Written by Joyce McCann – 18ers Rules Chair

A loose impediment is defined as: “any unattached natural object,” a very broad definition. Thus, many things qualify as loose impediments, such as sticks, leaves, branches, stones. Movable obstructions are defined as any artificial objects that can be moved with “reasonable effort.” Any objects manufactured from natural materials, such as cigar stubs, are also movable obstructions. Both loose impediments and movable obstructions can be moved without penalty, and under the new 2019 Rules, they can be moved anywhere on the course, including in penalty areas and bunkers. If your ball moves when you remove a loose impediment or moveable obstruction, you must put the ball back where it was. But, only if you were moving a loose impediment, you also have to take one penalty stroke (Rule 15.1b).

What about wood chips and mulch? We at Rossmoor are all aware that more and more off fairway areas of the course are covered in wood chips or mulch to conserve water. Thus, those of us who do not always hit a straight ball sometimes find our ball lying in a “sea” of wood chips or mulch. By Rule 15.1a, we know that wood chips or mulch are loose impediments, but the situation seems different than if only a stray wood chip interferes with our ability to strike the ball cleanly. How much leeway do we have in moving wood chips to improve our chances of making a clean shot in a “sea” of wood chips?

Part of the answer to this question lies in Rule 15.1b. As long as you are careful in removing wood chips so your ball doesn’t move, the Rules do not preclude removing any number of wood chips to increase your chances of striking the ball cleanly.

An additional complication is that currently, because of poor course conditions, the 18ers are allowing players to improve the lie of their balls by 6 inches no nearer the hole while remaining in the same area of the course (i.e., fairway or rough). So, how does this work if your ball landed in a “sea” of wood chips? Can you remove wood chips, creating a place for your ball less than 6 inches away from its original position, and then re-position your ball in the place you’ve created?

Interpretation 15.1a/3 supplies the answer. It says: “…when a ball is to be dropped or placed, the ball is not being put back in a specific spot and therefore removing loose impediments before dropping or placing a ball is allowed.” So, you may legally clear out wood chips before placing the ball 6-inches no closer to the hole from its original position in order to improve the lie. The Rules also say (Rule 15.1a) that you may remove loose impediments “in any way (such as by using a hand or foot or a club or other equipment).”  “Equipment” must be as defined, however (i.e., “anything used, worn, held or carried by the player”). So have at it, and hit a great shot from the wood chips!