Penalty Strokes for Losing a Ball in Golf [WHAT ARE THEY?]

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Penalty strokes, losing balls, and their effects on the score are unfortunate parts of golf for most golfers. But something that confuses many amateur golfers is the penalty strokes for losing a ball in golf. Here’s how it breaks down:

The golfing association says a penalty stroke will be given to a player under rule 18.2-A if a ball cannot be found within three minutes of searching by the player. Failing to find it will result in the golfer receiving one penalty stroke, and they’ll have to play the ball from the position of the last stroke.

If you want to understand more about stroke penalties and how to avoid them, I suggest you read the below. Here we go into greater detail about what they are and how you can minimize the chances of them occurring.

How many penalty strokes are added for a lost ball in golf?

To better visualize how penalty strokes work, let’s describe a game situation to help you better understand how and why you’ll receive them.

Think of it like this, you’ve taken your shot and sent it into some long grass or the spooky-looking trees on the course, so you go off to find your golf ball. You then spend the 3 minutes given to you by rule 18.2-a, but exceed your timeframe to find it. Your ball is now classified as lost.

Once the ball is declared as lost, most golfers tend to make a critical mistake, either due to a lack of understanding of the rules or to help speed up the game. A player will typically drop another ball in an area close to where the original became lost, add a single stroke to their score, and then carry-on playing from there.

However, in a real game, you’ll be given one penalty stroke and will have to return to your original stroke position before you lost the ball.

Is a lost ball a 2-stroke penalty?

No, or at least it shouldn’t be. Losing a golf ball should only give you a 1-stroke penalty and you’ll have to go to your original stroke position. However, if you take your shot in the area near where the original was lost, you will receive a General Penalty for playing a ball from the wrong place. The General Penalty will cost you the hole in match play or two penalty strokes.

While you, like most players, will lose your balls, you don’t need to lose your mind over extra penalties you didn’t see coming. Playing the ball from the wrong place is a common mistake, but now you know how many penalty strokes are added for a lost ball in golf, you won’t want to add more.

How to avoid penalty strokes?

Every beginner golfer benefits from lowering their stroke play on the green. Keeping those penalty strokes to a minimum is essential to winning, and it’s your job as a golfer to know the rules, including penalties.

To avoid penalty strokes, it is necessary you know and understand some of the most common golf penalties and how to avoid them.

Fourteen clubs are the maximum you are allowed to carry on the course. The penalty for over-carrying is two strokes for each hole the infringement occurred at, up to a maximum of four strokes. Always count your clubs before starting a game, or even better, before you leave your car.

“Grounding the club” in a hazard.

Letting the club touch the ground or ball during a swing is known as “grounding the club”. Grounding the club in a hazard isn’t allowed. Some players choose to take a one-stroke penalty, others like to play on, but it is risky. The trick here is to try a few practice swings before committing to the shot, but do not let the club touch the sand, ground, water or ball. Because if it does, you will incur a two-stroke penalty.

Recording the wrong score on your scorecard

The punishment for signing a scorecard that includes scores lower than recorded is an instant disqualification. However, signing a scorecard that wrongly raises a player’s score won’t land you with a penalty, but the higher score will stand. Golf is a social game, but pay attention to the score, or it may not end up in your favour.

Water hazard penalties

A water hazard penalty happens when the ball is positioned in an unplayable body of water. Players can set the ball as close as possible to where the ball was initially hit and take a one-stroke penalty.

Remember to include the penalty strokes in addition to other strokes made on the ball. For example, if a player hits their ball into the water hazard, drops a substitute ball in its place and strikes it, that’s a total of three strokes.

The ball is lost or out of bounds.

The penalties and procedures for lost and out of bounds balls are the same, but the definitions are slightly different. The boundaries around the course are usually marked with white stakes and lines connecting them. If a player’s ball falls out of those bounds, they must take a one-stroke penalty and play the ball from the original spot.  

A lost ball is simply one that cannot be found after 3 minutes of searching. A player would again take a one-stroke penalty and continue play from the original spot.

As you can see from the above, there are various penalties you need to avoid when playing golf. Failing to do this will result in you having a high-stroke game which could end in not gaining access to specific leagues and cups, etc.


Knowing these penalties is the first step to avoiding them and learning how to avoid them is the first step towards winning.

Whether practicing at your local course or figuring out which one of your friends is truly the best, knowing when to use penalties and how to correctly score with them will help both you play like the pros.