Rules of Golf: Artificial objects obstructing golf balls

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick September 13, 2011 15:53

A total of 96 rulings were given during the first round of the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St George’s with an average of 82 rulings per day throughout the tournament. Many of these involved relief from the grandstands and television structures which are temporarily situated on the links to facilitate the championship. But numerous rulings that occurred involved situations that can happen anywhere on any golf course.

One of the more unusual situations arose on the first day of the championship on the 18th hole, when Phil Mickelson’s ball came to rest against a chocolate bar wrapper.  Anything artificial, such as the wrapper, is by definition an obstruction and regardless of where the ball lies, provided the item is movable without unreasonable effort, without undue delay and without causing any damage, it may be removed.

Mickelson was therefore entitled to remove the wrapper. The complication was that in moving the wrapper it was likely that his ball would move. Rule 24-1a states that if the ball moves when removing a movable obstruction, it must be replaced and there is no penalty provided the movement is directly attributable to the removal of the obstruction.

Anticipating that the ball might move, the referee with his game asked Mickelson to mark the position of the ball. Rule 24-1a does not require the player to mark the position of the ball but it is considered good practice to do so as if the ball does move, the player can be certain that the ball is returned to its original position. When Mickelson removed the wrapper, the ball did in fact roll, so he was required to replace it without penalty.

Mickelson attempted to replace the ball on the spot from which it moved, but was unsuccessful as the ball would not come to rest on that spot. Rule 20-3d provides the guidance when a ball that is to be replaced will not come to rest. There is no penalty and the ball must again be replaced. If it still fails to come to rest, through the green the player must place the ball at the nearest spot where it will come to rest that is not nearer the hole and not in a hazard.

Mickelson tried to replace the ball for a second time but again the ball moved. He was therefore required to place the ball at the nearest spot where it would come to rest.  With his skilful short game, Mickelson went on to chip over the greenside bunker and sink his putt for a four for a level par round of 70.

This rule was applied no less than 24 times during the Open Championship, mainly as a result of a ball coming to rest against the miles of television cabling situated on the course.  The cabling is artificial and usually it is readily movable so Rule 24-1a applies, just as in the Mickelson case with the chocolate wrapper.

Whilst television cabling may not be something generally located on your golf course, there are other manufactured items on your course that this rule will apply to. For example, members can be faced with the ball against a bunker rake, a discarded score card, a tee peg or drinks can.

Therefore, Rule 24-1 will be utilised frequently at club level too and not just at major events.

Shona McRae is Manager – Rules of Golf, The R&A. If you would like Shona to clarify a rule, please email with ‘Rules of Golf’ in the subject box. For more information on Rule 24-1 and its related decisions, please visit the ‘Rules Explorer’ at

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick September 13, 2011 15:53
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1 Comment

  1. Golf Drinking May 18, 11:18

    The rules of golf consists of a standard set of regulations and procedures which the sport of golf should be played and prescribe penalties for rule infractions.

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