More on Provisional Balls

We’ve all had to hit a provisional ball at one time or another. Let’s invest a moment and take a closer look at just what a provisional ball is meant for and how we can use it. 

The first place to always check is the definitions section in the front of the Rules of Golf book. Here we find the definition - A “provisional ball” is a ball played under Rule 27-2 for a ball that may be lost outside a water hazard or out of bounds. 

A provisional ball is meant to save time and nothing else. It’s really a “just in case ball” to save the time of walking or riding back to where you last played and backing up the course. 

The USGA has tried to help, starting in 2014, by allowing a player to go forward a short distance (up to 50 yards) before abandoning his right to go back and hit a provisional ball. Previously, you had abandoned your right to “save time” as soon as you went forward to search for the original ball. 

Before you go ahead and play a provisional ball, you’ll need to know that you must inform you opponent in match play or your marker or a fellow competitor in stroke play that you intend to play a provisional ball (Rule 27-2a). Once you inform them, when do you play? 

The order of play of a provisional ball depends on if you are playing from the teeing ground or other than the teeing ground. 

  • From the teeing ground – play the provisional ball after your opponent(s) or fellow competitor(s) have played their first stroke. If more than one person in your group is playing a provisional ball from the tee, the original order is retained after everyone has played their first stroke.
  • Other than from the teeing ground – play the provisional ball before anyone else in the group plays.

 If you play a ball into an area that you are not sure of its status, go ahead and hit a provisional ball once you’ve informed your opponent, marker or fellow competitor and determined when to play.

  • If the area is not a water hazard and you search for more than five minutes without finding the original ball, you’ll proceed with the provisional ball under penalty of stroke and distance (Rule 27-2b).
  • If the original turns out to be out of bounds, you’ll proceed with the provisional ball under penalty of stroke and distance (Rule 27-2b).
  • If you find the original ball in bounds, you must abandon the provisional ball and proceed with the original (Rule 27-2c).
  • If it becomes known or virtually certain that it’s in a water hazard, you’ll also abandon the provisional ball (Rule 27-2c) and either play the original as it lies or proceed under the water hazard Rule (Rule 26-1).

 In the unlikely event that your provisional ball may also be lost outside of a water hazard or out of bounds, you can play a “provisional for a provisional”. Go ahead and inform your opponent, marker or fellow competitor and play in the proper order. The second provisional bears the same relationship to the first provisional ball as the first provisional ball bears to the original ball.

 If you need to hit a third provisional, in match play concede the hole; in stroke play, aim further left!

Remember, use the index or the table of contents to find the correct Rule that applies to the situation and follow the Rules of Golf to help yourself to enjoy the game of golf.

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