I was watching the Women’s British Open last week and one of players called for a rules official. Her ball was on the fringe and there was a small rock between her ball and the green. She wanted to make sure she could move the rock. TV commentators mentioned that the rock was clearly a loose impediment and there shouldn’t have been any question. They also mentioned, however, that this is one of the most violated rules by amateurs when there is sand on the fringe.
First, Loose Impediments are defined as natural objects including stones, leaves, twigs, branches, dung, worms, insects, and the casts and heaps made by them. They must not be fixed or growing, solidly embedded, or adhering to the ball.
Any loose impediment may be removed without penalty except when the loose impediment and the ball lie in the same hazard.
Penalty for Breach of Rule: Match play – Loss of hole; Stroke play – Two strokes.
This rule tends to be violated because sand and loose soil are loose impediments only on the putting green, but not elsewhere. So if your ball position is similar to the picture, you can brush off the sand in your path on the putting green. If you brush off the sand on the fringe, you have violated the rule. I’m not really sure why the Rules of Golf make a distinction like this for sand and that is probably why the rule is violated occasionally. This might be another rule they should look at as the strive to “simplify the game.”