If something artificial is on, or affecting, your ball, how should you proceed? Our Rules of Golf guru has got your back

Play the ball as it lies. It’s drummed into us from the moment we first pick up a club or visit a course. There are some occasions, though, when it’s either not fair or not practical to do so.

One of these is when you’re faced with obstructions. There are two elements to this under the rules. We’ll cover immovable obstructions and Rule 16 next week.

But here we’re going to look at movable obstructions and what you can do…

What is a movable obstruction?

It’s a bit more than just what it says on the tin. What are obstructions, for a start? They are “any artificial object except for integral objects and boundary objects”.

In this case we’re generally talking about flagsticks, rakes, cans, rubbish, and towels, rather than paths, roads, and buildings – which would be immovable obstructions.

Let’s dig deeper, as the rules also define a movable obstruction. They say it’s one that can be “moved with reasonable effort and without damaging the obstruction or the course”.

What’s the limit? The rules aren’t terribly specific on that point but if you remember Tiger Woods and those spectators moving that huge boulder in the desert at the WGC-Match Play back in the day, you’ll get a sense of the extremes you can go to.

Even so, your committee can still get involved and deem an obstruction, even if it is movable, to be immovable.

Can I get free relief from movable obstructions?

You sure can. Rule 15.2a reveals you can remove a movable obstruction on the course and you can do so in any way – except in two cases.

The first concerns shifting tee markers when a ball is playing played from the teeing area – yes, they are movable obstructions anywhere else! – and the second is deliberately moving a movable obstruction that affects a ball in motion.

So you are removing an obstruction and the ball moves. Don’t worry. It’s not a loose impediment. You won’t be penalised and you must simply replace the ball on its original spot. Use your best guess if you don’t know where that is.

What if my ball is in or on the obstruction?

If it’s anywhere on the course except the green, lift it, remove the obstruction, drop the original ball – or a another if you wish – in a relief area.

Your reference point is right underneath where the ball was at rest in, or on, the movable obstruction and you get one-club length with the usual limits that it must be in the same area of the course as that reference point and can’t be nearer the hole.

If your ball is on the green, you just lift the ball, remove the obstruction, and place on the estimated spot right underneath where the ball was in, or on, the movable obstruction.

That’s a lot of words so, just to recap: drop when not on the green, place when on the putting surface.

What if I can’t find my ball?

Fear not, for all is not lost – unlike that ball! If you can’t find your ball but you know, or are virtually certain, that it “came to rest” in or on a movable obstruction on the course, then Rule 15.2b is riding to the rescue.

You can take free relief and you need to use the estimated point right under where the ball last crossed the edge of the movable obstruction for your relief area.

If it isn’t known or virtually certain, then stroke-and-distance – at the cost of a shot – is your only option.

Now, if you do take free relief, make a stroke with another ball, and then find your original ball, whatever you do don’t hit it. It’s no longer in play.