Rule of the Month: Movable Obstructions and Loose Impediments
June 1, 2020 / by Jerry Stewart
One of the fundamental principles of the Rules of Golf is that you play the course as you find it, but sometimes, you find things on the course near your golf ball that simply are not meant to be part of the challenge of the game. Loose impediments and movable obstructions both fall into that category of items. Because of this, you may remove them in most cases.
What is the difference between Loose Impediments and Movable Obstructions?
Loose impediments are unattached natural objects like stones, loose grass, leaves, branches, pine needles, clumps of compacted soil (including aeration plugs), etc. Other things that fall into this category are dead animals and animal waste, plus worms, insects, and other similar animals as well as the mounds and webs they build (for example, worm casts and spider webs).
It is important to note that there are a few things that may seem to meet the definition of a loose impediment but are not actually considered loose impediments under the Rules. Sand, loose soil, dew, frost, and water are not loose impediments. Snow and natural ice (other than frost) are treated either as loose impediments or as temporary water (when on the ground), at your option. This means that you may either remove snow and natural ice, or take free relief, depending on the situation and what you prefer.
A natural object is also not a loose impediment if it is attached or growing, if it cannot be easily picked out of the ground, or if it is sticking to your ball. The Rules allow you to move a natural object to see if it is loose before you remove it. If you do choose to do this and find that the natural object is growing or attached (meaning it is not a loose impediment), it must stay attached and be returned as nearly as possible to its original position.
Movable obstructions are artificial objects that can be moved with reasonable effort and without causing damage to the obstruction or to the course. A few examples of movable obstructions are bunker rakes, a soda can, most penalty area stakes, and another player’s towel that has been dropped on the course.
The easiest way to distinguish a loose impediment from a movable obstruction when you find an object on the course is to ask yourself how the object was made. If it is a natural object, it is likely going to be a loose impediment, and if it is human-made, it is likely going to be a movable obstruction.
Removing Loose Impediments and Movable Obstructions
One of the major changes in the 2019 Rules of Golf was the ability to remove loose impediments anywhere on the golf course, even in bunkers and penalty areas! Similarly, movable obstructions can be removed anywhere on or off the course without penalty.
There is no required way to remove a loose impediment or a movable obstruction. The Rules give examples of ways to move them: using a hand, foot, a club, or other equipment, but you may do so in any way that is convenient to you. A common misconception is that you are required to mark the spot of the ball before moving a movable obstruction. While it is a common practice to do so, it is not a requirement. There is no penalty if you cause your ball to move in the process of removing a movable obstruction, but you must replace it on its original spot.
It is important to take care when removing a loose impediment; if moving a loose impediment causes your ball to move, you get one penalty stroke and must replace the ball on its original spot. However, there is no penalty if you accidentally cause your ball to move while removing a loose impediment when your ball is on the putting green.
The Rules give players a lot of freedom to remove loose impediments and movable obstructions. When you see an object on the ground that may interfere with your stroke, knowing what that object is and what you are and aren’t allowed to do with it under the Rules might help you better navigate your next shot!