Golf Rules: Lost Ball
The simple and most important thing to know when it comes to a lost ball is that you have no choice but to play another ball from where the original shot was hit under a penalty of stroke and distance. For example, let’s assume you have carved your tee shot into some bushes and the ball is lost – you would have to play the tee shot again and this would be your third shot.
The next thing to look at is what to do if you think your ball might be lost but aren’t sure. It happens all the time – you have hit an errant tee shot and are unsure whether you’ll ever see your ball again. In this situation it always makes sense to play a provisional ball. Tell those playing with you that this is what you are doing and ideally use a ball that can be distinctly identified as different to your first (this identification is not a requirement under the Rules, however). If your first ball is lost, you can carry on playing the provisional without having to go back to where you played the previous shot from and delay play. You can carry on playing the provisional ball until you reach the area where you believe the original ball to be.
Under the rules of golf you have three minutes to search for your ball. The amount of time allowed changed from five to three minutes in the last set of rules revisions that came into play at the start of 2019. The three minutes start when you, your caddie, your partner or your partner’s caddie reach the area where you believe the ball is situated. As soon as the three minutes is up, the ball is lost under the rules if you are unable to find it.
Contrary to what some golfers believe, the rules of golf do not allow you to declare your ball lost. If you have hit your ball into a particularly bad spot, you may decide not to look for it but your opponent or playing companions may still look for it and stumble across it. If they do, you will have to deal with it from where it is found – however bad! Of course, you could always play another ball from where the original bad shot was taken without declaring it a provisional ball. In this situation, the second ball automatically becomes the one in play, but beware – if your original ball had taken an unseen ricochet into a favourable spot, you would not be able to play it.