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golf ball moves during search

Time’s up! We’ve waited long enough – now let that golf ball go

You’re only allowed three minutes to look for your golf ball. So why, asks Steve Carroll, are you still buried in a bush well after that? It’s time to move on

 

You get three minutes to look for your golf ball. Don’t blame me. I’m just telling you what the Rules of Golf say.

I feel I need to specify the time restrictions for when a ball is lost in Rule 18.2 – as it’s laid down in the bible – because there’s been something of a quiet rebellion among a minority of golfers ever since five minutes became three back in 2019.

You’re not exactly on strike, or donning yellow vests and setting tee markers on fire, but, and how can I put this delicately, you might be taking an extra second or two. Or make that a minute or two.

Listen, I know golf balls aren’t cheap. If you’ve flared a TP5 or a Pro V1 into a load of bushes, I’m aware of the compulsion to find it at all costs.

When you lose one, it feels like you’ve shot cash out of a cannon into the cabbage. When you lose a few, it’s tantamount to declaring bankruptcy.

But not only is it against the rules to linger longer than allowed, it’s also time and effort you can’t spare if it’s a busy competition day and the course is piled up.

There’s nothing worse in a traffic jam than a player who just refuses to give up the hunt.

So what should you do? How can you fairly search for your ball, while not irritating your playing partners as well as everyone else in your near vicinity?

First up, employ a bit of common sense. If you’ve all but smashed it off the property, by all means go and have a look. But you’re doing it in the hope – rather than the expectation – that you’re going to come up with the goods. Don’t linger longer than is necessary.

unplayable lie

What if your ball’s fate is a little less clear cut? Now comes the bit you may not have thought about. Start a stopwatch. It’s my best friend as a referee and pretty much every phone has got one.

Not only does it allow you to keep tabs on how the hunt is going but the numbers don’t lie. Once you’ve hit three minutes, that’s it. Do not keep going. Do not pass go, or you’re going to end up in rules jail.

This simple act also ends the prospect of any argument. I’ve had to be the arbiter on a number of occasions where one player has accused another of taking more than the three minutes allowed – and yet no one had so much as glanced at a wristwatch.

Well, how can you prove it was more than three minutes then?

Finally, there’s nothing worse than the ball you think you should find but proves stubbornly resistant to being discovered. Grab your playing partners, grab anyone you can really, and get hunting.

But be realistic too. If you’ve been combing the grounds like a crack police unit searching for clues and it hasn’t come up, don’t be tempted to persist when those sands of time run out – however unfair or unjust it seems.

It’ll do two things. It’ll annoy anyone waiting and, do it persistently enough, your playing partners will soon stop volunteering to help the next time you find yourself in some difficulty.

As Elsa sings, let it go.

What’s the longest you’ve ever spent on a golf ball search and how did it end? Let me know with a tweet.

Golf ball search etiquette

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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