OUT ON A (BROKEN) LIMB
A buddy of mine sliced his drive into a thin patch of woods. When we got to the ball, he found it just in front of a substantial tree limb that had been knocked down in the last rainstorm. It was huge, and covered in smaller branches. My friend considered picking up the wood, but instead he lazily began snapping branches off of the limb in order to clear his clubpath. I called foul, telling him he had to add two strokes, but couldn't really explain why. He claimed that he did nothing wrong. Tell him what's what.
-- J. Fischman, Medford, Mass.
When two friends have an argument about the Rules of Golf, most of the time one of them is just flat out wrong. This time, it's you. Had the branch been attached to a tree, you would be absolutely right -- the limb would not have been considered a loose impediment, and moving it would have been considered improving your friend's stance (Rule 13-2). However, because the branch was on the ground, it was a loose impediment, and, according to Decision 23-1/4, a player is allowed to move or physically break off a piece off of a loose impediment rather than moving the impediment as a whole. Your buddy was right not to take any penalty, and you missed the mark.