Golf Rule 5, The Ball – Simplified Version
5-1. Any ball used must conform to the specifications in Appendix III. A tournament committee may require that a player’s ball be listed on the USGA’s current list of conforming balls.
5-2. The player may not apply a foreign substance to a ball’s surface to change its movement or performance.
Penalties for breaking rules 5-1 or 5-2: Disqualification (match play or stroke play).
5-3. Any ball that is cut, cracked or deformed is considered unfit for play. A ball showing minor scratches or discolorations is still fit for play. The player is allowed to inspect his ball during play, but first he must tell an official or competitor he plans to do so. Players are not allowed to clean a ball being inspected; if it’s fit for play, the ball should be replaced in its original spot; if it’s unfit, a substitute ball may be put into play.
If a ball breaks into pieces when struck, landing on the ground or striking an object, the player is allowed to replay the stroke with a substitute ball without penalty.
Example: Jeffrey’s ball breaks into pieces after landing on a cart path. He’s allowed to replay the shot with a replacement ball without penalty. The shot that hit the cart path does not count.
Penalties for breaking rule 5-3: Match play – loss of hole. Stroke play – one stroke.
The ball the player plays must conform to the requirements specified in Appendix III.
5-2. Foreign Material
The ball the player plays must not have foreign material applied to it for the purpose of changing its playing characteristics.
5-3. Ball Unfit For Play
A ball is unfit for play if it is visibly cut, cracked or out of shape. A ball is not unfit for play solely because mud or other materials adhere to it, its surface is scratched or scraped or its paint is damaged or discolored.
If a player has reason to believe his ball has become unfit for play during play of the hole being played, he may lift the ball, without penalty, to determine whether it is unfit.
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 and examine it, provided that he gives his opponent, marker or fellow-competitor an opportunity to examine the ball and observe the lifting and replacement. The ball must not be cleaned when lifted under Rule 5-3.
If the player fails to comply with all or any part of this procedure, or if he lifts the ball without having reason to believe that it has become unfit for play during play of the hole being played, he incurs a penalty of one stroke.
If it is determined that the ball has become unfit for play during play of the hole being played, the player may substitute another ball, placing it on the spot where the original ball lay. Otherwise, the original ball must be replaced. If a player substitutes a ball when not permitted and makes a stroke at the wrongly substituted ball, he incurs the general penalty for a breach of Rule 5-3, but there is no additional penalty under this Rule or Rule 15-2.
If a ball breaks into pieces as a result of a stroke, the stroke is canceled and the player must play a ball, without penalty, as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was played (see Rule 20-5).
(Cleaning ball lifted from putting green or under any other Rule – see Rule 21)