Winter Golf and Loose Impediments
One of the many great things about Texas is our year-round golf season. It might mean an extra layer or two of clothing, but plenty of Texans already are playing golf and posting scores. And, while playing this time of year can be wonderful, it does lead to some extra challenges we don’t face in the summer. If you play this weekend, you’ll probably encounter more objects on the ground than usual, such as fallen leaves and branches. These and other natural objects are classified by the Rules as loose impediments. Luckily, you can move loose impediments out of your way without penalty.
By definition, loose impediments are unattached natural objects like stones, loose grass, leaves, branches, pine needles, clumps of compacted soil (including aeration plugs), etc. Dead animals, worms, insects and other similar life forms that can be removed easily, and the mounds or webs they build (such as worm casts and ant hills), are also loose impediments.
However, and be careful here, such natural objects are not “loose” if they are attached or growing, solidly embedded in the ground (that is, cannot be picked out easily) or sticking to the ball. Those are not loose impediments.
Neither is loose soil, sand, dew, frost and/or water. Snow and natural ice (other than frost) are either loose impediments (meaning they can be moved) or, when on the ground, temporary water (meaning free relief is available), at your option. While sand and loose soil are not loose impediments by definition, you may remove them on the putting green.
With the new Rules that were implemented in 2019, players now are able to remove loose impediments that lie anywhere on the course without penalty, see Rule 15.1a. There previously were restrictions against moving them in a penalty area, but you may now move loose impediments that lie in any area of the course, including in a bunker or a penalty area.
While you may remove loose impediments anywhere, you should take care to not move your ball in doing so. If the removal of a loose impediment causes your ball to move, you must replace the ball on its original spot and you usually get a one-stroke penalty, see Rule 15.1b. There are exceptions to the Rule though. When your ball lies on the putting green, there is no penalty if you accidentally cause it to move when removing a loose impediment. Also, you can remove loose impediments by any means! Go ahead and use your towel or hat to remove any such items that may be in your way.
Another common question related to loose impediments is what happens if your ball deflects off a loose impediment while it’s in motion? If your ball in motion hits a loose impediment, you must play it as it lies with no penalty. This applies whether the loose impediment is moving or at rest and whether your ball is on the putting green or elsewhere.
In addition to loose impediments being more pervasive in the winter, it’s also the time of year when many courses undergo various maintenance projects, so you may encounter some abnormal conditions on the course.
The offseason often is a time when clubs schedule regular maintenance, such as aeration or course improvement projects. Let’s take a look at how these practices might affect play on the golf course. Any hole made by the Committee or the maintenance staff in maintaining the course (such as a hole made in removing turf or a tree stump, or laying pipelines) as well as grass cuttings, leaves and any other material piled for later removal are deemed ground under repair by definition. Therefore, you are automatically entitled to free relief, see Rule 16.1.
A Committee may also wish to define certain areas as ground under repair because of course conditions. If the Committee clarifies that an area is treated as ground under repair, you may also take free relief provided your ball does not lie in a penalty area.
Aeration holes do not fall within the meaning of a hole made by the maintenance staff, and thus are not ground under repair. Therefore, you may not repair them on the putting green (or anywhere on the golf course) or automatically take free relief from them in the general area. As such, holes can interfere with the proper playing of the game, a Committee may choose to use a Local Rule to give relief from these holes (Model Local Rule E-4). If this Local Rule is in effect, you may take free relief when your ball lies in or touches an aeration hole.
When playing golf at this time of year, or really at any time of year, there is always a chance that you will encounter loose impediments or abnormal conditions on the golf course. Hopefully you now have a better understanding of how to proceed in these situations under the new 2019 Rules of Golf. Continue to enjoy golf in the New Year!
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Our Experts Weigh In on New Rules
Now that we’ve had one season in the books using the USGA and R&A’s Updated Rules of Golf, we thought it would be interesting to ask the TGA’s Tournament Directors for their perspectives. We sat down with Senior Tournament Directors Kellen Kubasak and John Cochran IV, Tournament Directors Ian Davis and Kevin Porter, who runs the Legends Junior Tour, and Women’s Tournament Director Amy Worthington to find out their thoughts on how the changes in the Rules affected play during the 2019 Championship season.
Of all the Rules changes set in place by the USGA and The R&A at the beginning of the year, which one had the most impact on the championships you conducted?
JOHN COCHRAN IV, Men’s Championships: From my perspective, there were two changes that had the most impact: the reduction of time from 5 minutes to 3 minutes when conducting a ball search in reference to when a ball becomes lost, as well as putting with the flagstick in. The ball search change obviously helps keep up pace of play, but so too does putting with the flagstick in. No longer are players waiting for someone to tend the flagstick, nor are they spending time walking to the flagstick to tend it for others. Instead, they’re using that time to focus on their putt.
KELLEN KUBASAK, Men’s Championships: While the ball search time change and ability to putt with the flagstick in certainly were impactful, from what I experienced, the Rules change that had the most impact on players was the ability to fix more things on the putting green, including shoe damage such as spike marks. This specific Rules change impacted players in the most positive way. Throughout the years prior to 2019, we’ve all seen putts bounce offline because of marks on the green from previous players’ shoe marks and other damage. The fact that players can fix those now had the most impact on their play this year.
IAN DAVIS, Men’s Championships: That’s an interesting take, Kellen, but I have to agree with John about the reduction of time allowed to search for a ball. Trimming the time allowed down to 3 minutes had the largest impact on the Championships I worked this year.
KEVIN PORTER, LJT Championships: Working nearly 20 LJT events this year, I have a different take on this question. The change to dropping the ball from knee height was definitely the most impactful. Early in the year, it was just so easy to incorrectly drop from shoulder height simply out of habit. The LJT players did a great job adapting. They understood that if they dropped from the wrong height, they could correct the mistake and drop it properly to avoid penalty.
AMY WORTHINGTON, Women’s Championships: From an administrative perspective, one of the most noticeable changes for me was the difference in how course marking was approached. The committee now has more flexibility in what can be considered a penalty area. Even if an area of the course isn’t meant to hold water, it can be marked as a penalty area. Being able to mark more of the course as penalty areas also improved pace of play.
Which Rule change was brought up most by players during competition?
IAN: That’s easy. Dropping from knee height.
KEVIN: Yep, same for me. Dropping the ball was brought up a lot at the first of the year, as players wanted to make sure they were doing it right. Also, I’d like to touch on something that isn’t brought up as much. Before the changes, players used to confirm with players in their group that they were only fixing damage from ball marks and not spike marks. It saves time for players now that certain damage isn’t up for interpretation on the putting green. The relaxations to the Rules on the putting green are big for golf.
AMY: The biggest question that came up at TGA Women’s Championships was about a rule that was not in effect for our competitions, Model Local Rule E-5 – Alternative to Stroke and Distance for Lost Ball or Ball out of Bounds. Players brought it up to confirm whether or not the Local Rule was in effect, as some of our players are used to using it at their home club. The Local Rule is appropriate for general play where golfers are playing casual rounds or playing their own competitions.
JOHN: Especially early in the season, and for those events where players aren’t playing as much competitively as our “regulars” were, the most questions I answered were about the drop at knee height. This seemed to be a Rules change that, in the heat of the moment, would slip some players’ minds.
KELLEN: Players were surprised to see that when dropping the golf ball, the ball had to remain in the relief area when it came to rest. Under the old Rules, in some cases the ball could roll up to two club lengths from where it first struck a part of the course after dropping. The addition of the relief area changed all that so, I answered more questions about that part of the ball drop than anything else.
In your opinion, which was the best change to the Rules of Golf?
KEVIN: I think the status of the flagstick was a good change because it allows players to putt towards the hole without the fear of striking the stick. It’s also good knowing that if a player hits a terrible putt, they won’t get penalized for hitting a flagstick that was laid down with the thought that there was no way it would be in play.
IAN: For me, it was the new terms for relief area and reference point. Especially when the terms are explained using the images in the Rule book, it greatly simplified when a ball is dropped correctly.
AMY: In my opinion, the best change was the emphasis on pace of play. You tend to hear that golf takes too long to play, so the new changes that encourage playing the game at a prompt pace are important. Additionally, introducing Maximum Score as a form of stroke play not only helps with pace of play but it also encourages new golfers to pick up the game.
JOHN: Going from 5 minutes to 3 minutes on ball searches. 5 minutes used to feel like an eternity, now 3 minutes comes fairly quick. There is a greater effort to find the golf ball and the reduced time allotted for search keeps play moving.
KELLEN: Being able to repair spike marks and other damage on the greens has really allowed players to showcase their putting skills. The putting green is the most sacred area of the course, so allowing players to repair more of that area was a great Rules change.
Which of the Rule changes took you the longest to get used to?
KELLEN: When I’m playing, it was always tough to get used to dropping from knee height because I had only known dropping from shoulder height. It seems that this was a change that players were aware of, but we needed to remind them during the first few events of the season before they actually dropped their ball.
IAN: For me, it was the changes to what happens when a ball in motion is deflected. Also how procedures change when the ball is played from a specific area of the course and what happens next depending on whom or what it was deflected by.
KEVIN: The terminology change was difficult for a while since I was so used to the previous definitions. Calling places penalty areas instead of “hazards” and the general area instead of “through the green”. I’ve gotten much better now, but I still hear those words, and an alarm goes off in my head.
AMY: Kevin nailed it. For me, it was the language changes. I still find myself sometimes saying “hazard” instead of penalty area, or using terms that don’t exist anymore.
JOHN: I’m in the same camp with Kevin and Amy here. From an administrative perspective, learning and using the new terminology (“casual water” is now temporary water, “hazards” to penalty areas, “through the green” to general area, etc.) are things I still catch myself on.
When reviewing the Rules of Golf, do you find yourself using the Rules of Golf App or the Rules of Golf book?
IAN: I typically use the Rules of Golf app on my iPhone.
AMY: I tend to use the Rules of Golf app a lot more because it is easier to search what you are looking for than having to find it in the book.
KEVIN: I’ll always fall back on the book when making a ruling, but the app does a great job as well. It’s nice to have it while I’m out on the course and see something that I need to quickly reference. I also promote the app to our players so they can always be aware.
JOHN: The search function with the Rules of Golf app is very handy. When comparing it to prior versions of the app, this is USGA’s most user-friendly, functional app to date.
KELLEN: I’m more old school. I prefer the Rules of Golf Book with the Interpretations inside, the Official Guide to the Rules of Golf. But, I have used the app a few different times as well.
While playing golf yourself, what change do you use the most?
IAN: Putting with the flagstick in. However, I don’t necessarily need to have it in. I say if the flagstick is in, leave it in. If it’s out, leave it out.
KEVIN: Definitely dropping from knee height. I tend to put myself in situations where taking relief and dropping are key for me to finish the hole.
AMY: I’m with Ian. I putt with the flagstick in. I also fix spike marks or any other repairable damage on my line of the play.
JOHN: I have become very comfortable dropping from knee height and using the 3 minute ball search. Looks like this offseason I should work on trying to hit the ball straighter.
KELLEN: Like Ian and Amy, for me it’s putting with the flagstick in. I’m a fast player, and I don’t think the flagstick in the hole affects a good stroke or the result of a stroke, so anything to continue to improve the game’s pace of play is good for the game and good for me.
For more on the Rules of Golf, click here.