Yes, it's true.
The ball could only be lifted initially when it was touching an opponent's ball, and later when it was within 6 inches. This goes way back to the 1700s. Lifting and marking the ball on the green was first allowed in 1956 ("should" be lifted), but there was no "requirement" to mark the ball until 1976. Cleaning a ball on the green was not allowed until 1960. Here's the history of the Rules of Golf:
The "stymie" was in effect until the 1950s. The "stymie" applied only when there was one opposing ball in play, and resulted from the rule against lifting the ball. A stymie occurred when an opponent's ball lay between the player's ball and the hole. The player had to jump over the opponent's ball or go around it somehow. If the opponent's ball was hit and moved, the opponent had the option of replacing it or playing from the new position. If the opponent's ball was hit and knocked into the hole, the opponent got the benefit and was deemed to have holed out with the previous stroke. This got too tough, so the player was given the right to have the closer ball lifted in the case when the opponent's ball was in between the player's ball and the hole AND within six inches of the player's ball. Later, another provision was added to allow lifting of the opponent's ball when that ball was within 6 inches of the hole, since it was too tough to get the player's ball in the hole, no matter what the distance between the two balls (no on-top-of-the-hole stymies). The stymie was abolished in 1952. The player then had the right to have the opponent ball lifted and marked.
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