Golf certainly has its fair share of frustrating rules. But one role in particular definitely plays in a golfer’s favor on occasion: the provisional ball. By properly using this rule during a golf round, it might save you strokes and time, which is certainly a blessing.
Getting down to brass tacks, the question still remains: What is a provisional ball in golf?
The definition of a provisional ball in golf is when a ball in play winds up lost or out of bounds, the provisional ball is subject to certain rules. It’s subject to penalty under distance and stroke. The player must announce the provisional ball to the other golfers before playing the provisional ball.
Like so many of golf’s rules, certain considerations must be taken into account while playing a provisional ball, which means they must be understood ahead of time. Let’s now take a closer look at the rules governing the provisional ball in greater detail below.
When Will a Golfer Play a Provisional Ball?
A player has the opportunity to hit a provisional ball if their ball, previously in play, is now lost in a hazard or has gone out of bounds. For example, of what not to do, if your ball is hit into a bunker or an out of bounds area, you aren’t qualified to play a provisional ball in this situation.
On the other hand, a rock-solid example is when you slice your ball off the tee, hook it badly, and it winds up out of bounds, disappearing into the forested or jungle area where it will never be found.
Nevertheless, according to golf’s rules and laws, a golfer is given three minutes to find their ball before they are required to declare that it’s lost. But if you suspect or believe that it’s lost, then opting to play a provisional ball is definitely within your rights.
It’s your choice to play the provisional ball from the tee, the fairway, or the area in which the ball was hit from and then went out of bounds to consider it lost.
Declaring Your Provisional Ball Is an Absolute Must
Not every golfer knows this aspect of the provisional ball. If they fail to adhere to this particular rule, they’ll suffer from even further penalties.
If a ball that was previously in play is considered out of bounds or lost, the golfer in question must declare or announce that they intend to play using a provisional ball. They must announce it to their individual opponent or the entire group.
Golfers are only allowed to play a provisional ball as long as they know that their previous ball is out of bounds or completely lost. If the ball is in play but it’s in a hazard, for example, the golfer isn’t allowed to play a provisional ball.
Also, the golfer must declare their provisional ball and hit it prior to any member of the party attempting to look for the original ball.
If the player doesn’t declare a provisional ball and plays a second ball anyway, the second ball becomes the playable ball, and the first ball is now deemed lost even if somebody eventually finds it. This will add a 1 stroke penalty and distance also applies.
What Happens If the First Ball Is Eventually Found?
In this regard, it’s very important that golfers know and understand the rules of the provisional ball. If a golf or hits off the tee and hooks or slices their shot and believes that is out of bound or lost, they are allowed to declare a provisional ball.
Nonetheless, if they move forward down the course and eventually find the first ball and it’s in a penalty area or in play, the ball must be played as it lies. If the ball is under penalty – if a penalty is being leveled – the player is allowed to pick up their provisional ball without suffering an additional penalty.
Here’s a quick example:
You shot your ball over water and believed that it went into the drink. In this situation, you are not allowed to play a provisional ball. You already know that your ball is in the water, which is a hazard and it isn’t out of bounds.
In this case, you’ll have the opportunity to drop a ball for your next shot and play it as close as you can possibly determine where the ball originally entered into the hazard. This is a regular rule of the game, so you must apply the game’s traditional penalty.
Upon reaching the original point where your ball was supposed to be, if you find it you can then discard the provisional ball and keep playing with your original ball, as long as you play it where it lies.
Then again, if you take a stroke at the provisional ball where the original ball was supposed to be, then the original ball is considered lost and the provisional ball is now your official ball in play. You’ll have to take a penalty of a stroke and distance at this point.
Are You Missing Your Golf Ball? Consider the 3-Minute Rule
Believe it or not, there is no rule in place stating that a player must actually look for their original ball if they’ve declared it lost. Under the current role structure, the definition of a lost ball is one that isn’t found within three minutes of losing the ball, after a caddie, the player, or other players have searched for it for this amount of time.
Many golfers wouldn’t react too fondly to players looking for their ball after it’s already been declared lost, nevertheless the ball gets found, it must be played where it lies, and if required, penalty of stroke and distance shall be applied.
When Shouldn’t I Play a Provisional Ball?
The reason this rule exists is because the ball’s fate is uncertain, because you are reasonably sure that the ball went out of bounds and it cannot be found. If the ball was hit near a hazard, and you believe the ball is in the sand or water for example, the golfer is no longer allowed to play a provisional ball in this scenario.
If the ball is found in a hazard or confirmed to have gone in the drink, you can take a relief option or play it where it lies.
What Is the Penalty Stroke for Playing a Provisional Ball?
For playing a provisional ball, the golfer will only have to face a single-stroke penalty. It’s the same exact penalty that you get for a lost ball in play.
Although the golfer is also only forced to take a single-stroke penalty for playing a provisional ball, the provisional ball rules must be abided by at all times in order to avoid additional penalties. According to the rules of the game, the golfer might have to face additional penalties, which is something you’d certainly want to avoid.
For example, if you hit your ball out of bounds or into a hazard and started playing a second ball without making a declaration of the provisional ball, you will have to incur a single-stroke penalty.
Additionally, if the second ball is hit out of bounds or into a hazard, the golfer would incur a second stroke penalty if they failed to declare this new provisional ball.
Mainly, if you declared the second ball as provisional and then played, you’d only have to give up a single penalty stroke. But this only happens when you’ve reached the area where you think the ball landed, look for it for three minutes, and then determine that it was lost.
The True Purpose of the Provisional Golf Ball
A provisional ball has nothing to do with a do-over or a Mulligan, yet the rule was created to help golfers save time and speed up the game by offering a single shot penalty for hitting a provisional ball.
Not that long ago, when playing with high-handicap golfers, the game’s pace slowed down to a crawl because players were always looking for their balls. This rule was designed to reduce slowing down gameplay and to prevent backups on the golf course. This limited search time to three minutes before moving on with the rest of the game.
If the player doesn’t find the ball within that time, it’s declared lost and the player can drop a ball from the place where the original ball went missing.
By using the provisional role, players can hit a second ball without even looking for the original ball as long as they declare the provisional ball.
Final Thoughts on the Provisional Ball in Golf
Golf’s rule for the provisional ball is a fair and effective way to maintain the game’s faster pace while still giving golfers a chance to find their original ball within the three-minute timeframe. If they choose to declare the provisional ball, the golfer must suffer a single-stroke penalty, but that’s all there is to it.