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Rules of Golf

August Rule of the Month - Searching for a ball

This content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2016 and may not be copied without permission


•    A player does not have to search for their own ball if they would rather not find it, e.g. when their original ball is likely to be deep in a gorse bush and their provisional ball is in the middle of the fairway.
•    If a player requests fellow competitors not to search for their ball it is poor etiquette, but not a breach of any Rule, for them to then go and look for the ball. However, this is not the case in match play, when an opponent may decide that they could benefit by finding the player’s original ball.
•    In match play, if an opponent does go to search for a player’s original ball, e.g. because the provisional ball is lying close to the hole, the player may quickly move to their provisional ball and putt it into the hole. As soon as they do so, they have rendered the original ball lost, even if it is subsequently found within 5 minutes of search beginning for it. Although the opponent may then recall this putt played out of turn (Rule 10-1c), it would not change the status of the original ball, which was lost as soon as the provisional ball was played from a position nearer to the hole (Decision 27-2b/1).
•    If a player’s ball is found within the five-minute search period, but because they are some distance away they are unable to make a positive identification within this time limit, it is not a lost ball, even though the identification takes place after the five-minute search period has elapsed (Decision 27-5/5).
•    A player may not return to where they last played from to play a provisional ball while fellow competitors continue to search for their original ball. Once the player has gone forward to search, say 50 yards from where they played from, any ball that they return to play becomes their ball in play as soon as they make a stroke at it, under penalty of stroke and distance, even if they wrongly announce it as being a provisional ball (Decision 27-2a/1.5).
•    Following on from the last point, once a player has dropped a ball with the intention of playing under penalty of stroke and distance, that ball is in play and the original ball is lost, even though no stroke has been made at it before the original ball is found within five minutes of search starting for it (Decision 27-1/2). The situation is slightly different if the ball was played from the teeing ground, as a ball may be teed up and addressed, but is not in play until a stroke has been made at it.
•    If a player knows that their ball has definitely come to rest in an area of ground under repair, casual water or any other abnormal ground condition, they do not have to search for it, they may take relief without penalty, using the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the abnormal ground condition as the reference point for dropping their ball (Rule 25-1c).
•    In stroke play, there is no penalty when a player accidentally moves the ball of a fellow competitor, but in match play an opponent does incur a penalty of one stroke, unless they were searching for it when they accidentally moved it. In every situation where a ball is accidentally moved it must be replaced (Rule 18-3a).
•    A player is permitted a total of five minutes to search for their ball. So if they find their ball after a two-minute search, leave the area to get a club and are then unable to find it, they have three more minutes to search before it is lost (Decision 27/3).
•    A player is allowed five minutes to search for their original ball and five more minutes to search for their provisional ball, unless the two balls are so close together that, in effect, both balls would be searched for simultaneously, when a total of five minutes is allowed for both balls (Decision 27/4).
•    A player may search for a lost ball after putting another ball into play, but must not play the first ball if they find it and must not unduly delay play while searching for it (Decision 27/9).