Searching for a ball—Part 1


There are a couple of things that golfers get wrong when it comes to searching for a ball. I also witnessed an anomaly during last weekend’s Big Brother Limited-sponsored Malawi Match Play finals which saw the cream of golfers in all the three divisions across Malawi battling it out at Country Club Limbe. Read through below to enhance your understanding on this subject matter.

  • A player does not have to search for their own ball if they would rather not find it, e.g. when their original ball is likely to be deep in a gorse bush and their provisional ball is in the middle of the fairway.
  • If a player requests fellow competitors not to search for their ball, it is poor etiquette, but not a breach of any rule, for them to then go and look for the ball.

However, this is not the case in match-play, when an opponent may decide that they could benefit by finding the player’s original ball.

  • In match-play, if an opponent does go to search for a player’s original ball, e.g. because the provisional ball is lying close to the hole, the player may quickly move to their provisional ball and putt it into the hole.

As soon as they do so, they have rendered the original ball lost, even if it is subsequently found within five minutes of search beginning for it. Although the opponent may then recall this putt played out of turn (Rule 10-1c), it would not change the status of the original ball, which was lost as soon as the provisional ball was played from a position nearer to the hole (Decision 27-2b/1).

  • If a player’s ball is found within the five-minute search period, but because they are some distance away they are unable to make a positive identification within this time limit, it is not a lost ball, even though the identification takes place after the five-minute search period has elapsed (Decision 27-5/5).
  • A player may not return to where they last played from to play a provisional ball while fellow competitors continue to search for their original ball.

Once the player has gone forward to search, say 50 yards from where they played from, any ball that they return to play becomes their ball in play as soon as they make a stroke at it, under penalty of stroke and distance, even if they wrongly announce it as being a provisional ball (Decision 27-2a/1.5).


The author is a R&A certified tournament administrator and referee. He is also a teaching professional and a member of the Professional Golf Association of South Africa. For feedback, E-mail : dingaank@ or call 0888 346 510.


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