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Lost golf ball

Think you know everything about the lost ball rules?

Everyone knows what it feels like, but do you know what the Rules of Golf say when you can’t find your ball? Our guru leads you through the maze – including one we all get wrong

 

The lost ball. Like death and taxes, they can’t be avoided.

So we should know everything the Rules of Golf has to say about them. But do we really? Let’s see how you get on as we dive into the murky world of golf balls that cannot be found…

Golf rules lost ball: Everything you need to know about the lost ball rules

What is a lost ball?

Let us begin with the bit everyone knows. A lost ball is… one that’s not found in three minutes after you, your caddie, your partner, or partner’s caddie, start looking for it.

Don’t delay in getting to the scene…

You know it’s a three-minute search. Don’t try to get clever by hanging back in the hope others might get going first and help you eke out a bit more time.

The definition of lost deals with those who delay the start of a search to gain an advantage. It says that if a player “deliberately delays the start of the search in order to allow other people to search on their behalf” then the clock starts ticking when the player would have been in a position to search had they not held back on getting to the area.

rules of golf lost golf ball

Can you declare a ball lost?

Hopefully, this is the last time I’ll ever have to write this. Though, I strongly suspect, it will not be.

No. You cannot declare a ball lost. You haven’t been able to do so in the rules since 1964. That’s nearly 60 years, people. But this is a legend that has just endured.

That used to be detailed in an interpretation but in the 2023 Rules of Golf it is now explicitly written into the definition of lost.

One last time: A ball is lost only when it hasn’t been found within three minutes of starting the search for it.

I’m making light of this, but it comes up all the time and can be a problem for those who aren’t careful. Say you search for a minute or two, decide it’s gone, and then it’s found before those three minutes are up. The original ball is still in play. Don’t go hitting another in the erroneous belief you’ve declared it lost. You will have hit a wrong ball.

What if your search is interrupted?

This does happen. Perhaps you’ve waved a group through and you’ve stopped your frantic combing through the rough while they play. Perhaps you found a ball, have gone off to get a club, only to return and realise it’s not yours at all.

Here’s what happens: “The time between the interruption and when the search resumes does not count, and the time allowed for the search is three minutes in total, counting the search time both before the interruption and after the search resumes.”

What about if you leave to play a provisional?

The clock keeps ticking until the three minutes expire – even if everyone’s given up on the search.

Does looking for two balls change anything?

Oh dear, could it get much worse? But can you hunt for six minutes – three minutes for each ball? It depends where you’ve hit them. If you’re searching for a ball in play, and a provisional for example, how much time you get “depends how close the balls are to each other”, to quote a clarification to the definition of Lost.

If they’re both located in the same area, and can be looked for at the same time, get searching quickly. You only get three minutes.

If they’re on different sides of a fairway, then you’d be allowed a three-minute search time for each ball.

Golf ball lost rules: What do you make of these rules? Let me know by leaving a comment on X.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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