Golf Rule 12, Searching for and Identifying Ball – Simplified Version
12-1. A player isn’t necessarily entitled to see his golf ball when hitting it. While searching for a ball, the player is allowed to move or bend long grass, bushes and similar objects, as long as he doesn’t improve his lie or clear a path for his swing while doing so.
If a player believes his ball is covered by sand but he can’t identify it, he may brush away sand to identify the ball. Afterward, he must replace the sand to recreate the original lie. If looking for a ball in a hazard, the player can remove loose impediments but must replace them to recreate the original lie after identifying the ball.
A player searching for a ball in a water hazard can use a club to probe for the ball (in murky water, for instance). If the ball is moved during the search, and the player intends to play the ball from the hazard, he must replace it (without penalty).
While searching for a ball in or on an obstruction or abnormal ground condition (e.g., casual water), the player must replace the ball if it is accidentally moved, and he plans to play it from that spot rather than take relief.
Penalties for violating Rule 12-1: Match play – loss of hole. Stroke play – two strokes.
12-2. If a player thinks a ball might be his but isn’t certain, he can lift the ball to identify it after telling his competitor he intends to do so and marking the ball’s position. The ball can’t be cleaned any more than necessary to identify it. If the ball is his, he must replace it in the original spot.
Penalties for violating Rule 12-2: Match play – loss of hole. Stroke play – two strokes.
12-1. Seeing Ball; Searching For Ball
A player is not necessarily entitled to see his ball when making a stroke.
In searching for his ball anywhere on the course, the player may touch or bend long grass, rushes, bushes, whins, heather or the like, but only to the extent necessary to find or identify the ball, provided that this does not improve the lie of the ball, the area of his intended stance or swing or his line of play; if the ball is moved, Rule 18-2a applies except as provided in clauses a - d of this Rule.
In addition to the methods of searching for and identifying a ball that are otherwise permitted by the Rules, the player may also search for and identify a ball under Rule 12-1 as follows:
a. Searching for or Identifying Ball Covered by Sand
If the player’s ball lying anywhere on the course is believed to be covered by sand, to the extent that he cannot find or identify it, he may, without penalty, touch or move the sand in order to find or identify the ball. If the ball is found, and identified as his, the player must re-create the lie as nearly as possible by replacing the sand. If the ball is moved during the touching or moving of sand while searching for or identifying the ball, there is no penalty; the ball must be replaced and the lie re-created.
In re-creating a lie under this Rule, the player is permitted to leave a small part of the ball visible.
b. Searching for or Identifying Ball Covered by Loose Impediments in Hazard
In a hazard, if the player’s ball is believed to be covered by loose impediments to the extent that he cannot find or identify it, he may, without penalty, touch or move loose impediments in order to find or identify the ball. If the ball is found or identified as his, the player must replace the loose impediments. If the ball is moved during the touching or moving of loose impediments while searching for or identifying the ball, Rule 18-2a applies; if the ball is moved during the replacement of the loose impediments, there is no penalty and the ball must be replaced.
If the ball was entirely covered by loose impediments, the player must re-cover the ball but is permitted to leave a small part of the ball visible.
c. Searching for Ball in Water in Water Hazard
If a ball is believed to be lying in water in a water hazard, the player 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 the player elects to proceed under Rule 26-1. If the moved ball was not lying in water or the ball was accidentally moved by the player other than while probing, Rule 18-2a applies.
d. Searching for Ball Within Obstruction or Abnormal Ground Condition
If a ball lying in or on an obstruction or in an abnormal ground condition is accidentally moved during search, there is no penalty; the ball must be replaced unless the player elects to proceed under Rule 24-1b, 24-2b or 25-1b as applicable. If the player replaces the ball, he may still proceed under one of those Rules, if applicable.
(Improving lie, area of intended stance or swing, or line of play – see Rule 13-2)
12-2. Lifting Ball For Identification
The responsibility for playing the proper ball rests with the player. Each player should put an identification mark on his ball.
If a player believes that a ball at rest might be his, but he cannot identify it, the player may lift the ball for identification, without penalty. The right to lift a ball for identification is in addition to the actions permitted under Rule 12-1.
Before lifting the ball, the player must announce his intention to his opponent in match play or his marker or a fellow-competitor in stroke play and mark the position of the ball. He may then lift the ball and identify it, provided that he gives his opponent, marker or fellow-competitor an opportunity to observe the lifting and replacement. The ball must not be cleaned beyond the extent necessary for identification when lifted under Rule 12-2.
If the ball is the player’s ball and he fails to comply with all or any part of this procedure, or he lifts his ball in order to identify it without having good reason to do so, he incurs a penalty of one stroke. If the lifted ball is the player’s ball, he must replace it. If he fails to do so, he incurs the general penalty for a breach of Rule 12-2, but there is no additional penalty under this Rule.
*If a player incurs the general penalty for a breach of Rule 12-2, there is no additional penalty under this Rule.