You’ve hit a lovely drive but it’s nowhere to be seen. Has an animal made off with it? Here’s what our Rules of Golf expert says you need to consider

2023 Rules of Golf

It’s a game in an outdoor space so, inevitably, nature’s going to get involved occasionally. But what if you think the animal kingdom has been up to no good, but you are not quite sure? Let Robert Gitsham’s email explain: “This morning my friend hit a perfectly straight drive up the fairway. We found mine just off, but his was gone.

“It couldn’t have plugged and we both saw it go as straight as an arrow up the middle. Could we find it? We looked longer than the three minutes (friendly comp and no one behind).

“I said to just drop one in the middle and carry on. On returning to the clubhouse there were reports that a crow or raven had been seen stealing balls off the course in that vicinity.

“The bird must have carried it off somewhere, which we didn’t witness, but I have seen it happen often elsewhere so I know it’s very possible.

“What’s the ruling on this, please?”

Luckily, what seems like a complicated situation has a relatively straightforward answer – although I’m not sure it’s going to please Robert’s friend. So let’s reveal all…

Outside Influence Rule in Golf

Rules of Golf explained: Has my ball been moved by an outside influence?

This question comes up in various guises but it’s almost always when a player actually sees the rogue creature making off with their ball. Here, it’s simply a belief – with some circumstantial evidence – and that makes a big difference.

You’ll know if you see an animal moving your ball, you can simply replace it on its original spot under Rule 9.6 – Ball Lifted or Moved by Outside Influence. That’s even the case if you can’t retrieve it from the thieving critter.

But there are two things here that are going to stop you getting a freebie in the situation described by Robert.

The first is it’s got to be known or virtually certain that an outside influence lifted or moved the ball. Basically, that means either you need to have seen it happen, your playing partners or other witnesses need to have seen it happen, or you need to be at least 95 per cent sure the event in question happened.

Unfortunately, a bit of clubhouse gossip that a bird has carried out some skulduggery is not enough.

Secondly, Robert and his friend also exceeded the three-minute search time and, as they did not know what had happened to the ball when that period expired, it is now lost.

That would be the case even if they were to then stumble across a raven with the ball in its beak. Once the sands of time have run out, so has your luck.

The only option – if this was a competitive round – is to go back and play again under penalty of stroke and distance.

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.

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 23 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former captain and committee member, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the national Tournament Administrators and Referee's Seminar. He has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying and the PGA Fourball Championship. A member of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap.

Handicap: 10.9

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