Rules: Loose impediments and movable obstructions

KNOWING the difference between loose impediments and moveable obstructions could save you shots on the golf course.

I AM surprised how many golfers are confused as to whether an object on the course is a loose impediment or a movable obstruction.

This is an important matter, because there are several Rules that require players to know the differences, so that they may take a permitted advantage or avoid a penalty.

First, let us look at the two definitions:

Loose impediments:

These are natural objects including stones, leaves, twigs, branches, dung, worms, insects and the like, and the casts and heaps made by them, provided they are not: fixed or growing, solidly embedded, or adhering to the ball.

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.

Dew and frost are not loose impediments.


These are anything artificial, including the artificial surfaces and sides of roads and paths and manufactured ice, except:

a. Objects defining out of bounds, such as walls, fences, stakes and railings;

b. Any part of an immovable artificial object that is out of bounds; and

c. Any construction declared by the Committee to be an integral part of the course.

An obstruction is a movable obstruction if it may be moved without unreasonable effort, without unduly delaying play and without causing damage.

Otherwise, it is an immovable obstruction.

Note: The Committee may make a Local Rule declaring a movable obstruction to be an immovable obstruction.

You will see that I have emboldened one word in each Definition, which is the key word for you to remember - loose impediments are natural objects and movable obstructions are artificial objects.

Now let us consider a few situations where it is important for players to make the distinction between an obstruction and a loose impediment;

  • A player may move a movable obstruction from anywhere on the course, including hazards, and there is no penalty if they cause their ball to move while doing so; the ball must be replaced (Rule 24-1)

  • Loose impediments may be removed, except when both the loose impediment and the player’s ball lie in or touch the same hazard (Rule 24-1). However, if the ball is moved while the loose impediment is being removed, the player incurs a penalty of one stroke and the ball must be replaced.

  • A player does not incur a penalty if they touch an obstruction on their backswing when playing from a bunker or water hazard, but they do incur a penalty of two strokes or loss of hole if they touch a loose impediment in the same circumstances (Note to Rule 13-4 and Rule 13-4c).

  • Note that whilst stones are obviously loose impediments, Committees often establish 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.




15 Barry Rhodes & Claret Jug

Barry is the author of ‘999 Updated Questions on the Rules of Golf' (including the January 2016 changes), and '999 More Questions on the Rules of Golf (newly published in January 2016).

He believes that these books provide the easiest and most enjoyable way to absorb and understand the Rules. Barry is an enthusiastic, high handicap golfer, resident in Dublin, Ireland, who developed an interest, then a fascination, and now an obsession with the Rules of Golf.

Barry’s relationship with the Rules began in 2000 with his participation in the inter-club Rules of Golf quiz competitions, organised by the Royal & Ancient for Golf Clubs in Great Britain and Ireland.

This then led to him writing articles, running quizzes, and delivering presentations on the Rules at a variety of golf clubs and corporate functions.

In March 2008, Barry became the first person to achieve a 100% correct mark on the public Advanced Rules of Golf Course examination, run by the PGA in their headquarters at The Belfry, West Midlands, UK, and in April 2015, Barry received a ‘Pass with Distinction’ in the R&A’s Level 3, Tournament Administrators and Referees School examination, the highest certification awarded.

Barry is author of the eBook, ‘999 Updated Questions on the Rules of Golf 2016’. To purchase the eBook, click here.

He writes a weekly web blog, containing interesting content for anyone who wishes to improve their knowledge and understanding of the Rules of Golf. To visit the blog, click here.

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