You’ve been hunting for a wayward shot and the search has moved the ball. What do you do now? Our Rules of Golf expert has the answer

We’ve all endured a fretful rush trying to find a ball after an errant shot. I’m sure the situation described by David Lord in his email will be familiar to many of you…

“You hit your ball towards the green but pull the shot to the left. Four people look for the ball. One of the four players shakes a small bush and your ball drops out.

“Do you now play your ball where it lies, or do you take a penalty drop?”

Don’t worry about the ball falling out of the bush. You are allowed to fairly search for a ball and that means moving or bending tree branches. You can even break them, says Rule 7.1a, if that’s what it takes to locate it and is a result of “other reasonable actions taken to find or identify the ball”.

If your ball is accidentally moved by you or anyone else trying to find it, Rule 7.4 says there is no penalty. Helpfully for anyone still worrying, this rule clarifies that “accidentally” includes when you’re taking reasonable actions to find the ball “that were likely to reveal the ball’s location by moving it (such as by sweeping feet through long grass or shaking a tree”.

Do you now play the ball where it lies? No, you do not. You must replace the ball on its original spot which, in the case of David’s example, is back in the bush.

But if you’ve been shaking the bush in the hope the ball is in there, how can you know where that spot would be? The reality is you probably can’t and, if that’s the case, you take your best guess.

The ball was hanging within the branches of the bush, do you have to put it back in those branches? Yes. Rule 7.4 also says that if the ball was on, under, or against any growing or attached natural object then the ball must be replaced “on, under or against such object”.

Again, if you don’t know the exact spot then estimate. On many occasions, though, you’re not going to be able to get that ball to stay where you want. It’s going to fall to the ground.

What do you do now? You turn to Rule 14.2e, which considers what to do when a replaced ball won’t stay on its original spot. You try to replace it again and if it still won’t stay at rest, you replace the ball on the nearest spot where it will stay at rest – no nearer to the hole.

After all that, you can then decide whether to play the ball out of the bush or whether you’re going to cut your losses and take unplayable ball relief for a penalty stroke, using the spot of the ball to opt for either stroke-and-distance, back-on-the-line, or lateral relief.

Have a question for our Rules of Golf expert?

Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf, 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.

You can read all of Steve’s Rules of Golf explained columns here.

What have done when your golf ball moves during search? Let me know with a tweet.

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. Steve is currently playing: Driver: TaylorMade Stealth 2 3-Wood: TaylorMade Stealth 2 Hybrids: TaylorMade Stealth 2 Irons: TaylorMade Stealth 5-A Wedge Wedges: TaylorMade Hi-Toe 54 and 58 Putter: Sik Sho Ball: TaylorMade TP5

Handicap: 11.3

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