Golf Rules: Lost Ball

How do you proceed if you think your ball might be lost on the course?

Golf Rules: Lost Ball
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Golf Rules: Lost Ball

The simple and most important thing to know when it comes to a lost ball is that you have no choice but to play another ball from where the original shot was hit under a penalty of stroke and distance.

For example, let’s assume you have carved your tee shot into some bushes and the ball is lost - you would have to play the tee shot again and this would be your third shot.

The next thing to look at is what to do if you think your ball might be lost but aren’t sure. It happens all the time - you have hit an errant tee shot and are unsure whether you’ll ever see your ball again. In this situation it always makes sense to play a provisional ball.

Tell those playing with you that this is what you are doing and ideally use a ball that can be distinctly identified as different to your first (this identification is not a requirement under the Rules, however).

If your first ball is lost, you can carry on playing the provisional without having to go back to where you played the previous shot from and delay play.

Watch: 8 rules golfers break without realising (opens in new tab)

You can carry on playing the provisional ball until you reach the area where you believe the original ball to be.

Under the rules of golf you have three minutes to search for your ball.

The amount of time allowed changed from five to three minutes in the last set of rules revisions that came into play at the start of 2019 (opens in new tab).

The three minutes start when you, your caddie, your partner or your partner’s caddie reach the area where you believe the ball is situated. As soon as the three minutes is up, the ball is lost under the rules if you are unable to find it. 

Related: 7 tips to help you find your golf ball

Your opponents can still look for your golf ball even though you may not want them to (Getty Images)

Contrary to what some golfers believe, the rules of golf do not allow you to declare your ball lost (opens in new tab). If you have hit your ball into a particularly bad spot, you may decide not to look for it but your opponent or playing companions may still look for it and stumble across it.

If they do, you will have to deal with it from where it is found - however bad! Of course, if you don't want to risk finding your ball in a really bad spot, you could simply play another ball under stroke and distance from where the original shot was played without declaring it a provisional ball.

In this situation, the second ball would automatically become the one in play, but beware - the downside is that if your original ball had taken an unseen ricochet into a favourable spot, you would no longer be able to continue with it.

Neil Tappin
Digital Editor

In his current role, Neil is responsible for testing drivers and golf balls. Having been a part of the Golf Monthly team for over 15 years and playing off a handicap of 3, he has the experience to compare performance between models, brands and generations. For 2022 he thinks the main trend in drivers is: "In a word, consistency. Whilst all the brands are talking about ball speed (and the new drivers are certainly long), my biggest finding has been how much more consistent the ball flights are. Mishits don't seem to be causing the same level of drop-off or increase in the spin numbers. This means that more shots seem to be flying the way you want them to!" As far as golf balls are concerned the biggest development is in the, "three piece, non-Tour, urethane-covered section. For regular golfers, these models offer superb performance at both ends of the bag without denting your wallet quite as much as the premium Tour-played options."


Originally working with the best coaches in the UK to produce instruction content, he is now the brand's Digital Editor and covers everything from Tour player interviews to gear reviews. In his time at Golf Monthly, he has covered equipment launches that date back well over a decade. He clearly remembers the launch of the Callaway and Nike square drivers as well as the white TaylorMade driver families, such as the RocketBallz! If you take a look at the Golf Monthly YouTube channel, you'll see his equipment videos dating back over a decade! He has also conducted 'What's In The Bag' interviews with many of the game's best players like Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm. Over the years, Neil has tested a vast array of products in each category and at drastically different price-points. 

Neil is currently playing: Driver: TaylorMade Stealth Plus Fairway Wood: Titleist TSi2 Hybrid: Titleist TS3 Irons (4-9): Mizuno JPX 919 Forged Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM7 46˚, 50˚, 54˚, 60˚ Putter: Odyssey Triple Track Ten Ball: Titleist Pro V1X