9 things you should know about hitting a provisional golf ball

Are you a golfer that often needs to reload with a provisional golf ball? You’ll need to understand what to do next.

If you were going to teach a new golfer a few of the rules of golf before playing, the correct procedure for playing a provisional ball would be near the top of the list.

At the very least, it makes for a quicker round of golf and introduces a newbie to the quirks of the game.

The rules for hitting a provisional ball are some of the most misunderstood in golf (not just by beginner golfers) and I thought I’d share a list of some of the most important aspects relating to the rule.

All of these situations are covered in Rule 27-2 in the Rules of Golf.

1. You can only play a provisional ball if you think your ball may be lost outside of a water hazard or out-of-bounds
This is an often misunderstood rule so take note, these are the only two scenarios when you can play a provisional ball.

2. If you are virtually certain that your ball is in a water hazard, do NOT hit a provisional
You lose the right to drop the ball near the hazard in this scenario and your provisional ball was not, in fact, a provisional at all and was in play. (Decision 27-2a/2)

3. Make sure you announce that you are about to play a provisional ball
Say something like “I’m going to hit a provisional ball” and say it loud so there is no doubt as to what you are doing. You must include the words “provisional ball”. Simply saying “I’m going to re-load” or “I’ll hit another one” is not enough and your next shot may be automatically deemed in play. (Decision 27-2a/1)

4. If you hit a provisional ball because you think it may be lost, you have 3 minutes to search for it
After that, your provisional ball is now in play.

5. You can hit the provisional ball as many times as you like until you reach the distance where your ball may be lost
If you then find your original ball, then disregard the provisional and the number of shots you have played with it. If you don’t find your original ball, continue playing your provisional ball.

6. Make sure you can differentiate between your first ball and your provisional ball
If you can’t do this then things can get murky real quick as covered in Decision 27/11. For example, if you find that one ball is out-of-bounds and the other isn’t, then the ball in play is assumed to be the provisional ball.

7. The provisional ball is much easier to hit straight than your original ball
Studies have shown that a provisional ball will go three times straighter than your first ball.*

8. When playing a provisional from the tee it must be played after your playing partners have played their first shot
If more than one golfer elects to play a provisional ball, the original order must be preserved. (Rule 10-3)

9. If your original ball is found but deemed unplayable, the provisional ball cannot be played
The provisional ball can only be played if the first ball is lost or out-of-bounds. In this case, play proceeds with the original ball under the rules for an unplayable lie – which may mean going back to the place the original ball was struck, under penalty of stroke and distance.

* This isn’t true as far as I’m aware but I think it’s crying out for a proper clinical trial.

2 thoughts on “9 things you should know about hitting a provisional golf ball

  • July 22, 2021 at 05:03

    if one player hits a provisional ball, then finds their original ball , plays that and fails to pick up their provisional. Another player’s ball is close to the provisional and they inadvertantly hit the players provisional ball is that a penalty?

  • April 10, 2022 at 16:36

    What if your provisional ball is also likely lost, can you play another provisional ball?


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