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How to Search for a Lost Golf Ball

It’s easy to lose your golf ball. Shots can go out of bounds or into the woods. They can settle at the bottom of a particularly shaggy plot of grass. Worse, they can be hit directly where you were aiming, only to disappear mysteriously once you get there. No golfer goes his whole career without losing a ball, and most will spend at least some time during each round searching for lost balls.

Below are a few ways to search for a golf ball you’ve lost sight of, and how to avoid losing it in the first place.

Before the Search

Before you have to search for your ball, do your best to keep track of where it’s going. Here are some pointers to do just that.

Follow the Shot

One of the hardest things to do in golf is to watch your own bad shot. It’s more pleasant to drop your head and mumble to yourself than it is to follow the pathetic flight of your ball.

However, you’ve got to try. Doing your best to watch the entire flight and roll of your shot is the best way to minimize your chances of losing your ball.

Hot Tip: Ask a Friend

A great way to follow your shot as closely as possible is by having one of your playing partners stand behind you as you hit. Ask him or her to keep an extra pair of eyes on your ball, and return the favor when it’s his or her turn to play.

Look Out for Landmarks

When you’re watching your ball in flight, try to track the line on which it’s traveling. Find a landmark you’ll be able to use as a reference once you’re out there searching for the ball. Things like unusual trees, colored stakes, and yardage markers can help you remember where your shot ended up.

The Search Begins

Following your shot should have given you a pretty good idea of where your ball ought to be. Once you’re there and don’t see your ball, it’s time to begin the search. Here’s what you need to know to find it.

Know the Rules

The first thing you should know when searching for your golf ball is how much time you’ve got. According to the official rules of golf, you only have five minutes from the time you arrive at the general location of where your ball ought to be to search for the lost ball.

If you haven’t found your ball at the end of the five minutes, you have to go back to where you played your last shot from and play a new ball from there. That is, if you’ve lost your tee shot, you have to go back to the teebox to play your new ball, with a one stroke penalty attached to your score.

Hot Tip: Make It Quick

Although five minutes may not seem like a lot of time, for the regular, weekend golfer, it is plenty. Unless the course is empty, do your best to speed things up. Don’t take the full five minutes for every lost ball you face during your round — and definitely don’t go over. You’ll appreciate the quicker pace of play from the groups ahead of you, as well.

Narrow the Search Area

The best way to search for your ball is to draw a line from where you hit the ball to where the ball should be. Stand in the general area of your lost ball’s location, and face the area from which you hit the shot. You should be able to narrow the search area this way, giving yourself less ground to cover and more of a chance to find your ball.

Work Together & Be Careful

The best way to find a lost ball is to have as many of your playing partners as possible helping. The more eyes, the better.

If you’re looking for a ball in an area with tall grass or other obstructions that may possibly be hiding it, be careful not to move your ball. Make sure that everyone is taking special care when using some of the following common search tactics:

  • Using a club to push away grass, bushes, or other obstructions
  • Using your feet to feel for a ball within such obstructions
  • Lifting impediments like fallen leaves, twigs, and rocks

Move On

There are few better feelings than finding a ball you thought you’d lost. Okay, maybe there are — but finding a lost ball is invigorating. On the same note, it can be devastating losing a shot you were sure you’d be able to find.

In any case, it’s important to deal with the result of your search and move on to the next shot with a clear head. The more you play, the better you’ll get. You’ll never be able to avoid losing a golf ball here and there, but with time and experience, you’ll definitely lose a lot less.

In golf, it's easy to lose track of your shots. Learn the best ways to find even the most well-hidden golf balls, and how to avoid losing them in the first place.
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