Our rules of golf expert finds himself constantly tearing out what’s left of his hair when he hears people claiming that a golf ball has been lost. So here’s what you absolutely need to know

This is probably the biggest myth in golf. It just refuses to die no matter how much you yell about it or just yell into a mirror. It’s such a common belief on our fairways that it will probably always have legs.

But let’s try to drown it out anyway – because the more of you who read this and pass it on, the better chance we have of finally silencing one of sport’s biggest misunderstandings…

Lost Golf Ball Rules: Can You Report a Lost Ball?


Once again: No.

Simple, isn’t it? But I get so many emails telling me that’s exactly what someone did in a particular rules situation, and it dominated how they proceeded on the course afterwards.

When I play too, people often say to me, after hitting a shocker, “I declare it a loss”.

But you can’t say that, and you haven’t been able to for a while.

I think one of the reasons it stuck around for so long is that in the dark, distant past of the rules you could indeed consider your ball to be beyond salvation and say so.

It was right there in definitions, like this one from the 1960 Rules of Golf: “A ball is ‘lost’ if…it is declared lost by the player without searching for five minutes.”

This book is quite important, actually. Because that was the last time that claim was published. Fast forward four years to 1964 and he was completely gone. You have not been able to declare a lost ball since.

These days there is a interpretation of the statement of loss which explicitly says “The ball cannot be declared lost”.

For the sake of clarity, here is what it says: “A player may not cause a ball to be lost by declaration. A ball is only lost if it has not been found within three minutes after the player, his caddy or his partner has started looking for it.

Why is it important?

Sometimes you’ll hit one so badly you won’t even look. You’ll take a run and distance relief and not think about it, will you?

That’s because there are times when thinking you can make such a statement, when you can’t, can get you in trouble.

There is a great example of this in interpretation. It describes a player who searches for his ball and spends two minutes doing so. They get fed up, declare the ball lost and start backing up to put another ball in play.

Before that happens, and within the three-minute search time, their original ball is found. He is still in play.

What if you announce a provisional? Yes, it becomes the ball in play after the three-minute search time expires, or when this provisional is played from a place nearer the hole than where the original ball is estimated.

So, once and for all, forget about declaring a lost ball.

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