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Rules of Golf

The USGA, in conjunction with The R&A in St. Andrews, Scotland, writes, interprets and maintains the Rules of Golf to guard the tradition and integrity of the game.The two organizations are joint authors and owners of The Rules of Golf and Decisions on the Rules of Golf.Through an agreement with The R&A, the Rules jurisdiction of the USGA includes only the United States, its possessions and Mexico.The latest version went into effect Jan. 1, 2012, with the next revision taking effect Jan. 1, 2016.

Golf Rule 12 - Searching for and Identifying Ball

SEARCHING FOR AND IDENTIFYING BALL: A player must play the same ball from the teeing ground until it's holed, unless a rule allows substitution. To accomplish this a player must be able to identify his ball when it's in play. It's recommended that a player puts an identification mark on his ball. If a player cannot identify his ball when it's in play, he has deemed to have lost his ball. For instance, two players playing the same ball without any identification marks hit their and have their balls come to rest right next to each other. Since they cannot identify which ball belongs to who, they are both deemed lost. Keep in mind a player or his side have five minutes to search for his ball, if not found within that time it's deemed lost.

PROCEDURE: (i) the player must announce to fellow competitor or opponent his intention to identify his ball. (ii) He must give his opponent, fellow competitor, or marker the option to observe the lifting and replacement. (iii) He must mark and lift his ball, and (iv) clean the ball only to the extent necessary for identification.

NOTE: If the ball is in a hazard, he is not allowed to follow this procedure because there is no penalty for playing a wrong ball from a hazard.

PENALTY: if the above procedure is not followed, the penalty is one-stroke and the ball must be replaced. If he doesn't replace the ball he receives a two-stroke penalty in stroke play, and loss of hole in match play.

SEARCHING FOR BALL: The player may do the following to identify his ball anywhere on the course: bend or touch long grass, bushes, etc. only to the extent to find and identify his ball. Note---(i) the player may not improve his area of intended swing, line of play, or lie of his ball. (ii) A player may take a stroke without necessarily being able to see his ball (exception--in a hazard). In other words, if your ball is under a thick bush blocking your view of the ball, you are not entitled to move your ball so you can see it as you take your stroke(unless you take a penalty and play under the unplayable options). (iii) A player may probe or rake without penalty to find his ball as well as remove sand or loose impediments in a hazard only to the extent to see part of his ball. If the ball is moved, it must be replaced with the same lie. If excess sand or loose impediments are removed during the search, the ball should be recovered so that only a part of the ball can be seen. (iv) If a ball is moved while searching in ground under repair, casual water, runway or cast made by burrowing animal, the ball must be replaced without penalty. The player then may proceed with anyother applicable options. In other words, if you think your ball is burried in casual water, you can probe with your club to find the ball. If you move your ball in the process, replace the ball and then decide if you want relief for an abnormal ground condition.