Rules of Golf explained: What happens if you find a lost golf ball then lose it again?


You located a bad shot, went to get a club and are now searching once more. How much time do you have? Our Rules of Golf expert has the answer

There are times, stuck in the deep stuff, where you despair of ever finding the ball. Then there it is, a little chink of white and a miracle. You’re not trudging back to the tee.

Danger still awaits, though, as David Wells explained in an email: “I found my ball inside three minutes and shouted to someone looking that I had found it.

“He didn’t hear me, so I wandered over to him and told him. Then I got my trolley and couldn’t find my ball straight away again. It took another minute…”

This is one of the principal reasons I wear a hat – that and an ever-receding hairline and a skin tone that melts on exposure to the summer sun. I can put something near the ball when it’s in a particularly rough thicket and stroll right back to it if I need to get a club.

But what if you find yourselves in David’s shoes? What if you must spend more time looking for your ball?

Let’s get stuck in…

Rules of Golf explained: Our expert says…

Everyone knows you now get three minutes to search for a ball before it is lost but how is that affected if you’ve already found it, and then mislaid it again? Do you get another three minutes? Have you already run out of time?

Luckily there’s an interpretation to Rule 18.2 that directly addresses this situation.

It looks at scenarios where the ticking ‘clock stops’, and “such time doesn’t count towards a player’s three minutes”. It’s worth reading, because there’s a whole range of issues it covers – such as discovering you’ve hit a wrong ball, or if play is suspended by the committee.

But there’s one example that cuts right to David’s chase. A player finds and identifies their ball in high rough after searching for two minutes.

They leave to get a club and when they return they can’t find the ball. In this case, the player gets a further minute to search before the ball is lost.

The three-minute search time stopped when they found their ball the first time round and resumed when they started looking again.

This is why it’s important you know how long you’ve spent searching for a ball. I start a stopwatch – on my phone – when I begin looking, so I know exactly how much time I’ve used.

It’s how referees time players who are searching in tournaments and I’d urge you to start doing the same thing in your rounds.

It also saves arguments if you’ve had a protracted search, find a ball, and a wag starts telling you your time had expired. Or vice versa, when you’ve got a player who’s way over the three minutes who just won’t let it go.

How do you prove the three minutes was or wasn’t up? If you’ve been timing it, there’s no room for doubt.

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.

If you’ve sent me an email and are yet to hear back from me, I will try to answer your query. I have been inundated with requests in recent and am working hard to try and get through them.

I’ve also received a number of emails from players hoping I can intervene in a club rules dispute. For fairly obvious reasons, I can’t do that and would direct those players either to their county or to the rules department at the R&A for a definitive judgement.

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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