Our Rules of Golf expert finds himself constantly tearing out what's left of his hair when hearing of people declaring a golf ball lost. So here's what you absolutely must know

This is probably golf’s biggest myth. It just refuses to die, no matter how much you shout about it, or just scream into a mirror. It’s a belief that’s just so widespread on our fairways that it will probably always have legs.

But let’s have a go at squelching it anyway – because the more of you that read this and pass it on, the more we’ll have a chance of finally silencing one of the sport’s largest misunderstandings…

Lost golf ball rules: Can you declare a ball lost?

No.

One more time: No.

Simple, isn’t it? But I get so many emails telling me that’s exactly what someone has done in a particular rules situation, and it’s dominated how they’ve then proceeded on the course.

When I’m out playing too, people will often say to me, after hitting a shocker, “I’ll declare that lost”.

But you can’t say that, and you haven’t been able to for quite some time.

I think one of the reasons this has stuck as long as it has is that, back in the dim and distant rules past, you were indeed able to consider that your ball was beyond salvation and say so.

It was right there in the definitions, like this one from the 1960 Rules of Golf: “A ball is ‘lost’ if… it be declared lost by the player without searching for five minutes.”

That book is pretty significant, actually. Because it was the last time that assertion appeared in print. Fast forward four years to 1964 and it was completely gone. You’ve not been able to declare a ball lost since.

These days, there’s an interpretation to the declaration of lost that explicitly says ‘Ball May Not Be Declared Lost’.

For the sake of clarity, this is what it states: “A player may not make a ball lost by declaration. A ball is only lost when it has not been found within three minutes after the player or his or her caddie or partner begins to search for it.”

Why does it matter?

Sometimes you’ll hit one so badly you won’t even look. You’ll take stroke-and-distance relief and think nothing of it, right?

It’s because there are occasions where thinking you can make such a declaration, when you can’t, can get you into trouble.

There’s a great example of this in the interpretation. It outlines a player who is searching for their ball and spends two minutes doing so. They get fed up, declare it lost, and start walking back to put another ball into play.

Before that happens, and within the three-minute search time, their original ball is found. It is still in play.

And what if you announce a provisional? Yep, it becomes the ball in play after the end of the three-minute search time, or when that provisional is played from a spot nearer the hole than where the original ball is estimated to be.

So, once and for all, put any thoughts of declaring a ball lost out of your minds.

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