Rules of Golf: The movable v unmovable obstruction conundrum

Understand the Rules of Golf distinction between movable and immovable objects and steps for taking relief and avoid the penalty.

The Rules of Golf are not always clear, even though they’re carefully crafted and tediously interpreted by endless rulings and decisions.

When it comes to the matter of obstructions (Rule 24), movable versus unmovable, the situation gets downright murky. However, as Lexi Thompson would probably attest, we need to get the distinction as clearly defined as possible.

To simply assume that reason and logic will prevail is to risk the dreaded penalty!

Is it an obstruction?

That said, the Rules of Golf define an obstruction as:

. . . anything artificial, including the artificial surfaces and sides of roads and paths and manufactured ice, except . . .

And those exceptions can cause big headaches. Out of bounds markers, whether they’re stakes, walls, ditches, fences, or whatever, are not obstructions. Any part of an artificial object that is out of bounds is not an obstruction. Any element defined by the ubiquitous Committee as integral to the golf course is not an obstruction.

So, a tree rooted in the ground would not be an obstruction but a potted tree placed on the golf course for decorative purposes could reasonably be deemed something “artificial” and therefore an obstruction. If that barbed wire fence defines the golf course boundary it’s not an obstruction but if it runs through the golf course then it’s an obstruction.

The bottom line is that we get relief from obstructions, but how we take that relief depends on whether the obstruction is movable or immovable.

Is it movable?

What about the movability versus un-movability? The USGA offer this clarification:

An obstruction is a movable obstruction if it may be moved without unreasonable effort, without unduly delaying play and without causing damage. Otherwise, it is an immovable obstruction.

So, if a temporary artificial object, say a small sign of some sort, had been stuck in the ground and you were unfortunate enough to land your ball near that sign, sufficiently close that the sign interfered with your swing, you could pull it out of the ground, take your swing, and then replace the sign without penalty.

That’s what Lexi thought and, frankly, I would have made the same assumption.

Which takes us to the final caveat in Rule 24. The Committee has near-mythic power to define what might be a movable obstruction as immovable.

The LPGA’s Rules Guru offers this bit of clarification as a starting point.

How to take relief

In addition to Dan Dan The Rules Man’s helpful tutorial, you also need to follow specific procedures in how you take relief from an immovable obstruction. (Since you somehow got the movable obstruction out of your way, you don’t have to take relief under that circumstance.)

This USGA tutorial lays out the procedures clearly.

I also recommend, if you don’t already do so, that you carry a Rules of Golf book in your bag. The procedures for taking relief and the penalties are right there in black and white for you and for others to quickly read and follow.

The original Rules of Golf were based on common sense and mutual consideration. However, courtesy and common sense don’t always prevail when players differ in their interpretation of a given rule. I have witnessed some fairly acrimonious exchanges that could have been avoided had a Rules of Golf book been available for quick reference.


Which of the Rules of Golf do you find most confusing? And which do you find most difficult to follow?