I couldn’t get to it inside the allotted 3 minutes – 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? Our rules expert has the answer

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…

Rules of Golf explained: Is this ball lost?

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.

Have a question for our Rules of Golf expert?

Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf at the beginning of 2019, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s level 2 rules exam with distinction, I am more than happy to help and I’ll feature the best in this column.

Click here for the full Rules of Golf explained archive and details of how to submit a question to our expert.

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