Purpose of Rule: Rule 7 allows the player to take reasonable actions to fairly search for their 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 their 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.
Ball Search: Finding and Identifying Ball
How to Fairly Search for Ball
Player May Take Reasonable Actions to Find and Identify Ball
A player is responsible for finding their ball in play after each stroke.The player may fairly search for the ball by taking reasonable actions to find and identify it, such as:
Moving sand and water, and
Moving or bending grass, bushes, tree branches and other growing or attached natural objects, and also breaking such objects, but only if such breaking is a result of other reasonable actions taken to find or identify the ball.
If taking such reasonable actions as part of a fair search improves the conditions affecting the stroke:
There is no penalty under Rule 8.1a if the improvement results from a fair search.
But if the improvement results from actions that exceeded what was reasonable for a fair search, the player gets the general penalty for breach of Rule 8.1a.
In trying to find and identify the ball, the player may remove loose impediments as allowed in Rule 15.1 and may remove movable obstructions as allowed in Rule 15.2.
What to Do If Sand Affecting Lie of Player’s Ball Is Moved While Trying to Find or Identify It
The player must re-create the original lie in the sand, but may leave a small part of the ball visible if the ball had been covered by sand.
If the player plays the ball without having re-created the original lie, the player gets the general penalty.
How to Identify Ball
A player’s ball at rest may be identified in any one of these ways:
By the player or anyone else seeing a ball come to rest in circumstances where it is known to be the player’s ball.
By seeing the player’s identifying mark on the ball (see Rule 6.3a), but this does not apply if an identical ball with an identical identifying mark is also found in the same area.
By finding a ball with the same brand, model, number and condition as the player’s ball in an area where the player’s ball is expected to be, but this does not apply if an identical ball is in the same area and there is no way to know which one is the player’s ball.
If a player’s provisional ball cannot be distinguished from their original ball, see Rule 18.3c(2).
Lifting Ball to Identify It
If a ball might be a player’s ball but cannot be identified as it lies:
The player may lift the ball to identify it (including by rotating it), but:
The spot of the ball must first be marked, and the ball must not be cleaned more than needed to identify it (except on the putting green) (see Rule 14.1).
If the lifted ball is the player’s ball or another player’s ball, it must be replaced on its original spot (see Rule 14.2).If the player lifts their ball under this Rule when not reasonably necessary to identify it (except on the putting green where the player may lift under Rule 13.1b), fails to mark the spot of the ball before lifting it or cleans it when not allowed, the player gets one penalty stroke.Penalty for Playing Ball from a Wrong Place in Breach of Rule 7.3: General Penalty Under Rule 14.7a.
Ball Accidentally Moved in Trying to Find or Identify It
There is no penalty if the player’s ball is accidentally moved by the player, opponent or anyone else while trying to ﬁnd or identify it. But if the player causes the ball to move before they start to search for the ball, the player gets one penalty stroke under Rule 9.4b.Under this Rule, “accidentally” includes when the ball is moved by anyone taking reasonable actions to find the ball that were likely to reveal the ball’s location by moving it (such as by sweeping feet through long grass or shaking a tree). In these situations, the ball must be replaced on its original spot (which if not known must be estimated) (see Rule 14.2). In doing so:
If the ball was on, under or against any immovable obstruction, integral object, boundary object or growing or attached natural object, the ball must be replaced on its original spot on, under or against such object (see Rule 14.2c).
If the ball was covered by sand, the original lie must be re-created and the ball must be replaced in that lie (see Rule 14.2d(1)). But the player may leave a small part of the ball visible when doing so.
See also Rule 15.1a (restriction on deliberately removing certain loose impediments before replacing ball).Penalty for Breach of Rule 7.4: General Penalty.