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AFT Tips: Rules clarification - Loose Impediments & Obstructions

By AFT Rules Specialist Marshall Law

We are often asked: what is the difference between a loose impediment, a movable obstruction and an immovable obstruction? Perhaps the following three examples will help make things clear. (All references are to the R&A Rules of Golf 2012 - 2015 edition)

Has anyone got the keys?1.  The picture on the right looks like a prima facie case of a loose impediment - or so we thought. A car falling accidentally into a bunker is surely no different from a leaf, an empty bag of crisps or a newspaper?

Think again. "Loose impediments" - according to the Definitions of the Rules of Golf, are natural objects such as stones, leaves, twigs, branches and the like, dung, worms and insects and casts or heaps made by them, provided they are not fixed or growing, are not solidly embedded and do not adhere to the ball.

So it must be an obstruction ("An obstruction is anything artificial" - Definitions, p30). But movable (Rule 24-1) or immovable (Rule 24-2)? That at least seems clear enough. "An obstruction is a movable obstruction if it may be moved without unreasonable effort, without unduly delaying play and without causing damage. Otherwise, it is an immovable obstruction. Note: The Committee may make a Local Rule declaring a movable obstruction to be an immovable obstruction."

Now we're getting somewhere! If the car keys are in the ignition and/or if you are playing in a foursome or fourball of fit young men, this would be a moveable obstruction. If however you are playing singles, or even a fourball with three other seven-stone weaklings, then it is an immovable obstruction, unless you are looking for a hernia. Or unless the Committee has made a local rule to that effect beforehand (Rule 24, Note 3).

So, if it is movable, apply rule 24-1 (you'll find them all here). If immovable, apply rule 24-2. Remembering, of course, that you are in a bunker, and "that the nearest point of relief must be in the bunker and the ball must be dropped in the bunker".

I take my siesta when - and where - I like.2.  Anyone finding a comatose Paraguayan (this one is Carlos Franco) on his line as he prepares to putt would naturally consider this an obstruction.

Given the risk of waking him up while trying to move him, and thereby incurring his wrath, you could argue your right to deem him to be an immovable obstruction, and seek relief under Rule 24-2 (iii), which stipulates that "If the ball lies on the putting green, the player must lift the ball and place it at the nearest point of relief which is not in a hazard. The nearest point of relief may be off the putting green." But you'd be wrong (and therefore subject to a penalty for breach of rule: In Match play - Loss of hole; In Stroke play - Two strokes.)

Mr. Franco, appearances notwithstanding, is a "natural object" (ref. "..and the like, dung, and worms and insects and casts or heaps made by them..." - Definitions, p28). In this case, our Paraguayan is clearly a "heap" and as such deemed to be a loose impediment. You may therefore take relief and remove him without penalty, albeit not without argument.

Olé!3.  A nice easy one to finish with. Here is a clear cut case for invoking Rule 24-2a, which states that "Interference by an immovable obstruction occurs when a ball lies in or on the obstruction, or when the obstruction that the obstruction interferes with the player's stance or the area of his intended swing."

Jose-Maria Olazábal is fully entitled to relief under Rule 24-2 b(i): "If the ball lies through the green, the player must lift the ball and drop it, without penalty, within one club-length of and not nearer the hole than the nearest point of relief. The nearest point of relief must not be in a hazard or on a putting green." Why Olazábal is not doing so is a complete mystery, but he is taking the problem in his stride.

Purists might try to argue that Olazábal is unfairly "Building a stance" here (Rule 13-3), but since the wall is evidently several hundred years old, he cannot be used of "building" in this instance.

 

 

 

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