Golf Rule 23: Loose Impediments

Small, Unintentional Obstacles on the Course

Greg Norman of Australia moves a loose impediment from behind his ball.
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The United States Golfers' Association dictates how the game is meant to be conducted both professionally and recreationally in its rulebook "The Official Rules of Golf," Rule 23 of which governs loose impediments and the penalties associated with breaking this rule.

A loose impediment in golf is anything that blocks the way to a hole that is not a built-in feature of the course and can include anything from twigs and leaves to trash like tin cans or burger wrappers, and according to the USGA's Rule 23, players may take relief from these impositions without incurring a penalty.

However, there are several stipulations that go along with this ability to relieve the course of loose impediments, namely that if the removal moves the ball, players must refer to Rule 18-2a, which dictates correcting this error or taking penalty; also, a relief cannot be used if both the loose impediment and the ball are in the same hazard.

When and When Not to Relieve Impediments

In golf, a relief is an action taken to remove an obstacle from the field, which according to "The Official Rules of Golf," can be done anytime except "when both the loose impediment and the ball lie in or touch the same hazard" according to Rule 13-4c or when a ball is in motion and the relief "might influence the movement of the ball."

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, but 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, but according to 18-2a, a one-stroke penalty does apply for moving the ball on the putting green in other situations.

Penalties and Other Rules Associated

Like all the rules of golf, violating Rule 23 results in a penalty: During match play, the player who violates any part of this rule loses the hole while in stroke play, the player incurs a two-stroke penalty for the same violation and must continue playing the ball from where it originally rested before removing the impediment resulted in the ball moving.

In the event that the ball is moved while searching for it in a hazard because of a player's contract with loose impediments, there are even more specific rules laid out in Rule 12-1, which basically allows for unintentional movement of the ball if it occurs while a player is actively trying to uncover it from under a leaf, bush, or some such similar object.

On the putting green, a player may need to refer to  Rule 16-1a in order to determine whether or not relief from loose impediments will violate the rule which governs touching the line of putt.