Rules and Circumstances for Playing a Provisional Ball

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You pull your tee shot, and you follow it along the treeline, where you think it ends up out of bounds, but you can’t be sure. What’s the correct course of action? Take the cart up and look for your ball? Play another just in case and hope you find the first? If you don’t know how to properly handle this situation, you could be costing yourself unnecessary strokes.

More often than not, if you’re unsure whether your shot stayed in, you should play it safe and hit a provisional ball. By playing a provisional ball, you save your group the time of going out and searching for your first shot only to return to the tee when you can’t find it, and you help your score by avoiding being penalized stroke and distance. Before playing your new ball, it’s important to fully understand the rules and circumstances under which you’re allowed to legally use a provisional ball. So in this lesson, we teach you how to properly put a provisional ball in play and handle iffy situations you might encounter when you do.

Tips for playing a provisional ball

To help you best utilize your provisional ball out on course, Mark Wilson of the PGA Rules Committee walks you through the proper protocol for playing a provisional ball. He demonstrates the correct way to announce to your playing partners that you plan on hitting a provisional, and talks about what can happen if you don’t follow the rules for announcing. Then Mark explains what to do when you find your original ball after playing a provisional.

You may also encounter the rare scenario where you need to play a provisional ball while on the putting green. Mark talks about why you might opt to take a one stroke penalty and play a new ball rather than scrambling from a bunker or other hazard after putting off the surface. With Mark’s tips for playing a provisional ball in accordance with the rules, you can avoid incurring any unwanted strokes and get your round back on track!

Discussion
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17 Responses to “Rules and Circumstances for Playing a Provisional Ball”
  1. james

    Is there a limit on hitting provisional balls off the tee?Also,can you hit consecutive provisional balls,say 3,or do you wait until others in your group hit there ball before you proceed with a second or more shots? Finally,are you required to mark or declare by ball name,marking ,etc to denote what ball is is the provisional.

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi, James. No, there is technically no limit to the amount of provisional balls you can hit. You hit until you are confident you have one in play. There is not a requirement to wait to hit your provisional ball until others in your group have hit, but you can. You are not required to mark or declare information about your provisional ball (name, marking, etc.), but you must announce that you are hitting a provisional ball before doing so.

      Reply
  2. Jose Ayala

    aFTER A LOST BALL. YOU HIT A PROVISIONAL, AFTER HITING THE PROVISIONAL YOU FIND YOUR FIRST BALL, CAN YOU CONTINUE TO PLAY THE FIRST BALL WITHOUT A PENALTY

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi, Jose. You would announce you are hitting a provisional ball and then do so. If you find your original ball before making an additional stroke with your provisional ball, you can continue to play the first ball without penalty (assuming it is inbounds and playable without penalty). If you however make a second stroke with your provisional ball, that ball is then in play. If you find your original ball after making that second stroke with our provisional ball, you may no longer play from where you found your original ball. Hope that helps and good luck on the course!

      Reply
  3. Riley McCormick

    If you go back to the tee to hit another ball, and your partners find your original ball before you hit it a second time, can you play your original ball without penalty.

    In other words is it still considered a provisional once you return to the tee?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi, Riley. If I’m understanding correctly, you’re asking if you head back to the tee to hit another ball and your partners find your ball before you re-tee, then yes, you can play your original ball without penalty as long as it was found within the time allowed, which is 5 minutes from the time you arrive at the location and begin looking.

      If you have already re-teed and put your new ball in play before they find your ball, the old ball is considered lost and you would need to play with your new ball, again assuming the 5 minute search time has elapsed. If it has not, you could announce your new shot as a provisional ball while they continue to search and use the full 5 minutes. For example, if you did not declare and hit a provisional ball originally because you felt your first ball was not in jeopardy of being lost and you decided to head back to the tee to hit again before the allowed 5 minute search time had elapsed in order to help keep pace, you should be sure to announce to them you are returning to hit a provisional ball. That way if you do find it before the 5 minute search time has elapsed, you could still play your original ball once found and pick up your provisional ball. Obviously the safest thing to do would be to declare and hit a provisional initially if you felt there was any chance the original ball could be lost. That would allow you the full 5 minutes to search for your ball before having to declare it lost and continue play using your provisional ball. Hope this helps and good luck on the course.

      If you go back to the tee to hit another ball, and your partners find your original ball before you hit it a second time, can you play your original ball without penalty.

      In other words is it still considered a provisional once you return to the tee?

      Reply
  4. JimandBev Whitehead

    While playing a par 3 over water an opponent thought he hit his ball in the water and went to the drop area where he holed out with a score of 3 but had not announced the second ball as provisional. When we reached the green he found his original ball in a bunker just past the water. Not knowing the rule h played the second ball and scored 5. Would the first or second ball be in play in this situation?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      In this particular instance, there is no declaring of a provisional ball. He had elected to proceed under the water hazard rule once playing from the drop area. Once he dropped and played from that area, that became his ball in play and he would have scored a 3 once he holed out. If there was any feeling his original ball was not in the water, he would need to first search for his original ball before hitting from the drop area. Once he hits from the drop area, that is his ball in play hitting 3 with the assessment of the penalty stroke. I hope that helps and good luck on the course.

      Reply
  5. Riley McCormick

    I asked a question a few days ago and had no comments or discussion. Maybe I did not ask it well. Here goes again! I want to know if a golfer can tee off and not be able to locate the ball and still be able to return to the tee and hit a provisional ball?
    If so, then if the original ball is found after the provisional ball is hit, can the player then
    hit his original ball without penalty?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi, Riley. We apologize for the delayed response. Your question has been forwarded to one of our experts. Please allow 1-2 business days for a response. If you have any other concerns, you may contact us at 1-855-706-3531.

      Reply
  6. R

    Wonderful explanation! I just wish you included that sometimes when one plays a provisional ball, it lands pretty close to the original ball. Therefore, it’s important that the two balls are distinguishable from each other. If the player played identical balls, who’d know which was the original or which was the provisional ball?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Thanks for your response. And yes, you make a good point. When playing a provisional ball, the player should announce what type of ball they are playing with their provisional (brand, number, etc), and if it’s the same as their original ball, they should mark it to distinguish it from the other ball. Great comment and good luck on your next round!

      Reply
      • David

        Here is a situation that occurred recently. A player hit his ball toward an area where he thought he may not be able to find it. He followed correct procedure and announced to his group he was going to play a provisional ball to be used in case he could not find his original ball. He played his provisional and it headed off in the identical direction that his original went. Upon reaching the location where he believed his original ball was, he found both his original and his provisional ball within a few feet of each other. There is only one problem – both balls were of the same brand and type and were marked identically to each other. Since he could not determine which ball was the original and which ball was the provisional, what does he do?
        Before I clear up this particular situation let me first point out that in stroke play if two players who are playing identical balls with no identification marks on them find their balls lying close together, but are not able to determine which ball belongs to each player, then both balls are lost, Decision 27/10. This is logical when you realise that neither player can be sure that they are not going to play a wrong ball, and if they play a wrong ball without correcting the error before making a stroke at the next teeing ground, they are disqualified, Rule 15-3b. However, this ruling would be inequitable in the circumstances detailed above, because it would result in the player having to return to the tee to play their 5th stroke, even though they found both their original and provisional balls but cannot identify which is which. Accordingly, they must select one of the balls, treat it as their provisional ball and abandon the other. They would then be playing their 4th stroke from where they found both balls. Decision 27/11 clarifies this and other similar situations where a player cannot distinguish between their original and provisional balls.

        Reply
  7. Roy

    I am under the impression that a player could not hit a Provisional Ball for a Provisional Ball. Please clarify.

    In the PGA business school, the Rules Official made certain that you were not allowed to hit a Provisional Ball for a Provisional Ball. Thx

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi Roy. Thanks for your response. And I’ll try to clarify regarding the section of the video you are referring to. What Mark was saying is if you hit a provisional for a ball you believe may be lost or out of bounds but that provisional ball does not travel as far as where your original ball is believed to be, you should play the provisional ball until you reach that area. If you cannot locate your original ball or you find that it is in fact out of bounds, then you continue to play your provisional ball. If you locate your ball and it is in bounds, you can then pick up your provisional ball and continue play with your original ball.
      I hope that clarifies the question. Thanks and hope you enjoy your next round.

      Reply
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    Reply