April 01, 2021

Rules of Golf - Misconception about Provisionals

Written by:  Darin Green, Senior Director Rules & Competitions

Golfers are taught at an early age to play provisional balls to save time. The Rules of Golf even encourage players to use the provisional ball rule (Rule 18.3) to save time. However, there is one situation where players cannot play a provisional and unfortunately, many golfers are unaware of this situation.

I selected this topic for this article because I am currently officiating the Super-Senior Championship at The Fox Club in Stuart. I sat on the 8th hole during round one and stopped several players from playing a provisional ball off the tee. I’ll explain why...

The 8th hole is a dogleg left par 5 around a pond that is marked as a red penalty. Depending on the length of the player’s tee shot, and how risky they are, players can cut off significant distance by taking their tee shot over the corner of the pond. The problem with taking this line off the tee is that it can be difficult to determine if their ball cleared the pond, if the ball found the dry bank, or the ball went into the water.

I watched several players tee off and their ball cleared the pond and found the center of fairway while several others ended up on the dry bank in a playable situation. I witnessed these players return to their carts, retrieve another ball, and tee it up. To stop them from playing another ball, I drove out into the fairway and signaled to them that their ball was safe (imitate the “safe” sign from baseball). The players did not play another ball from the tee, drove around the pond and were happy to find their ball in a playable position. 

A few of players mentioned to me “I was just gonna play a provisional.” I responded with “you are not allowed to play a provisional for a penalty area” and in my head I thought “you’re welcome, I just saved you two strokes.” 

Let me explain…

A common misconception golfers have is they can play a provisional ball if they are unsure their original ball carried the water (red or yellow penalty area). This is incorrect!

When You May Play a Provisional Ball

  • When you think your ball may be out of bounds, or
  • When you think your ball may be lost outside of a penalty area

When You Are NOT ALLOWED Play a Provisional Ball

  1. When you think your ball may be in a penalty area

If you play a provisional ball when you think your ball is in a penalty area, you are in fact, not playing a provisional, rather you are playing under stroke and distance and you now lie three strokes and must continue with the second ball you played.

Provisional balls are intended to save time; however, please remember this one instance where you are not allowed to play a provisional ball.

To muddy these waters further...

There is a Local Rule that the Committee can put in effect for unusual situations that allows players to use a provisional ball even when they think their ball might be in a penalty area. For more on Model Local Rule B-3 please click here and then scroll down to "B-3 Provisional Ball for Ball in a Penalty Area"

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