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Topic Contents

Obstructions, Loose Impediments

Clubs and Balls

Teeing Ground
Order of play
Falling off tee

Playing the Ball
Wrong, Substitute
Lifting, dropping
Moved, deflected

Provisional, Lost, Out of bounds

Putting Green
Marking, lifting

Water hazards
Lateral water hazards

Abnormal Conditions
Casual water
Hole, cast, or runway

Loose impediments

Rule 1
Rule 3-3
Old Course, St Andrews
Wartime local rules
Best ever golf poem

It took a while to prise apart obstructions, loose impediments and hazards into their separate categories of today. A hazard was first defined as almost anything that prevented the player getting a fair lie, and included some of what we now term obstructions and loose impediments (see Hazards).

Obstructions were first mentioned in Burgess 1814, where "no obstruction of any kind" may be removed. In 1838, they allowed a ball lying on clothes to have the clothes drawn out from under it.

Perth 1825 allowed the option of either drawing the clothes away or taking a drop.

The first example of a movable obstruction is Burntisland 1828, which allowed the removal of 'loose obstructions' on the fair green.

R&A 1842: for a ball within one club length of a wash tub; the tub may be removed and if on clothes, the clothes may be drawn from under the ball - changed in 1875 to lifting and dropping clear of the clothes.

R&A 1891 No definition of obstruction, but the term was first used as we now understand it and examples given:

If any vessel, wheel-barrow, tool, roller, grass-cutter, box or similar obstruction has been placed upon the course, such obstruction may be removed.  A ball lying on or touching such obstruction, or on clothes, or nets, or on ground under repair or temporarily covered up or opened, may be lifted and dropped on the nearest point of the course, but a ball lifted in a hazard shall be dropped in the hazard.
R&A 1933. Obstructions extended and includes immovable examples. If the obstruction interferes with a player's stroke and is within 2 club lengths of ball, relief option is to drop within 2 club lengths of the obstacle.

USGA 1947. 'Artificial obstruction' is the term used, a large list was given that included movable and immovable obstructions, some modern GUR, and boundary posts. Obstructions could be removed, and relief was within 2 club lengths of the nearest point of the obstacle to where the ball lies. Lift and drop also for interference with swing or stance.

Obstructions were not in the R & A definitions until 1950, when a distinction between natural and artificial, and movable/immovable obstructions was made.

1952 sand, artificial paths and roads now not hazards but not designated obstructions.
Obstruction defined as anything artificial except OB markers or surfaced roads/paths.

1956 obstruction may not be moved when ball in motion (except equipment and flagstick).

A ball moved while removing an obstruction is to be replaced rather than dropped.

1960 Obstructions definition includes anything not an 'integral part' of the course. 1964 integral parts must declared by committee.

1972 relief if obstruction is so close as to interfere with stance or swing.

1976 obstruction relief now 2 club lengths from nearest point of relief. 1980 reduced to 1 club length.

1976 paved roads and paths become obstructions, following introduction of local rule 1972.
Old course trustees declare the road at 17th at St Andrews an integral part, to preserve the hole's character.

1984 no relief from immovable obstruction in a water hazard.
Line of play relief allowed on putting green.

Manufactured ice designated an obstruction in 1988.

Loose Impediments
The first loose impediments were the stones, bones and break-clubs of 1744. They could be removed within a club length of the ball if on the fair green (roughly equivalent to 'through the green').
Later rules codes differed in procedure, some maintaining this principle, others not allowing any removal.

Royal Burgess 1776 added for a ball in human or animal dung; lift and throw it over your head -- the ball, not the dung -- and lose a stroke.

Aberdeen 1783 no removal of stones, bones or breakclubs on the fair green nor in a hazard.

Crail 1786 allowed removal of stones, bones and break-clubs if playing with a 'timber club' but not with an iron, and no restrictions when putting.

HCEG 1809 allowed removal of loose impediments within 6 club lengths in playing for the hole (in effect, on the putting green).

St Andrews 1812 and 1829 allowed removal within 1 club length of the ball if it lay on grass, and from anywhere on the putting green. In Rule 13: first mention of 'loose impediments'. Yet in 1842, St Andrews allowed no removal. The situation of 1812 was restored in 1851.

1815, Aberdeen allowed removal within 12 feet of the player.

HCEG 1839 allowed removal of stones, bones and breakclubs on the fair green within 1 club length, but not when the ball was in sand, on a road or in a bunker. Nothing fixed or growing can be removed at any time.

Removal of loose impediments on the putting green has long been allowed, and with less restriction:

Burgess 1814 allowed removal of breakclubs through the green close to ball, and all LIs when the ball within 3 yards of hole.

Burntisland 1828 All loose obstructions within 2 club lengths of the ball on the fair green may be removed, and all loose impediments on the putting green.

St Andrews 1829, Perth 1825 and Blackheath 1844 allowed removal of stones, bones and breakclubs within one club-length when the ball was on grass, but no other impediments. All LIs on the putting green can be removed.

Blackheath 1828: none may be removed, but loose impediments can be removed within 6 club lengths of the hole in stroke play.

Musselburgh 1829: None to be removed. No removal allowed on putting green but a player can have ground within 10 yds of hole cleared before a game. 1834 any loose article can be removed but not in hazard.

R &A 1842. No lifting of any impediment or obstruction on or off the course, except putting green.

R &A 1891 if a player moved a loose impediment more than 1 club length from his ball he incurred a one stroke penalty; 1902 it became loss of hole (except on putting green).

Loose impediments were first defined in 1908, including snow and ice.

From 1908 there was a one-stroke penalty if the ball moved after a loose impediment was moved within one club length of the ball through the green, and within 6 inches of the ball on the putting green. Any loose impediment more than one club length away, not on the putting green, may not be moved (penalty: loss of hole). This rule was removed in 1960.

1933 loose impediments may be removed from anywhere, however, if within 1 club length and the ball moves, 1 penalty stroke and play the ball as it lies. From 1976, the ball must be replaced.

1950 Snow and ice can be treated as casual water if it is not possible to treat them as loose impediments. 1952 Snow and ice are casual water.
1964 Snow and ice are casual water or loose impediments at the players discretion.

1960 Cannot move a loose impediment while ball in motion.

1972 sand and loose soil are loose impediments on the putting green; Dew (1984) and frost (1996) became exceptions to the definition following decisions by the ruling authorities.

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