, especially juniors. Following a similar occurrence in 2011, the European Tour fined Tiger Woods for a breach of their tour Code of Conduct. To his credit, Tiger immediately apologised, admitting that it was inconsiderate to spit like that and he should have known better. To his credit, I am not aware of any subsequent indiscretion by him in this respect. It appears that Dustin Johnson will not be fined by the USA PGA, as they seem to take a less critical attitude to spitting than the European Tour, so it is left to concerned individuals to voice our opinions on how distasteful we regard this disgusting practice, particularly on the golf course.

Good golfing,


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Unknown said...

Well Decision 13-2/1 confuses me.... does taking your stance include making a practice swing? And if so if you catch some leaves of a bush or tree and knock them off unintentionally are you penalized?

Barry Rhodes said...


In my opinion, a player who has to take the least intrusive course of action in taking their stance (e.g. to play their ball lying under overhanging branches of a tree) would be foolish to make a practice swing, as the chances are that they may do something to improve the position or lie of their ball, or the area of their intended stance or swing when doing so, which would incur a penalty of two strokes. However, in most cases knocking down a few leaves with a practice swing does not incur a penalty. I recommend that you read Decision 13-2/0.5 re this matter. Also, my blog dated 5th September 2011.


nick said...

13-2/1 always gets me too. when I find myself (all too often unfortunately!) in bushes off the fairway after an errant tee shot, I really have no idea if I am taking my stance using the least intrusive course.
The way I read the rule, this also seems to depend on my choice of shot. I could deliberately choose a shot that involves taking a stance that pushes branches etc out of the way, could't I? For example, choosing to hack out backwards might give me the opportunity to clear out bushes to take a stance whereas playing sideways, I perhaps couldn't even get club on ball.

Barry Rhodes said...


No, you cannot take a stance that "pushes branches out of the way". This would be a breach of Rule 13-2. If a player has bent a branch out of their way in taking the least intrusive course of action to their ball, they must try to replace that branch before they make their stroke; they cannot hold it out of the way with any part of their body. If your ball lies in a position where you cannot get a club on it then you have the option of deeming it unplayable, under penalty of one stroke.


Meenakshi said...

Hi Barry, during a tournament my ball was lying in shallow water in water hazard between two long leaves. The leaf behind my ball moved when I stepped into the water to take sight of the green due to the water getting disturbed. My marker said that is one stroke penalty though the ball or anything in front of the ball didn't get disturbed.

Barry Rhodes said...


Decision 13-4/13 is relevant to the circumstance that you describe;

Q. A player accidentally moves a loose impediment in a hazard. Does the player incur a penalty?

A. No, provided the loose impediment was not moved in making the backswing and the lie of the ball or area of the intended stance or swing was not improved.


AndyP said...

I'm hoping you could help me with an issue concerning bunkers at my course. Often, after it has rained, there is little sand in the bunkers. Our bunkers (57 of them) are not lined and we have 'geological' issue with them, ie, after rain or heavy use the sand layer gets thinner and thinner and the base layer made out of clay and flint rocks comes to the surface. As you can imagine, hitting a flint rock is pretty dangerous. So, is there perhaps a local rule that could be formulated to enable a player to first check if there is enough sand beneath their ball in a bunker BEFORE they play their shot?

Barry Rhodes said...


In my opinion, such a Local Rule would not be permitted, as a Committee cannot waive a Rule of Golf. If your Committee considers that the local abnormal condition that you describe interferes with the proper playing of the game to the extent that it is necessary to make a Local Rule that modifies the Rules of Golf, the Local Rule must first be authorised by the relevant Ruling Body, i.e. the R&A or USGA (Rule 33-8b).


AndyP said...

I agree that a Committee cannot waive a Rule of Golf, apart from when the Committee can effectively waive them. For instance, a stone is a Loose Impediments according to the Rules of Golf. That rule is effectively waived when they're classed as a Movable Obstruction under a Committees' Local Rule.

I'm searching for a way (perhaps by a Local Rule) a player on a course like mine, that has with geological issues with the bunkers, can go about their golfing in a safer manner than they can at present.

Perhaps a Local Rule labeling all bunkers as G.U.R. until they have been inspected as safe for golfing.

Barry Rhodes said...


I did understand your question the first time that you asked it and I gave you my opinion, as a Rules expert. I also referred you to Rule 33-8. Part a) of that Rule states;

The Committee may establish Local Rules for local abnormal conditions if they are consistent with the policy set forth in Appendix I.

If you then take the time to check Appendix l you will see that there is specific permission for Committees to introduce a Local Rule permitting players to lift stones from a bunker where they "may represent a danger to players (a player could be injured by a stone struck by the player's club in an attempt to play the ball) and they may interfere with the proper playing of the game." This definitely does not apply to rocks that are embedded under the surface of the sand.

Also, the Committee may not make a Local Rule providing generally that bunkers are ground under repair through the green as such a Local Rule also waives a Rule of Golf. However, they may declare individual bunkers as GUR through the green on a temporary basis until they are repaired.


AndyP said...

I'm pretty sure the flint rocks/stones I've described, embedded in the clay soil under the mere millimeters of dirty sand left after most of the sand had be washed out by rains the night before "may represent a danger to players (a player could be injured by a stone struck by the player's club in an attempt to play the ball) and they may interfere with the proper playing of the game.". Indeed, I hit such a rock/stone just this last Sunday in the front green-side bunker on a par 3 at my home course. The result was a shock injury to my wrist; a gash in my club; and flying shards of sharp flint.

There are known 'geological issues' with the bunkers at my club, so a general rule[1] would be required. Which Rule of Golf states a Committee may not make a Local Rule providing generally that bunkers are ground under repair through the green? And which Rule of Golf would such a Local Rule attempt to waive?

[1] - a general rule would be required, and it would be temporary. Such a rule would state that the Committee has the powers to declare all bunkers as GUR through the green on a temporary basis until they are individually inspected & undeclared G.U.R or remain G.U.R. until repaired.

Barry Rhodes said...


I have already given you my opinion on this subject, as a Rules of Golf expert. My strong recommendation is that you obtain permission from your national golfing authority before any Local Rule in this respect is introduced by the Committee, if it is to apply to handicap counting competitions.

Decision 33-8/27 states that a Committee may not make a Local Rule providing generally that flooded bunkers are ground under repair through the green, as such a Local Rule waives a penalty imposed by the Rules of Golf, contrary to Rule 33-8b. Although this Decision refers to casual water I think that it is clear that the same principle would apply to taking all bunkers out of play for the reason that you suggest.