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Impediments and Obstructions II

You pick up rocks, wipe away dew, and shoo away bugs. Are all of those actions legal? Below we define the difference between impediments and obstructions, and explain where you get relief, and where you don't.
  • Impediments are natural objects such as stones, leaves, branches, and insects.

  • Obstructions are anything artificial, including the artificial surfaces and sides of roads and paths (with the exception of objects that are out of bounds or define the out of bounds, like a fence).
Both impediments and obstructions can be broken into those that can be moved (i.e. loose impediments and moveable obstructions) and those that cannot. All four categories are handled separately in golf - we discuss Obstructions below.

Moveable Obstructions:

If an obstruction can be moved without unreasonable effort, without overlly delaying play, and without causing damage, it is defined as a moveable obstruction.

You are allowed to take relief from a moveable obstruction in one of two ways:
  1. As long as the ball does not lie in or on the obstruction, you can remove the obstruction. If the ball moves because you remove the obstruction, the ball can be replaced without penalty (note how this is different than with loose impediments).

  2. If the ball lies in or on the obstruction, you can lift the ball, remove the obstruction and drop the ball (see the article on lifting and dropping) as near as possible to the spot directly under where the ball lay. All this can be done without penalty.
Immoveable Obstructions: If an obstruction cannot be moved and it interferes with the players stance or the area of his intended swing (or line of play if the ball is on the putting green), a player is entitled to relief.

Unless the ball is in a water hazard, a player is entitled relief as follows:
  1. If the ball lies through the green (tee, fairway, or rough), find the nearest point of relief (the closest point where there is no interference) which is not in a hazard or on a putting green. Then lift the ball and drop it within one club-length of, and not nearer to the hole than, that nearest point of relief.

  2. Obstruction on the Green
  3. If the ball lies in a bunker, the same procedures above apply, but the nearest point of relief must be in the bunker and the ball must be dropped in the bunker.

  4. If the ball lies on the putting surface you should lift the ball and place it at the nearest point of relief (where there is no interference to your stance, swing, or line) no closer to the hole. The nearest point of relief can be off the green.
Note that you cannot obtain relief under this rule if interference only comes through an abnormal stance, swing, or direction of play.
For More Information
For further details on impediments and obstructions, take a look at Rules 23 & 24 in the Official Rules of Golf. The above article is meant to help clarify some of the basics about the rules of golf. If the above comes into conflict with local rules or the USGA, the latter two should always be taken as correct.

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