Rule 27 - Ball lost or out of bounds
How to lose your ball properly
In the next instalment of Rules in Focus, The R&A's Director of Rules and Equipment Standards tells you how to make sure that you proceed within the Rules when you’ve surrendered your ball to the golfing gods.
Lost Ball, Out of Bounds and Provisional Ball (Rule 27)
Golfers lose balls and hit them out of bounds all the time, so it is important to know what to do when this happens.
If your ball is lost or out of bounds you must return to where you last played from and play again from there – called stroke and distance (Rule 27-1).
Can a player verbally declare his ball to be lost?
A player cannot render a ball lost by declaration; it is what the player does and what happens that matters, rather than what the player says. A ball can only be considered lost when:
(a) it is not found or identified by the player within five minutes after the player’s side or his or their caddies have begun to search for it; or
(b) the player has made a stroke at a provisional ball from the place where the original ball is likely to be, or from a point nearer the hole than that place; or
(c) the player has put another ball into play under penalty of stroke and distance; or
(d) the player has put another ball into play because it is known or virtually certain that the ball, which has not been found, has been moved by an outside agency, is in an obstruction, is in an abnormal ground condition or is in a water hazard; or
(e) the player has made a stroke at a substituted ball.
Can a player drop a ball in the area where he thinks his original ball is lost, rather than going back to where he last played from?
No. Whilst doing so may save time, the player must return to where he last played and put a ball into play under penalty of stroke and distance. If the player has not found his ball, he has no reference point at which to drop a ball. Dropping a ball in the general area where he thinks the original ball is lost is inaccurate and might result in disagreement amongst the players as to where the spot should be. As a result, there would be a complete lack of consistency and fairness.
Provisional Ball (Rule 27-2)
If, after playing a shot, you think your ball may be lost outside a water hazard or out of bounds, you should play a provisional ball. The idea behind this Rule is that it saves time; it means that you do not have to return to where you last played from if your ball is lost or out of bounds.
You must announce your intention to play a provisional and you must play it before you go forward to search for your original ball.
If it transpires that your original ball is lost or out of bounds, then you must continue with your provisional ball.
Can a player play a provisional ball if he thinks his ball has gone into a water hazard?
It is not possible to play a provisional ball simply when you think your original ball may have gone in a water hazard. However, you are entitled to play a provisional ball if the original ball might also be lost outside the water hazard - in bushes or long grass outside the hazard, for example – or if it may have gone out of bounds. In such a case, if the original ball is found in the hazard, the provisional ball must be abandoned.
May a player, after going forward to search for his ball, return to where he last played from in order to play a provisional ball?
No. If the player did so, the second ball would become the ball in play and the original ball would be lost. You must play a provisional ball "before going forward to search" for your original ball as the principle behind the provisional ball Rule is the saving of time.
Say a player hits his tee-shot into the trees and so he correctly plays a provisional ball which comes to rest next to the hole. Must the player look for his original ball?
No. It is up to the player if he wants to look for his ball or not. If the player walks directly to the provisional ball and plays it, as the provisional ball is nearer the hole than the place where the original ball is likely to be, play of the provisional ball renders the original ball lost.