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rules of golf lost golf ball

My ball was found but I couldn’t get to it in time – what happens now?

Someone has found your ball but your allotted three minutes search time passes while you are making your way to it. Are you penalised?

 

We think of rules as being without any flexibility. But that’s often not true, and it certainly isn’t when it comes to the Rules of Golf. Many people think they are only there to penalise but, on many occasions, the way they are written can help too.

We’ll see how this happens in the situation emailed by David Murphy, who said: “My opponent spent almost three minutes looking for his lost ball.

“With two seconds to go, a spectator found the lost ball but my opponent was too far away to arrive at the spot, or identify the ball, within the three minutes.

“Is the ball now out of play and my opponent playing under penalty?”

Let’s open up our Rule Books…

lost ball in golf search

Is this really a lost ball in golf?

Here’s where it’s important not to get fixated on things – particularly numbers. You might have three minutes in your head as an absolute, not a second more, and that is true for a ball that’s not found.

But, in this situation, we have one that is located before the end of the search time. Remember a ball is only lost, under Rule 18.2, if it is “not found in three minutes after the player or his or her caddie begins to search for it”.

When a ball is found in that three minutes, as it is here, Rule 18.2a (1) gives a player the opportunity to go and identify it if is uncertain whether it is theirs.

They’ve got to do that promptly, but they are allowed a “reasonable time to do so, even if that happens after the three-minute search time has ended”.

Not only that, but this rule also allows a player the same “reasonable time” to get to the ball if they are not where it is found.

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.

What do you think about this lost ball in golf rule? 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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