Golf's Rule 7: Ball Search (Finding and Identifying Ball)

Pro golfer Lucas Bjerregaard searches for his golf ball during a European Tour tournament.

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In the Official Rules of Golf, jointly written and maintained by the United States Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Rule 7 is titled "Ball Search: Finding and Identifying Ball."

The purpose of the rule, as excerpted from the rule book, is this:

Rule 7 allows the player to take reasonable actions to fairly search for his or her ball in play after each stroke.
But the player still must be careful, as a penalty will apply if the player acts excessively and causes improvement to the conditions affecting his or her next stroke.
The player gets no penalty if the ball is accidentally moved in trying to find or identify it, but must then replace the ball on its original spot.

It is the responsibility of golfers to know the rules, and the USGA and R&A have tons of resources on their respective websites to help us learn and understand. These are links directly to the text of Rule 7 that is found on the governing bodies' websites:

Summarizing Rule 7: Ball Search

In our Quick Intro to the Rules of Golf, we summarize Rule 7 as follows:

  • You may fairly search for your ball, but don’t do anything to deliberately improve its lie.
  • If you need to identify your ball, mark it first before lifting. Should you accidentally move it during this process, replace it without penalty.

This rule contains four sub-sections: Rule 7.1, "How to Fairly Search for Ball"; Rule 7.2, "How to Identify Your Ball"; Rule 7.3, titled "Lifting Your Ball to Identify It"; and Rule 7.4, titled "all Accidentally Moved in Trying to Find or Identify It."

Rule 7.1 states that golfers may take "reasonable actions" to find and identify their golf ball, such as moving sand or water, or moving or bending grass, bushes or tree branches in order to get a better look at where the ball is believed to be.

How does one positively identify a ball as belonging to oneself? Primarily by "seeing it come to rest or seeing your identifying mark on the ball," according to Rule 7.2.

Rule 7.3 covers the occasional necessity of lifting a golf ball in order to identify it as one's own. Before lifting mark the spot of the ball, and remember that unless the ball is on the green it cannot be cleaned (except as much as necessary to see an identifying mark).

What happens if you accidentally move the ball while searching for it or trying to identify it? Rule 7.4 states that there is no penalty for such accidental moving, but you must replace the ball in its original spot.

Be sure to read the full Rule 7, interpretations of Rule 7, and definitions of important terms either on USGA.org or RandA.org.