Dealing with Loose Impediments

USGA Rule 15 addresses dealing with “loose impediments” and is one of the most frequently used rules in our rural game.

And it is one of the rules that has undergone a substantial change with the revision of the rules, which came into force in 2019. But let’s take things one at a time.

Dealing with Loose Impediments

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 that 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 USGA 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.



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  1. David Philippe

    February 16, 2020 at 11:58 pm

    Why is there a Red Cross on the picture of a leafy twig lying over the ball?
    The leafy twig is not growing and is not adhering to the ball. Adhering means “stuck to” eg like mud Can be stuck to the ball.
    Thus I believe the leafy twig may be moved without penalty.

    • Keith @ GolfersRX

      February 17, 2020 at 7:58 am

      Sorry if the image isn’t clear. It is intended to be a growing creeper, so it may not be moved because it is not loose.

  2. Jim O'Neill

    October 13, 2020 at 2:08 pm

    I know about playing it out of a divot but had kind of the opposite happen. The other day I hit it through the fairway on a dogleg and ended up sitting on a chunk of turf from a divot. Seriously it was a small pelt sitting on the grass and I was perched on top of it. What’s the call? My playing partners thought it was a movable obstruction and I was entitled to relief.

  3. Keyrod3

    March 25, 2021 at 7:19 am

    I would think that is now a loose impediment. It can be moved but not if the ball moves too. Then you would incur a one stroke penalty.


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