December 15, 2021

Rules of Golf - Provisional Ball

Written by:  Darin Green, Senior Director of Rules & Competitions

Have you ever hit a tee shot, then walk or drive down the hole only to discover your ball is out of bounds or lost in bushes? It can be time consuming and embarrassing to return to the tee after finding your ball out of bounds or is lost. You can easily save time, and embarrassment, by playing a provisional ball.

The Rules of Golf allow you to play a provisional ball when you think your ball might be out of bounds or lost outside of a penalty area. A provisional ball is a second ball you play, and it becomes the ball in play under stroke and distance (one penalty stroke and losing the distance gained by your original) if your original ball is out of bounds or it is lost.


You must not play a provisional ball simply because you think your ball might be in a penalty area. If you do, it is not a provisional ball, it is the ball in play under stroke and distance and your original ball is lost.

Say the Word "Provisional"!

The Rules of Golf rarely allow you to play two golf balls, so there is a specific procedure you must follow. You must announce you are playing a “provisional.” Saying “I’m gonna hit another” or “I better re-tee” does not suffice. If you do not make it 100% clear that you are playing a provisional ball before making the stroke, you are actually operating under stroke and distance.

The Purpose is to Save Time

If your provisional ball does not go as far, or near, your original ball you may continue to play your provisional ball until the provisional is equal to, or nearer the hole, as your original ball. See image below (the provisional ball is the dotted lines and it is ok to play the provisional until it is nearer the hole than where the original ball is likely to be). If the player, or someone else, finds a ball in the area where the original is likely to be within three minutes, the player must go over and identify it. If the ball is in bounds, and is the player’s original ball, the player must abandon the provisional and proceed with the original ball. Any strokes made with the provisional ball do not count.

In the image below, if the player finds the original ball in bounds in the trees, he only lies one stroke and must proceed with the original ball. If the original ball is out of bounds or lost, the player must proceed with the provisional ball and he lies six strokes in front of the green.

A common question I receive is, “do I have to look for my original ball?” The answer is no. If you are happy with the result of your provisional ball and accepting the stroke and distance penalty, just proceed with that ball as long as no one finds your original ball in bounds within three minutes.

Save time by playing a provisional ball!

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