Can you declare your golf ball lost? Rules reminder

Ahead of a summer break jam-packed full of golf, we thought we would just go over some of the often confused rules of golf, starting with the lost ball.

David Hearn

A regular source of disagreement between golfers is at what point your golf ball is lost.

Most golfers are aware that you have 5 minutes to search for your golf ball – after that your ball is deemed lost and under the penalty of one stroke play your next shot “as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played”.

Now, you may have been one of those efficient, forward thinking golfers who elected to play a provisional golf ball knowing you may not find your first. If you hit that provisional golf ball to a few feet from the hole, can you declare your first ball lost and go straight to your provisional?

You cannot ever “declare your ball lost”.

Your first ball is still technically in play and there is nothing stopping your playing partner, or anyone else from looking for it. If they find it within the 5-minute search time window, you must play it.

The best way to understand when a golf ball is deemed lost is by looking at the definition of lost ball in the Rules of Golf:

A ball is deemed “lost” if:

a. It is not found or identified as his by the player within five minutes after the player’s side or his or their caddies have begun to search for it; or
b. The player has made a stroke at a provisional ball from the place where the original ball is likely to be or from a point nearer the hole than that place (see Rule 27-2b); or
c. The player has put another ball into play under penalty of stroke and distance under Rule 26-1a, 27-1 or 28a; or
d. The player has put another ball into play because it is known or virtually certain that the ball, which has not been found, has been moved by an outside agency (see Rule 18-1), is in an obstruction (see Rule 24-3), is in an abnormal ground condition (see Rule 25-1c) or is in a water hazard (see Rule 26-1b or c); or
e. The player has made a stroke at a substituted ball.

So while you don’t need to go search for your golf ball, you can’t declare your ball lost. But there are a few ways you can deem it lost according to the rules of golf:

You could play a shot from the original location – without declaring it a provisional ball (Point c above).
You could play a provisional ball and then play it provided it is closer to the hole than the place where your original ball may be.

The rules of golf can be complicated, but we hope that helps. If in doubt, just hit ’em straight!

3 thoughts on “Can you declare your golf ball lost? Rules reminder

  • December 17, 2014 at 23:32
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    What if you were to knock your provisional a few feet from the hole and then sprint to the green ahead of everybody and tap it in before they have a chance to look for it?

    Reply
    • December 18, 2014 at 12:49
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      Yep, that’s the meaning behind point b)…

      Reply
    • September 4, 2017 at 21:45
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      You’d be penalised for playing out of turn unless you were furthest from the hole

      Reply

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