What is the legal way to remove loose obstructions like gravel?

What do the rules say about properly removing loose obstructions like gravel?

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The rules of golf are tricky! Luckily we have the guru. Our Rules Guy knows the book cover to cover. Do you have a question? He has all the answers.

There are desert areas that flank many of our course’s fairways. They are made of crushed granite with pebbles ranging in size from less than a millimeter to several millimeters – and members are now arguing about the correct method of removing these loose obstacles. As I’ve read rule 15.1, they can be moved in any way, including your hand, your foot, your club, or even the help of others. I also interpret it to mean that you can use your fingers in one sweeping motion to remove multiple pebbles at once, rather than removing each individual pebble, which takes several minutes. Am I right? —Bob Kaczmarek, via email

Indeed you are, Bob, albeit with a caveat. You must not take any unreasonable action, such as B. Deliberately shoveling a pile of loose impediments together with a pile of sand or dirt when doing so improves your conditions affecting the stroke, which would break rule 8.1.

That means no, you don’t have to remove each pebble one by one. Rule 15.1 allows you to remove loose impediments any way you like, so a sweeping motion to move the pebbles is all well and good, even if it happens to move some loose sand or dirt as well. So, once again, consider the caveat above and remove it appropriately.

For more guides on loose obstacles from our guru, read on…

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Rules Guy: Is it legal to remove a loose obstruction behind the ball if it improves your lie?


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On a gusty day the wind had blown a branch just past the hole on the low side of a sloping green. The first player on top had a long putt from above the hole and wanted to leave the branch as a backstop. We agreed because we felt he was under no obligation to remove a loose hindering natural product. The next player was under the hole, blocked by the branch he removed. You guessed it: the third player was over the hole and wanted the branch to go back to where it had been to gain the same advantage as the first player. We were amazed. – Jimmy Jackson, Charlottesville, Virginia.

Jimmy, please allow me to disappoint you: the third player can actually put the branch back.

Under Interpretation 8.1(d)1/2 (yes, seriously – the Rules are nothing if not thorough), a player is generally entitled to the conditions that existed when the ball came to rest. As the stroke conditions had deteriorated, the cane could be re-pinned.

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Do you have a question about the rules? Ask the Rules Guy! Send your questions, clarifications and comments to rulesguy@golf.com. We promise he won’t throw the book at you.

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Ian Walker

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