Rules of Golf explained: I’ve lost my phone – am I allowed to search for it?

You’ve been through the bag. It’s nowhere to be found. So how long can you hunt if you’ve lost your mobile? Our Rules of Golf expert has the answer

We’ve all done it. Whether it’s a glove, or a towel, there’s always that sinking feeling when you realise you’ve left something behind during a round.

Mostly, we just shrug our shoulders and forge on. But what if it’s something you really don’t want to do without?

Enter Leslie Crawford who emailed me this scenario that must have been seen at other clubs as we forge on through the coronavirus pandemic.

“At Moray we use the HowDidiDo app on mobile phones to mark scores – you can use a scorecard if you don’t have a mobile or your phone does not assist the app – and after 10 holes my playing partner completed his putt and went to enter his score on his mobile.

“‘No mobile’ was the cry, so we searched the bag, phoned it – it was on silent – and then searched his route of play, where his third shot left us in some tough links rough on the dunes.

“We then had the next group upon us who also assisted the search. One guy then said, ‘You guys are now holding up the course’ – which we were – and the question was asked: ‘How long can you search for a mobile?’

“We could have let the group through but fortunately the mobile was found and the panic was over.”

Rules of Golf explained: Our expert says…

Pesky phones. If we’re not staring zombie-like at them enough, we’re chucking them about the golf course. Interesting question, though, you get three minutes to search for a ball, does the same apply to a phone or club?

I think Rule 5.6a – Unreasonable Delay of Play – is going to come into effect in the situation Leslie describes.

It says a “player must not unreasonably delay play, either when playing a hole or between two holes”.

It outlines examples where a “short delay” would be allowed – such as seeking help from a referee, an injury or illness, or when “there is another good reason”.

And it also outlines the penalties for a breach, which range from one stroke for the first time it happens to disqualification for the third.

The rules states that: “If the player unreasonably delays play between two holes, the penalty applies to the next hole”.

The real meat comes in an interpretation to the rule – “Examples of Delays That Are Considered Reasonable or Unreasonable”.

It states that: “Unreasonable delays in the context of Rule 5.6a are delays caused by a player’s actions that are within the player’s control and affect other players or delay the competition.

“Brief delays that are a result of normal events that happen during a round or are outside the player’s control are generally treated as ‘reasonable”.

It then adds that determining whether something is reasonable or not depends on all the circumstances.

But, helpfully, it lists some examples of actions that “if causing more than a brief delay in play” are likely to be considered as unreasonable delay.

And one of those I reckon is particularly pertinent to this case: “Returning to the teeing area from the putting green to retrieve a lost club”.

It seems to me the events Leslie describes would be a breach of Rule 5.6a and an official called in to sort out the situation might well find everyone who was in the group at fault – as they all took part in the search and therefore delayed play.

That delay was within their control – they didn’t have to look for the phone – it was more than ‘brief’, to the extent that the group behind caught up and joined in the search, and it affected other players, who commented on how long it was taking.

I think it would be hard, in those circumstances, to justify the delay as reasonable.

Next time, Leslie, get your playing partner to stick on the ‘Find my Phone’ app and go back later.

Have a question for our Rules of Golf expert?

Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf at the beginning of 2019, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s level 2 rules exam with distinction, I am more than happy to help.

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