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Rules Guy: Can I remove pine needles under my feet if they’re creating an unstable stance?

February 11, 2020

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.

Golf’s new rules say you can remove loose impediments anywhere on the course, providing you don’t move the ball. And an existing rule says you are entitled to obtain a “firm” stance. If standing on an area of loosely tossed pine needles is unstable, can they be removed, to bare ground? —WILLIAM PINK, VIA E-MAIL

First it must be said, Mr. Pink, that I loved you in Reservoir Dogs. Second, there are two distinct and, dare I say, unrelated threads to your query.

Pine needles indeed are, and have always been, loose impediments, and you can and always were free to move those without limitation in order to take your stance. The 2019 tweak to Rule 15.1a was that you are now free to remove loose impediments from around your ball even in a penalty area or a bunker. Just don’t, as you note, accidentally move your ball in doing so, which as ever would result in a one-stroke penalty.

As another Mr. Pink once famously stated, in a phrase that became Rules Guy’s unofficial motto, “I didn’t create the situation, I’m just dealing with it!

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

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