Rules Guy: In a best-ball match, are both players penalized if search time expires for a lost ball?

What do the rules say about penalties when you run out of time looking for your ball?
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The Rules of Golf are tricky! Thankfully, we’ve got the guru. Our Rules Guy knows the book front to back. Got a question? He’s got all the answers.
In a better-ball match, our opponents took more than three minutes to search for a ball. I warned them that their search time had expired, but they continued to look and found the ball after five minutes. Does the loss-of-hole penalty apply to both players or just to the one whose ball was lost? —Chris West, Tempe, Ariz.
First, as Rules Guy is wont to do, some hairsplitting: The act of searching too long isn’t a Rules breach — the breach is the act of playing a ball that was lost and no longer in play. (Yes, yes, unreasonable delay is another possible breach too.)
Before you put Rules Guy on the clock, the answer is that the player who makes a stroke at the lost ball gets a loss-of-hole penalty for making a stroke at a wrong ball. While that player is disqualified for the hole, under Rule 23.9a(2) the penalty does not apply to the partner.
For more lost-ball guidance from our guru, read on …
My tee shot landed in some deep rough and had to mark my ball to identify it. When I lifted what was indeed my ball, it was sitting on top of another, lost ball. Our group had no idea what to do. —Dave MacPherson, St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada
Apologies in advance, Dave, but sometimes the answers to rules questions turn on fine margins. This is one such case.
That abandoned ball is an obstruction, and a movable one so long as it can be removed without unreasonable delay or causing damage to the course. The question then becomes whether your ball was atop/astride the other ball but also on the ground, or wholly balanced atop the other ball not touching the ground.
If the former, you put your ball back as required and then remove the abandoned ball — assuming your ball moves because of that removal, per Rule 15.2 you just put it back on its original spot with no penalty.
If the latter, per Rule 15.2(2) you remove the obstruction and then drop your ball in a one club-length relief area based on the spot underneath where your ball sat atop the abandoned ball, no nearer the hole and in the same area of the course.
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Got a question about the Rules? Ask the Rules Guy! Send your queries, confusions and comments to We promise he won’t throw the book at you. and GOLF Magazine are published by EB GOLF MEDIA LLC, a division of 8AM GOLF


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