Friday, 29 June 2012

Must You Search for Your Lost Ball

A question that I received last week raises a few issues on the Rules;
“One of the members of our group hit a ball off the tee and his ball veered sharply into the trees on the right. At the rear of these trees is a lake that has red stakes approximately four meters in front of the water. Thinking that the ball may be lost, or had entered the water hazard, the player then chose to hit a provisional ball, which he sent down the middle of the fairway. He immediately declared his first ball lost and designated his provisional ball as his ball in play. Was this a correct procedure or was he obliged to look for the first ball for up to 5 minutes? Also, if he had not played a provisional ball and could not find his ball in the woods, could he assume that it was in the hazard and drop another ball for a penalty of one stroke, or would it be necessary for some of us to have seen that the ball entering the margin of the hazard or indeed the lake?"
Here are some of the issues raised by the above scenario; why not test your knowledge of the Rules by comparing your answers with mine, which are below?
  1. May you play a provisional ball if it is likely that your original ball is in a (lateral) water hazard?
  2. May you declare that your ball is lost and therefore abandon it in favour of your provisional ball?
  3. May you choose not to search for your original ball if you would rather play your provisional ball?
  4. If you cannot find your original ball in these circumstances may you assume that it must be lost in a water hazard and take relief from the hazard under Rule 26-1?
  5. May you play a provisional ball if you find your original ball unplayable inside a water hazard?
Here are my answers to the above questions;
  1. Yes, even though it is likely that the original ball is in a water hazard, a player is entitled to play a provisional ball if it might also be lost outside of the water hazard, or might be out of bounds (Decision 27-2a/2.2).
  2. No a player may not declare their ball lost. Click on this previous blog link of mine for a full explanation.
  3. Yes, a player does not have to search for their ball if it is not visible and they choose not to play it. However, if someone finds a ball that is believed to be the player’s original ball before they have played their provisional ball from a point nearer to the hole than where it is thought that the original ball may be, then the player must identify it and if it is their original ball must continue play with it (Decision 27-2c/2). In stroke play, it is considered good etiquette for a fellow competitor not to search for a ball that the player wishes to abandon, but in match play an opponent may choose to search for it if they consider that it is to their advantage to find it.
  4. No, unless it is known or virtually certain that the ball is lost in a water hazard the player must treat the ball as lost outside of the hazard and must proceed under penalty of stroke and distance (Rule 27-1).
  5. No, the player must abandon the provisional ball and continue play with the original ball (Rule 27-2c). They must either play the ball from the hazard or take one of the options for taking relief from a water hazard as in Rule 26-1.
If you are interested in improving your understanding of the Rules of Golf then I am confident that you will enjoy my 99 issues of the ‘Rhodes Rules School’ photo series, each of which poses questions similar to the above, with photos or diagrams illustrating the different circumstances. You can either receive them by weekly email free of charge, or purchase them for just $9 (€7 or £6) as a complete set of over 200 questions and answers. Check out this link for more information.

Good golfing,

The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2012 and may not be copied without permission.


Len Wright said...

Barry, this happened yesterday in a match play game with my golf partner.

We both drive off the tee of a par four hole. My partner played his second shot to the green and it went into the woods. I played my second shot and it landed on the green. My partner dropped a second ball from the position of his second shot, which he declared was a provisional ball. His second ball landed on the green. He immediately stated that he was declaring his first ball as lost, but it was a quality ball so he was going to look for it. I told him that this was grossly unfair as he knew where his "provisional ball" had ended up before declaring his original ball as lost. I told him he had to search for his original ball for 5 minutes before it would be deemed as lost. He replied OK but I will make sure that I don't find it. Can this be permitted as he had a distinct advantage in knowing where his 'provisional ball' had landed up. Surely, he should not play a 'providionsl ball' until after the 5 minute search had elapsed,

Barry Rhodes said...


First, I am assuming that you are referring to an opponent rather than a partner, who in the Rules of Golf is a player that is on your side (e.g. in a four-ball). Having played a good provisional ball to the green your opponent is perfectly entitled not to search for his original ball, but he cannot declare it as lost, as is the whole point of this blog. You could have gone to search for his original ball and if you had found it before five minutes had elapsed he would have had to continue play with it and abandon his provisional ball on the putting green. Some may claim that this is bad etiquette, but it is perfectly acceptable in a match play situation.

You say, "Surely, he should not play a 'provisional ball' until after the 5 minute search had elapsed", which isses the whole point of playing one. Rule 27-2 states that a player has to play a provisional ball before going forward to search for their original ball.