How much time do I really have to find my ball before it’s declared lost? It’s simple but can be a little complicated. The only reason why I say that is how many times have you gone searching for a ball and immediately pulled out your stop watch and started timing yourself, your competitor or an opponent? I would venture to say probably never.
The simple fact is, a ball can never be “declared” lost—it simply is, or it isn’t lost. The Definitions in the Rules of Golf state; There are five ways in which a ball can become “lost.” You can “declare” all you want, but the player’s ball is lost only if any one of these actions has been completed:
1. The ball is not found or identified within five minutes of searching.
2. The player has made a stroke at a provisional ball.
3. The player has put another ball into play under penalty of stroke and distance.
4. The player has put another ball into play because it is known or virtually certain that his ball, which has not been found, has been moved by an outside agency, or is in an obstruction, abnormal ground condition or water hazard.
5. The player has made a stroke at a substituted ball.
So, back to my point about being complicated, do you really know how long you have been looking for that soon to be lost ball? It could feel like an eternity that you were looking, but in reality, was only 4 minutes, or it felt like you just started looking for it, and your five minutes were already up. A good habit to get into is check what time it really is once you start looking for a ball to make sure there is no mistake in your five minutes allowed by the Rules of Golf.
Here is a perfect example of situation that I have encountered numerous times in a tournament competition. The player plays his approach shot to the green; searches for his ball briefly and then goes back and drops another ball under Rule 27-1. (Ball Lost or Out of Bounds; Provisional Ball) Before he plays the dropped ball, and within the five-minute search period, the original ball is found. Now what happens? Is the player required to continue with the dropped ball? The answer is YES. When the player put the substituted ball into play at the spot of the previous stroke with the intent to play a ball under penalty of stroke and distance, the original was lost. In the five examples under the definition of lost ball #3 states once the player has put another ball into play that’s now the ball in play.
The Rule 27-1 states if a ball is lost as a result of not being found or identified as his by the player within five minutes after the player’s side or his or their caddies have begun to search for it; the player must play a ball, under penalty of one stroke, as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played (see Rule 20-5).
Exception: If it is known or virtually certain that the original ball, that has not been found, has been moved by an outside agency (Rule 18-1), is in an obstruction (Rule 24-3), is in an abnormal ground condition (Rule 25-1) or is in a water hazard (Rule 26-1), the player may proceed under the applicable Rule.