A Lost Ball is annoying, but it is not a mortal sin to lose one or two during the round. However, losing your ball on the putting green could be seen as overstepping the mark.
A US PGA tour member became an unwilling victim of a lost ball on the putting green. In line to win the tournament the player marked his ball on the final hole and threw it to his caddie to clean. Caught by surprise the caddie missed the ball which rolled into a greenside pond.
The five minute search uncovered a number of balls, but unfortunately not the ball in question. With a two shot penalty added to his score, the player lost the tournament. The fate of the caddie was not reported.
Many golfers fail to mark their ball with some form of personal identification. Technically this leaves them open to losing their ball anywhere on the course, even on the fairway, if they cannot positively identify the ball as theirs. The make, model and number of the ball is not enough proof.
Golfers can also lose balls in less predictable circumstances. When I was a junior at my local course a golfer in a rain-affected weekend competition took a free drop from casual water and the ball disappeared.
The Rule states that a player must hole out with the ball played from the teeing ground. You would think that it is impossible to lose a ball when taking a drop.
Prior to 1984 the Rule read "the player himself shall face the hole, stand erect, and drop the ball behind him over his shoulder". In 1984 the golfing bodies changed this rule to allow the player to hold the ball at shoulder height and arm’s length and drop it to the front or side.
What happened in this unusual case of a lost ball was that the player dropped the ball into the hood of his rain jacket and only discovered it after the game.
In similar vein a golfer marked his ball on the green and placed it without thinking in the roll of his shirt sleeve. When his turn came to putt he was unable to find the ball. Reluctantly he was forced to accept a higher score for the hole when he putted out with a substituted ball. It was only on the next tee that he noticed the bulge in his sleeve and the mystery was solved.
Playing golf inevitably leads to lost balls. In places like Florida you should come prepared. With water just about everywhere, the only way a high handicapper can complete the round is to have a good stock in the bag.
The water hazard unlike the wayside rough is final rather like the guillotine during the French Revolution. There is no way of retrieving your ball. This misfortune has been a boon to others as lost balls have created a new industry of lake balls. Professional divers, under contract, fish them out and offer them for sale on the internet.
In Thailand there is a way to avoid the inconvenience of a lost ball. Your group can insure against the risk by taking a 'water boy' in addition to the obligatory caddies. When your ball finds the water, the water boy dives in and retrieves it. If not the exact ball, it is one of equal worth and sometimes better.
In his writings on golf published in the book The Marvellous Mania Alistair Cooke of Letter from America fame had this to say. "In Bangkok, before the natives took to cement and the automobile, the canals looked like irrigation ditches slicing every fairway. Forecaddies, as nimble as grasshoppers, spent the day diving into the canals and surfacing with an ear-to-ear grin while they held aloft a ball drenched with cholera".
While some may think that the cost of a lost ball is irrelevant when compared to the green fee for playing, the majority of golfers don’t share this sentiment. Seasoned competitors on arriving at a hole where water comes prominently into play, reach for an old ball out of habit. This appears to be in response to a law of physics that the newer the ball, the more it is attracted to water.
Given the apparent importance of finding a ball, even one of questionable condition, golfers in a social game appear to lose track of time and forget the five minute rule.
Etiquette dictates that "players searching for a ball should signal the players in the group behind to play through as soon as it becomes apparent that the ball will not easily be found. They should not search for five minutes before doing so".
This recommendation in the Rule book is largely ignored at public courses where rounds now take in excess of five hours.
Losing a ball is one side of the golfing equation. Finding a golf ball can balance the ledger. Restore the equilibrium so to speak. However, it would be wise to follow Mark Twain’s advice that "it's good sportsmanship to not pick up lost golf balls while they are still rolling".
I am always pleasantly surprised when I find an abandoned ball hidden under some debris, especially if it is in good condition. However, for the serious ball hunter there are devices to help in the search for bounty.
The Ballfinder Scout is an innovative electronic device that can quickly locate hard-to-find golf balls. Endorsed by Nick Faldo it claims that it can instantly pinpoint a ball in the rough, even when it's invisible to the naked eye. There may even be a business opportunity here for the moonlighter if metal detecting for coins and rings on the beach slows down.
According to the National Golf Foundation 2,465,753 golf balls are lost every day in the U.S. Where these balls are located and how the foundation arrives at this figure is anyone’s guess.
The life of an average ball may be similar to that of an adult butterfly. In the wild most butterflies’ life-span is less than a month because of the dangers of predators and disease. Similarly a golf ball’s life can be prematurely shortened by the out-of-bound fence, hungry trees, overgrown rough, and the ubiquitous water hazard.
One thing is certain in golf wherever you play it. Without a golf ball, you simply can’t tee it up.