Found out your ball has been moved only after the search time has expired? Rules of Golf expert Steve Carroll reveals your next move

Come across a ball? Never assume it’s yours. There’s nothing compelling you to put an identification mark on your ball, but I always try to do so, if only to avoid what’s about to happen in Sean McClean’s email when it’s lifted by another golfer.

He writes: “A player plays a shot and when he/she reaches the anticipated landing area there is no sign of it. The player and playing partner/s search for three minutes but cannot find it.

“The player then begins the walk back to play another shot when a player from another group runs back to apologise for playing a wrong ball – the one which the original player could not find. Is that still treated as a lost ball as the three-minute search time was over?”

Is Sean’s protagonist continuing the long walk back to the tee, or has their ball been returned just in the nick of time? Let’s find out.

Rules of Golf explained: Ball found after search time has expired

It is going to seem very unfair, but the ball is lost. Rule 9.6 says you’ve got to know, or be virtually certain, that your ball has been lifted or moved by an outside influence – in this case, a player from another group.

Our golfer here isn’t. The player has not seen it being moved, neither has their partners, and it doesn’t seem there was anyone else on hand to tell them what’s happened to the ball.

They’ve arrived on the scene, searched, and couldn’t find it. Once the three-minute search time after the player begins to look for it has expired, it doesn’t matter if the ball is then returned. It’s gone.

Their only option is to take stroke-and-distance relief under Rule 18.2. Keep walking back, hit again, and add a penalty stroke.

Have a question for our Rules of Golf expert?

Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf at the beginning of 2019, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s Level 3 rules exam with distinction, I’ll try to help by featuring the best in this column.

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