Lost Ball
Matt is an opinionated* golf enthusiast from Pennsylvania. He coaches at the high school level, molding the minds and swings of our next generation. His column will appear each Monday on ClubSG. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts and opinions of Matt in the comments. Don't hold back- because Matt won't.

Losing your golf ball is never a good thing. Sometimes you know as soon as you make contact that the ball is gone and sometimes it's a surprise. Whichever the case, it is a sinking feeling when you realize that your ball is in jeopardy. The first rule that you need to be aware of as you approach this situation is exactly how long you have to try and locate the ball. From the time that you arrive to the location that the ball was last seen, you have five minutes to search for it. Anyone and everyone is allowed to help you look and locate the ball. However, once that five minutes has expired, your ball is officially lost. Whether or not it is found after that time has elapsed, it is considered to be lost and play must continue accordingly.
If you lost your ball on your tee shot, then you head back and tee it up again.

So, the question is, how should play proceed once your ball is determined to be lost? Well, too often, guys will just drop a ball where they think their last ball was lost and proceed with a one-stroke penalty. While that does keep play moving, it is far from the appropriate procedure for continuing after losing your golf ball. Unfortunately, the options are very limited for what you must do in this situation. It is time to hop back in the cart and head back to the location where you hit your last shot. If you lost your ball on your tee shot, then you head back and tee it up again. However, if you lost your ball on any other shot, you must head back to that location and drop as nearly as possible to the previous lie, no closer to the hole, and play from there with a one-stroke penalty. Because you are returning to the point from which you previously played, the penalty for a lost ball is considered to be stroke and distance. For example, if you hit a ball 200 yards off the tee into high grass and it becomes lost, you must count the original shot, plus a one-stroke penalty, and replay from the original position, thus losing the distance of the first shot. Simply stated, you would be teeing off again and hitting three. That is very different from dropping a ball by the high grass and hitting your third shot from there. If you decide that you are not going to return to the spot of your last shot because the group behind you is waiting, you are walking and don’t feel like going all the way back, or are just too infuriated to bother playing it correctly, you should at least penalize yourself two strokes and be hitting your fourth shot from the location that your ball was last seen. Though it is clearly not playing by the rules, it is much closer than just taking a one stroke penalty and dropping.
You must voice your intention to your playing partners by clearly stating "provisional" or else you are automatically forced to proceed as if your first ball is lost.

To avoid the dilemma of having to go back to the point where you last played after searching for your ball unsuccessfully, you should hit a provisional from that spot before you leave it. If you hit a ball that you think may not be findable, you have the option to drop another ball and hit again just in case you can’t find the first one.

However, be very sure to declare the second ball a provisional before you hit it. You must voice your intention to your playing partners by clearly stating “provisional” or else you are automatically forced to proceed as if your first ball is lost. In other words, if you drop and hit another ball without declaring it a provisional, you just gave yourself a stroke and distance penalty no matter where your first ball is. It could have hit a tree and ended up in the middle of the fairway, but that doesn’t matter now. You have to play your second ball because you never stated it to be a provisional. So, if you think your shot might be lost, hit another to save some time, but be sure to announce that the second ball is strictly a provisional just in case you can’t find the first one. If the first one is found, the provisional is picked up without any penalty and play continues.

Losing your ball is never fun, but it is way less fun when you have to ride or walk back to the spot where you previously played from and do it all over again. So, if there’s any chance that you are going to have trouble locating your shot, be sure to hit a provisional. Remember, if your ball is lost and you play the provisional, you will be laying three and hitting four from the location of that second ball. It is not as simple as just dropping, taking a stroke, and playing from there. You must take a stroke and distance penalty for this mistaken swing. And, it should be noted that if you hit a provisional and then find your first ball, you no longer have the option of playing your provisional. The second ball can only be played if the first one is not located.

* Matt's views and opinions are his own do not necessarily reflect those of SkyGolf.

photo source

[ comments ]
nbryden says:
You had me in agreement until the final 2 sentences, but I suspect that is because of an additional circumstance rather than an overt disagreement with your statements. I believe that the provisional ball becomes the "ball in play" after 5 minutes of searching (even if the ball is subsequently found) OR if a further shot is played with the provisional ball from a point that is nearer to the hole than the point where the original ball is assumed to be lost - this additional shot must occur before the original ball is found.
paddyhibernian says:
Nbryden is correct!
drive4sho says:
It was already stated that the ball was considered lost if not found within 5 minutes. If you hit a provisional, you haven't even started looking for your ball yet. So, when you get to the first ball and find it, your provisional cannot be played, even if your first ball is unplayable.
PatrickThomas says:
Yesterday I hit a drive to the center of the fairway, we all saw it land as I walked up the fairway a fox came out of the forest and snatched my ball! He and my ball disappeared in the woods. What is the ruling?
Ken Pierce says:
you must out fox the fox!
[ post comment ]
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