Golf Rule 15: Loose Impediments, Movable Obstructions, Free Relief

Golfer Greg Norman removes a loose impediment from behind his golf ball in the fairway.
A golfer removes a loose impediment from behind his golf ball.

David Cannon/Getty Images

 

In the Official Rules of Golf, jointly written and maintained by the United States Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Rule 15 is titled "Relief from Loose Impediments and Movable Obstructions (including Ball or Ball-Marker Helping or Interfering with Play)."

The purpose of the rule, as explained in the rule book, is this:

"Rule 15 covers when and how the player may take free relief from loose impediments and movable obstructions.
"These movable natural and artificial objects are not treated as part of the challenge of playing the course, and a player is normally allowed to remove them when they interfere with play.
"But the player needs to be careful in moving loose impediments near his or her ball off the putting green, because there will be a penalty if moving them causes the ball to move."

It is the obligation of golfers to know the rules, and the USGA and R&A have tons of resources on their respective websites to help us learn and understand.

To that end, these are links directly to the text of Rule 15 that is found on the governing bodies' websites:

Summarizing Rule 15: Free Relief — Movable Items

In our Quick Intro to the Rules of Golf, we summarize Rule 15 as follows:

  • Obstructions are artificial or man-made objects. Bottles, cans, rakes, etc., are movable obstructions. Sprinkler heads, shelters, cart paths, etc., are immovable obstructions. 
  • Loose impediments are natural objects that are not growing or fixed, such as loose leaves, twigs, fallen branches, stones, and insects.
  • You may remove a loose impediment or movable obstruction anywhere on the course. Be careful not to move the ball when removing loose impediments.
  • Movable obstructions anywhere on the course may be removed. If the ball moves when moving an obstruction, there's no penalty and the ball must be replaced.

There are three sections withing Rule 15. Rule 15-1 is titled "Loose Impediments." Rule 15-2 is titled "Movable Obstructions." And Rule 15-3 is titled "Ball or Ball-Marker Helping or Interfering with Play."

Rule 15-1 states that "You may remove a loose impediment without penalty anywhere on or off the course, and may do so in any way (such as by using your hand or foot or a club or other equipment)," and also states that "If your removal of a loose impediment causes your ball to move, your ball must be replaced on its original spot (which if not known must be estimated)."

These excerpts are from the condensed Player's Edition of the rulebook. Be sure to see the full rules for the exceptions to the above statements, and the penalty for failure to correctly follow procedure. Also note that removing loose impediments on the putting green can bring a penalty if doing causes your ball to move.

Rule 15-2 (Player's Edition) begins this way:

"You may remove a movable obstruction without penalty anywhere on or off the course and may do so in any way.
"If your ball moves while you are removing a movable obstruction, there is no penalty and your ball must be replaced on its original spot (which if not known must be estimated)."

But again, there are a couple exceptions, plus the rulebook includes diagrams illustrating proper procedures, including taking free relief.

Be sure to read the full Rule 15, interpretations of Rule 15, and definitions of important terms either on USGA.org or RandA.org.