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Rules of Golf

Lost ball

When you hit your ball deep into the sort of territory where it’s possible to lose a bag, let alone a ball, and then proceed to crush your provisional ball 250 yards straight down the middle, clearly there would be much merit in declaring your ball lost and focusing on trying to salvage bogey with the provisional ball.

Sadly the Rules make no allowance for such a course of action, and it is worth remembering that you cannot render your original ball lost simply by declaration.

Saying, “I’ll just declare that one lost” is a meaningless phrase under the Rules of golf, for it’s not what you say that matters in such circumstances, but what you do.

It is, indeed, one of golf’s greatest myths that you can declare your ball lost, and we will all at times have played with someone who has uttered words to that effect.

But the reality is that your ball can only be considered lost under the Rules when…

a) You have failed to find or identify the ball as yours within five minutes of you or anyone on your side (caddie, or playing partner in a pairs competition) starting the search for it.

b) You make a stroke at your provisional ball (if you have played one) from the place where the original ball is likely to be or nearer to the hole than that spot.

c) You have already put another ball into play under penalty of stroke and distance (rather than designating it a provisional ball).

d) You’ve put another ball into play because it is known or virtually certain that the unfound original ball has been moved by an outside agency, or is in an obstruction, an abnormal ground condition or a water hazard. In such circumstances you should proceed under the appropriate Rule for each scenario – outside agency (Rule 18-1); obstruction (Rule 24-3); abnormal ground condition (Rule 25-1); water hazard (Rule 26-1).

e) You have made a stroke at a substituted ball.

The good news is that you are not obliged to look for your ball if you don’t want to, and 99 times out of 100, those playing with you will be delighted not to be asked to rummage around in impenetrable rough for five minutes.

However, there is nothing to stop your opponent or fellow-competitor looking, and although good etiquette would probably suggest that he wouldn’t feel inclined to do so if you have clearly stated your intention to abandon it, there may just be the odd time in a match where he may want to.

Perhaps, for example, on a short par 4 where you’ve hit it sideways but not very far, then knocked a provisional on to the green from where you may well be more likely to make par than having to take whatever course of action the lie of the original ball might require, whether hacking out or having to take a penalty drop still in the trees.

That said, I have been playing for 30 years, and can’t remember ever encountering such a scenario!

And, of course, the simplest course of action if you really don’t want anyone looking for your original ball is to follow option (c) above and simply hit another ball without declaring it a provisional.

The downside to this is that, in the unlikely event that your original ball had actually taken an unseen fortunate ricochet back into play, you then wouldn’t be able to continue with it even if it was slap bang in the middle of the fairway!