Most golfers will have heard of the term, but what exactly are loose impediments in golf and what can you do with them? We explain all...

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What Are Loose impediments In Golf?

Under the previous version of the Rules (effective from January 2016), loose impediments had a whole Rule to themselves – Rule 23.

Following major revisions to the Rules in January 2019, that is no longer the case. They now form a small part of a broader Rule covering loose impediments and movable obstructions – Rule 15.

The primary reason for this is that you are now allowed to touch and remove loose impediments in both bunkers and penalty areas, which you couldn’t do previously.

You may now touch and remove loose impediments in penalty areas and bunkers (Photo: Kenny Smith)

What are loose impediments in golf?

Before we go into a little more detail, let’s clarify what is and isn’t a loose impediment. To do this we need to visit the Definitions towards the back of the Player’s Edition of the Rule book.

This defines a loose impediment as…

Any unattached natural object such as:

  • Stones, loose grass, leaves, branches and sticks,
  • Dead animals and animal waste,
  • Worms, insects and similar animals that you can remove easily, and the mounds or webs they build (such as worm casts and ant hills), and
  • Clumps of compacted soil (including aeration plugs).

Sticks and twigs are among the things classed as loose impediments in golf (Photo: Kenny Smith)

You hope you might never have to remove a dead badger or animal waste to allow you to play your next shot unimpeded, but we’re sure such things have happened and do happen!

A word of warning though, the definition goes on to say…

Such natural objects are not loose if they are:

  • Attached or growing,
  • Solidly embedded in the ground (that is, cannot be picked out easily), or
  • Sticking to the ball.

So, take extra care to check whether the thing you think is loose and removable is definitely not still attached or growing. And don’t be tempted to try and remove any unattached wet blades of grass sticking to your ball.

‘Special cases’ to note

Just to nail down the detail, the definition concludes with some ‘special cases’…

  • Sand and loose soil are not loose impediments.
  • Dew, frost and water are not loose impediments.
  • Snow and natural ice (other than frost) are either loose impediments or, when on the ground, temporary water, at the player’s option.
  • Spider Webs are loose impediments even though they are attached to another object.

Perhaps the most important one to note here is the first one. While you may brush sand and loose soil away on the putting green, they are not loose impediments elsewhere on the course. So don’t be tempted to brush them away from the fringe or fairway.

The Rules around loose impediments in golf

Now we know what loose impediments are, what can you do with them under the Rules? Rule 15.1a has the answers. You may remove them anywhere on or off the course using a hand, foot, club or equipment or in any other way.

However, you do need to take care as Rule 15.1b goes on to warn that if you move your ball when removing a loose impediment, you incur a one-stroke penalty other than when your ball in play is lying on the putting green or teeing area or when you are searching for it.

There will be a one-stroke penalty if your ball moves when removing the loose impediment above… (Photo: Kenny Smith)

… but not here on the putting green (Photo: Kenny Smith)

In all instances you must replace the moved ball to where it originally lay, estimating the spot if you can’t be sure.

It’s important to remember that you need to exercise care when removing loose impediments close to your ball.

If your ball is resting against a pine cone or stone on a slope in a bunker, for example, you should probably leave well alone and play the ball as it lies. If you move your ball in removing the loose impediment, there will be a penalty

Take extra care that your ball doesn’t move in this bunker scenario (Photo: Kenny Smith)

Note that under Rule 12.2a, there is no penalty when removing loose impediments from bunkers for any reasonable touching or movement of the sand in the process. It’s the ball itself you need to be extra careful of.

Parting shots

Finally, a few things that other Rules mention regarding loose impediments:

* Rule 10.3b confirms that the caddie as well as the player may touch and remove loose impediments.

* Rule 8.1a explains that you may not move a loose impediment into a position that would improve the conditions affecting your stroke. For example, to help you build a stance by kneeling or standing on it. The general penalty applies.

* Rule 11.3 highlights that when any ball is in motion (not just yours), you may not lift or move a loose impediment if it might affect where that ball comes to rest. So, if someone chips out from under a tree and you see it’s going to hit a fallen branch, don’t move that branch. If you do, again it’s the general penalty.