Rule 23 – Loose Impediments

We have all heard the term “loose impediments”, but what is a loose impediment?

This can be a tough answer. A good rule of thumb is that a “loose impediment” is anything natural, as opposed to a “movable obstruction” which is artificial (or man-made).

Some examples of loose impediments are:

  • Gravel
  • Sea Shells
  • Fruit Skins
  • Leaves
  • Stones
  • Acorns
  • Insects
  • Dung

However, under the rules sand and loose soil are loose impediments on the putting green, but not elsewhere. Snow and natural ice, are either casual water or loose impediments at the option of the player. Dew and frost are not loose impediments.

It can get a little confusing, but here is how you can take relief according to the USGA Rules of Golf:

Except when both the loose impediment and the ball lie in or touch the same hazard, any loose impediment may be removed without penalty.

If the ball lies anywhere other than on the putting green and the removal of a loose impediment by the player causes the ball to move, Rule 18-2a applies.

On the putting green, if the ball or ball-marker is accidentally moved in the process of the player removing a loose impediment, the ball or ball-marker must be replaced. There is no penalty, provided the movement of the ball or ball-marker is directly attributable to the removal of the loose impediment. Otherwise, if the player causes the ball to move, he incurs a penalty of one stroke under Rule 18-2a.

When a ball is in motion, a loose impediment that might influence the movement of the ball must not be removed.

Note: If the ball lies in a hazard, the player must not touch or move any loose impediment lying in or touching the same hazard – see Rule 13-4c.