“Declaring a Ball Lost”

A fairly common phrase heard on the course after a poor shot “I’ll declare that ball lost”. The problem is that this has no meaning within the rules – under Rule 18.2a the only time a ball is lost is when it is “not found in three minutes after the player or his or her caddie begins to search for it”.

If a ball is discovered within the 3 minute search time and identified as the player’s ball, then that ball is not lost and it is the ball in play unless a provisional ball has been played from “Spot Nearer Hole Than Where Original Ball Is Estimated to Be”.

There is no requirement to go and search for your ball, so you can abandon it. But just saying that you want it to be lost does not make it a lost ball.

17 thoughts on ““Declaring a Ball Lost”

  1. Could you let me know what the rules say about what happens if you find your original ball after you have hit a provisional ball off the tee and then played it again, even if it is less than the three-minute looking for the first ball time frame? Sorry if this wording is confusing. I mean if you’ve sort of declared the 1st ball as lost by playing your provisional ball a 2nd time from where it landed but then you find your first ball before the 3-minute time frame has expired? Thanks.


    1. Hi Kevin

      If you have played your provisional again (no matter how many times) but from no closer to the hole than where you believe your first ball to be then it is still a provisional ball.

      Your provisional only becomes the ball in play when it is either:
      – played from closer to the hole than you believe your first ball to be, or
      – your first ball becomes lost after the 3 minute search time has elapsed

      This is covered in Rule18.3c(2)


      1. Scenario please –

        first ball travels (strikes tree whereabouts unknown)

        Provisional then played

        Advance forward, play provisional.

        Advance forward, find ORIGINAL, BEFORE reaching provisional,

        I MUST play original ( without penalty), I am laying 1, and provisional is out of play.


      2. Hi Mike
        Yes, that would be correct, with one possible exception as follows:
        If you thought that your original ball was further from the hole than your provisional – this would normally be evidenced by the focal point of your search being further from the hole than where the provisional was lying, and moving forward to then play the provisional. In this case you would have played the provisional from nearer the hole than where you believed the first ball to be and so the provisional would be in play (lying 4) and the first ball would have been abandoned.


  2. Interesting but how does this fit with not declaring a ball as a provisional?

    I thought that if you didn’t clearly state, prior to hitting a provisional ball, that it was a provisional then the provisional became the ‘ball in play’ and thus the first ball was lost.


    1. Hi Barrie

      You are correct – another ball put into play under stroke and distance will be the ball in play unless it is declared as a provisional before it is played. Making a statement that you want to count the first one as lost before you put another ball into play still has no effect though.

      The “declaring the ball lost” phrase is often uttered after a (good) provisional has been played – again it has no effect and in this situation the quickest way to “lose” the first ball is to play the provisional from closer to the hole than you believe the first ball to be.


  3. I thought there is another scenario where the first ball having been hit into the bundi and the provisional ball is holed out, that is it, once holed there is no requirement to play the first ball


    1. Hi Dave
      If the provisional ball is holed out (from further away than the estimated location of the original ball) then it would become the ball in play when it is lifted out of the hole – as this is considered to be equivalent to playing a stroke from nearer the hole than the original. This is specifically covered in Interpretation “18.3c(2)/4 When Score with Holed Provisional Ball Becomes the Score for Hole”.

      It might seem contradictory that the provisional is only considered “holed” once it is removed from the hole – but it does have a certain logic!


      1. Could get nasty, a race to find your opponents ball to make him play it before your opponent lifts it out of the hole


      2. What happens if pro playing in tournament hits into thick rough, pro hits provisional ball into hole and before pro can pick ball out of hole a spectator finds the ball, doesn’t seem fair


      3. This actually happened – I believe to Mark Roe – in a European Tour event. Tee shot at a Par 3 into deep rough. Provisional into the hole. Ball found by a Spectator and holed out in 3 more strokes for a 4. Missed the cut by 1…….


  4. As you said, you are not obligated to look for the ball. However, your fellow competitors or your opponent can look and if they find it within 3 minutes your ball is in play and not lost. There are times that it could be in your opponent’s best interest for them to find your ball.


    1. So can you declare “Stoke and Distance” prior to hitting your shot to stop anyone looking for your ball? To save the time of someone possibly finding it, then declaring it unplayable, then having to trot back and playing your provisional?


      1. The act of putting a ball into play under stroke and distance without declaring it to be a provisional automatically makes that the ball in play and the original ball is effectively “lost” at that moment.


  5. In a match play, ball lost by opponent, looked for it for over 3 minutes, ball not found. Opponent concedes the hole and then finds the ball after 5 minutes decides to play the hole. What happens to rest of the match then. Aren’t you playing under incorrect circumstances.


    1. Hi Ushma

      In Matchplay you can play out the hole after it is conceded (provided you do not unduly delay play) but that play will have no bearing on the result of the hole or the outcome of the match.

      However, you slightly imply that the players might have agreed to ignore at least one of the rules of golf (i.e. the 3 minute lost ball rule and/or that concessions are final and cannot be refused or rescinded). If they did this knowingly then both players would be disqualified from the match.

      Kind regards



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s