You located a bad shot, went to get a club and are now searching once more. How much time do you have? Our Rules of Golf expert has the answer
There is always the moment of anxiety. The moment you arrive where you thought your ball might be only to see the rough was deeper than you anticipated.
A lot deeper.
This could take a while. You might wonder if you’ll ever find the ball in time, as the seconds tick away and three minutes threatens to expire. Then, whether it’s by luck or judgement, you see a sliver of something. It’s a miracle. You’ve found your ball. You’re not trudging back to the tee.
But the danger’s not over. You wander over to your trolley, 30 yards away, to get a club and on your return you realise you can’t find the ball again.
Some people put down gloves to make sure they can retrace their steps. It’s one of the principal reasons I wear a hat – that and an ever-receding hairline and a skin tone that melts on exposure to the summer sun.
It’s so I can put something close to the ball when it’s in a particularly rough thicket. Even then I might not locate it straight away.
But what’s the form if you can’t find it? What if you’ve lost your ball once more and need to search for it again? What happened to the clock that began when you first started looking?
If this sounds like a lot of questions, don’t worry. All the answers are about to be revealed…
Golf lost ball rule: Does the clock stop when you find a ball?
Some of you might think you get another three minutes. Others might argue the sands of time ran out as you were messing about getting a club from your trolley.
The truth is it’s neither of these things. Thankfully for anyone who is confused, there is a clarification to Rule 18.2 that’s all about this exact scenario.
It looks at occasions where the clock stops when a search is temporarily interrupted and whether “such time doesn’t count towards a player’s three minutes”.
It’s informative stuff and worth a read as you’ll find there are a load of occasions where you might have thought the buzzer had rung but were mistaken.
There is one particular example that cuts right to the heart of our discussion. A player finds and identifies their ball in high rough after searching for two minutes.
They leave to get a club and when they return they can’t find the ball. In this case, the player gets a further minute to search before the ball is lost.
The three-minute search time stopped when they found their ball the first time round and resumed when they started looking again.
Hardly anyone does it at club level but this is why it’s really important you know how long you’ve been searching for a ball.
I use a stopwatch on my phone and I’m aware exactly how much time has elapsed. It’s also what I do as a referee when I’m helping players look for their ball in tournaments, and you should really get into the habit of it when you play as well.
It saves a potential row. When a search has been going on for a bit, someone is going to say your time has run out. But who really knows?
It also helps when you’re trying to tell the player who just won’t let their ball go that they have gone way over the three minutes,
When you’re timing the search, it isn’t up for debate.
Got a question for our expert?
Despite the changes to the Rules of Golf in 2019 and 2023, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. I’ll try to help by featuring the best of your queries in this column.
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