Rule 15, which deals with “loose impediments”, is one of the most frequently used rules in our rural game.
And it is one of the rules that has undergone substantial change with the revision of the rules which came into force in 2019. But let’s take things one at a time.
Firstly, it is important to have a clear definition of the term “loose impediments”.
They include natural objects such as leaves, twigs, stones, grass cuttings and a whole lot more.
However, they have to be loose, i.e. not growing or fixed, not adhering to the ball nor embedded. A dead twig that is still attached to the tree is not loose. Creepers are also not loose – they are growing and are not to be removed. Stones which are not lying loosely on the ground but are embedded in it must not be dug out.
If you come across objects that meet the above-mentioned criteria of being both natural and loose you are permitted to remove them without penalty.
This applies irrespective of whether the loose impediment actually interferes with your game (e.g. because it is next to your ball or on your line of putt) or whether simply seeing it could distract you (e.g. a colored leaf in your field of view).
However, you have to bear two restrictions in mind.
1. When you remove the impediment, the ball is not to move, otherwise you will incur a penalty stroke and the ball has to be put back (an exception to this is on the green, where this is without penalty).
2. Sand and loose soil can be removed from the green, but not from anywhere else. In particular, sand and loose soil must not be removed from the fringe.
Under the old rules, you were not permitted to remove loose impediments from bunkers and water hazards. With the new rules which came into effect on January 1, 2019, this exception has been abolished and you are now permitted to remove loose impediments everywhere.