Rules Guy: What’s the legal way to remove loose impediments like pebbles or gravel?

golf ball on gravel

What do the rules say about the right way to remove loose impediments like gravel?

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The Rules of Golf are tricky! Thankfully, we’ve got the guru. Our Rules Guy knows the book front to back. Got a question? He’s got all the answers.

There are desert areas flanking many of our course’s fairways. They consist of crushed granite with pebbles ranging in size from less than a millimeter to several millimeters — and members are now arguing about the proper method of removing these loose impediments. As I read Rule 15.1, they can be moved in any manner including your hand, foot, club or even getting help from others. I also interpret it that you can use your fingers in a sweeping motion to remove multiple pebbles at a time, versus removing each individual pebble, something that takes several minutes to do. Am I correct? —Bob Kaczmarek, via email 

You are indeed, Bob, albeit with one caveat. You can’t take an unreasonable action, such as deliberately scooping a bunch of loose impediments along with a pile of sand or soil if doing so improves your conditions affecting the stroke, which would run afoul of Rule 8.1.

That said, no, you are not required to remove each pebble individually. Rule 15.1 lets you remove loose impediments in any way, so a sweeping motion to move the pebbles is fine and dandy, even if this also happens to move a little bit of loose sand or soil. So, again, just note the above caveat and remove reasonably.

For more loose-impediment guidance from our guru, read on …

aeration plugs
Rules Guy: Is it legal to remove a loose impediment behind your ball if doing so improves your lie?
By: Rules Guy

On a gusty day, the wind had blown a branch just behind the hole on the low side of a sloping green. The first player up had a long putt from above the hole and wanted to leave the branch in place as a backstop. We agreed, thinking he wasn’t obligated to remove a loose impediment. The next player to go was below the hole, blocked by the branch, which he removed. You guessed it: The third player was above the hole, and he wanted the branch returned to where it had been to get the same advantage as the first player. We were baffled. — Jimmy Jackson, Charlottesville, Va.

Jimmy, please allow me to un-baffle you: The third player can indeed have the branch put 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. Since the conditions affecting his stroke had worsened, the stick could be re-stuck.

Need help unriddling the greens at your home course? Pick up a custom Green Book from 8 AM Golf affiliate Golf Logix.

Got a question about the Rules? Ask the Rules Guy! Send your queries, confusions and comments to We promise he won’t throw the book at you.

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