Rules of Golf: identifying your ball


Golf Monthly is partnering with Titleist and FootJoy as our official golf ball, golf bag, footwear and apparel partners for this year.

Shop the featured FootJoy footwear and apparel worn in this video:

You, as the player, are responsible for playing the correct ball at all times, so it is always a good idea to put your own identification mark on your ball, so that you can readily see that it is, indeed, yours before playing it. This isn’t mandatory but in our experience, as much clarity as possible when it comes to the rules, is always a good idea.

Why you SHOULD mark your golf ball

But sometimes you’re going to find yourself hunting high and low for a ball in deep rough or bushes, and if a ball that you then discover is particularly badly buried, it may not always be possible to confirm that it is yours, even with those identification marks.

In this video, we highlight the correct procedure you must follow. The only way to establish whether or not it is yours will be to lift it and take a closer look, but before you rush in and do just that, there are some things you need to know to avoid incurring an unnecessary penalty when identifying your ball.

Rule 7-4 allows you to lift the ball without penalty, but you must comply with these requirements when doing so:-

  • You may only lift your ball to identify it when it is genuinely necessary to do so.
  • Before lifting the ball, you must mark the position of it – we would advise you use a tee peg for this.
  • If there is mud or dirt on the ball, you may only clean it away to the extent required to allow you to identify it.
  • Once identified, you must then return it to its original position.

Under the latest versions of the rules of golf, you do not need to tell your playing companions of your intention to identify your ball. However, as stated above, you do need to have a genuine reason to identify it. Take a good look at the ball before you mark its position to see if you can spot anything that would identify it as yours.

If you fail to comply with the rules detailed here, I’m afraid you’ll be given a one shot penalty. If you fail to replace the ball in the correct spot, the penalty will escalate to two shots in strokeplay or loss of hole in matchplay.

Finally, if you’re playing the same make, type and number of ball throughout, it is always a good idea to mark a provisional ball slightly differently to allow you to determine which is the provisional ball and which is the original ball should you happen to despatch them to the same part of the jungle!