Rule of the Month: Seek and Ye May Find
By Sr. Rules Officials: Pete Scholz and Terry McEvilly
Click Here for the Rule of the Month Archive
Rule 7 Finding and Identifying the Ball
One of the challenges of playing golf includes finding and identifying your ball after every shot. Rules pertaining to the search and the procedure for identifying the ball were eased a bit in 2019. A player should still exercise caution when looking for a ball, but if reasonable acts are used to find a ball, there is no penalty for causing it to move.
Confusion regarding the search and how to properly identify the ball often slow the pace of play. A quick read of Rule 7, which is one of the shortest Rules in the book, and the following questions and answers will help to reduce that confusion.
Questions: True / False
- A player searching in long grass may sweep back and forth with his or her feet hoping to find the ball by moving it. If the ball is moved accidentally, there is no penalty.
- Believing that the ball may have come to rest in a tree or bush, a player may shake the tree or bush in an attempt to dislodge the ball. If the ball is moved there is no penalty.
- Moving sand to find a ball is not allowed anywhere on the course including bunkers.
- Provided that the actions of a player searching for a ball are considered reasonable, there is no penalty for improving the conditions affecting the stroke.
- A player must not purposely flatten grass beyond what is reasonably necessary to search for the ball or remove anything growing in the ground.
- If the ball is moved while the player is searching in loose impediments (such as leaves), the ball must be replaced on its original spot, which if unknown must be estimated, and the player incurs one penalty stroke.
- A player may lift the ball to identify it as his or hers, but must announce to a fellow player their intention to do so before lifting the ball.
- When lifting the ball for identification, the player must mark the spot of the ball before lifting.
- A ball lifted for identification purposes in the general area of the course may be completely cleaned.
- When multiple balls are found in an area, and the player is uncertain which ball is theirs, he or she must proceed under the stroke and distance procedure for a lost ball.
- True. Rules 7.1a. & 7.4. Moving the grass with a hand or foot is considered a reasonable action when searching for the ball. Therefore, the ball has been moved accidentally and there is no penalty. The ball must be replaced on its original spot, which if not known must be estimated.
- True. Rule 7.4 & Interpretation 7.4/2. This action and the action mentioned in question #1 are both considered reasonable actions in order to find a ball. Therefore, there is no penalty for moving the ball and it must be replaced on its original spot. Again, if the original spot is unknown, it must be estimated. If the player is unable to reach this spot, the only option may be to declare the ball unplayable and proceed under Rule 19, incurring a penalty stroke for that procedure, or to take relief under Rule 17 for a ball in a penalty area.
- False. Rule 7.1b. If a player believes the ball is in sand, the player may move the sand in order to find and identify the ball. If the ball is moved there is no penalty. This is true anywhere on the course. The player is required to re-create the original lie in the sand but may leave a small part of the ball visible if it had been completely buried.
- True. Rule 7.1a. Provided the improvement of the conditions affecting the stroke are a result of reasonable actions taken during a fair search, there is no penalty. However, if the area is improved by actions that wouldn’t be considered reasonable, the player will incur the general penalty under Rule 8.1a. See question #5 for further clarity
- True. Interpretation 7.1a/1. Purposely flattening the grass or removing growing materials are unlikely to be considered reasonable actions of a fair search. A prudent player will exercise caution when searching because what one member of the Tournament Committee considers reasonable actions and what another member thinks might be two differing opinions. The conditions affecting the stroke may be improved by reasonable actions taken to find the ball. However, excessive actions, such as those mentioned that improve the area, will result in the player incurring the general penalty under Rule 8.1a.
- False. Rules 7.4 & 15.1b. Anytime a player is searching and accidentally moves the ball there is no penalty. The ball must be replaced on its original spot, which must be estimated if it is unknown.
- False. Rule7.3. The requirement to announce has been removed and the player may lift the ball without penalty, provided it was reasonably necessary to lift it in order to identify the ball.
- True. Rule 7.3. As stated above, it must be reasonably necessary to lift the ball for identification. The player must physically mark the spot of the ball by placing a ball-marker, tee, coin or another small piece of equipment right behind or right next to the ball. If the player marks the spot in a wrong way, or doesn’t mark the spot before lifting, he or she will get one penalty stroke.
- False. Rule 7.3 & 14.1c. When a ball is lifted for identification, cleaning is only allowed as needed to identify the ball. If the ball is cleaned beyond what is needed to identify it, the player gets one penalty stroke in both match and stroke play. If the ball was on the putting green, the player may lift and clean the ball completely under Rule 13.1b.
- True. Rules 7.2 & 18.2. This situation emphasizes the importance of putting an identifying mark on the ball. It is not a requirement under the Rules and a player may always identify a ball by the brand and number on the ball. However, if the player is unsure of what brand or number of ball that was played, or another ball with the same brand, number and condition is found in the same area, the player has a lost ball and must proceed under the stroke and distance procedure.