Rules: Finding and Identifying Your Ball

It is unfortunate, but all players have difficulty keeping their ball on the fairway – some more than others.

Even the best among us will often be faced with the challenge of finding the ball in long grass, bushes, sand, water or some other inhospitable area on the course.

Searching in Sand Searching in Sand

To make matters worse, even when they do find a ball in these areas, they might not be sure it’s theirs.

Fortunately, in recognition of these problems, Rule 12 provides a certain degree of latitude to the player.

In searching for the ball anywhere on the course (including in a hazard), Rule 12-1 allows the player to touch or bend ‘long grass, bushes, whins, heather, or the like’ in order to find and identify his or her ball.

The restrictions are that neither the lie of the ball, the area of the player’s intended stance or swing, nor the line of play can be improved. However, having found the ball, the player is not necessarily entitled to see the ball when playing a stroke.

Although a player may move long grass etc to find the ball, it must not be done for the purpose of seeing it at address.

Rule 12-1 provides an even greater degree of latitude in searching for a ball in sand (anywhere on the course), in a hazard or in an obstruction or abnormal ground condition such as ground under repair.

Searching in Sand

If your ball lying anywhere on the course and is believed to be covered by sand, to the extent that you cannot find or identify it, you may, without penalty, touch or move the sand in order to find or identify the ball. You may do this if the ball lies in a bunker or a sandy waste area which is not a bunker.

If you find your ball, you must re-create the lie as nearly as possible by replacing the sand.

If you move your ball while searching for or identifying it, there is no penalty; the ball must be replaced and the lie re-created.

In re-creating a lie under this Rule, you are permitted to leave a small part of the ball visible.

Searching among Loose Impediments in a Hazard

In a bunker or a water hazard, if your ball is believed to be covered by loose impediments such as leaves to the extent that you cannot find or identify it, you may, without penalty, touch or move loose impediments in order to find or identify the ball.

If you find your ball, you must replace the loose impediments. Be careful, though! If your ball is moved during the touching or moving of loose impediments while searching for or identifying it, you will incur a penalty under Rule 18-2a.

However, if your ball is moved during the replacement of the loose impediments, there is no penalty and your ball must be replaced.

If your ball was entirely covered by loose impediments, you must re-cover the ball but you are permitted to leave a small part of it visible.

Note: if you locate a ball amongst the leaves but cannot identify it, you can avoid the potential penalty under this Rule by following the specific procedure outlined in Rule 12-2 to identify the ball.

The steps in the procedure include announcing your intention and marking your ball before lifting it for identification.

Searching for Ball in Water in Water Hazard

If your ball is believed to be lying in water in a water hazard, you may, without penalty, probe for it with a club or otherwise.

If the ball in water is accidentally moved while probing, there is no penalty; the ball must be replaced, unless you elect to proceed under Rule 26-1.

Another note of caution: if the moved ball was not lying in water or the ball was accidentally moved by you other than while probing, you will incur a penalty under Rule 18-2a.

Searching for Ball Within Obstruction

If your ball is in or on an obstruction or in an abnormal ground condition and you accidentally move it while searching for it, there is no penalty.

You must replace the ball unless you choose to take relief from the condition under Rule 24-1b, 24-2b or 25-1b as applicable. If you replace the ball, you may still proceed under one of those Rules, if applicable.

Identifying Your Ball

Having found a ball, you need to be sure it’s yours, because you would be penalised for playing the wrong ball.

If you believe that a stationary ball anywhere on the course is yours, Rule 12-2 allows you to lift it ball for identification, but only under a specific procedure.

You must announce your intention, mark the position of the ball, and give your opponent, marker, or fellow competitor an opportunity to observe both the lifting and the replacement.

If you skip any or all of these steps, you are penalised one stroke for lifting your ball.

The ball must not be cleaned beyond the extent necessary for identification.

This Rule gives you the right to identify a found ball and is in addition to the actions permitted under Rule 12-1.

For example, Rule 12-1b allows you to search for and identify a ball believed to be covered by loose impediments in a hazard, but you would incur a penalty if you move the ball while identifying it.

Having located a ball in these circumstances, you could proceed under Rule 12-2 to identify the ball to avoid the risk of incurring this penalty.

As described above the Rules of Golf do permit a player to identify their ball if they cannot readily do so, however, we often see players walk up to their ball in play and touch it, toggle it and even lift and replace it without going through the procedures outlined under Rule 12 – this incurs a 1 Stroke Penalty under Rule 18-2a for purposely touching the ball other than as permitted by a Rule.

If you need to identify your ball, become familiar with, apply and proceed under the requirements of Rule 12.

Finally, the recommendation in Rule 6-5 to put an identification mark on the ball is important.

An identification mark will make your ball easier to identify, potentially save you from having to touch your ball and help avoid the possibility of incurring a penalty – that must be a good thing – give it a go.