What Is A Provisional Ball In Golf?

A provisional ball in golf can save you time and steps, but when can this rule be used?

The rules of golf can be tricky, but we are here to simplify them.

Below we explain everything you need to know about a provisional ball in golf!

There is no time like the present – let’s get started!

Provisional Ball In Golf

When Do You Use A provisional Ball In Golf?

First, let’s quickly define this term.

Another way to describe a provisional ball is a “just-in-case shot”.

You hit a provisional ball in golf when you aren’t sure where your shot ended up. What if you can’t find your ball or it is out of bounds?

Both the lost ball rule and the out-of-bounds rule require you to take a stroke-and-distance penalty and if needed, you can play your provisional shot instead of walking back to the tee.

One important caveat – you can’t hit a provisional ball in golf if you see your ball fly into a lake or creek. Instead, you have to follow the hazard (penalty area) rule.

Let’s talk about a specific scenario. You tee up your driver on a par 5 and take a rip.

Your ball comes off the club with a wicked slice and heads toward some deep woods.

You can’t tell where your ball ended up. It could be lost in the trees or it could have rolled out of bounds.

This is the correct time for a provisional ball in golf!

Provisional Ball In Golf

What Is The Procedure To Hit A provisional Ball In Golf?

You must follow the correct process before hitting your provisional shot. Always perform the following actions:

  • Announce to your playing partners that you intend to hit a provisional
  • Explain to your playing partners how this ball is different from the one you just hit

This might sound like, “hey guys, I am not sure where that shot ended up. I am going to hit a provisional. The first one was a Titleist 1 and this one is a Titleist 3.”

This is part of the rule and is meant to accomplish two separate things.

First, to let them know you are not already declaring your first shot is lost or out of bounds. If you find your first drive you can still play it and simply pick up your provisional.

Second, you are clearly explaining which ball is which. You need to be able to identify which ball is your first shot versus your provisional shot.

After you make the above announcement, you can hit your provisional. You now have 3 minutes to find your first drive – if you don’t find it, you play your provisional shot.

Provisional Ball In Golf

What Is The Penalty If You Have To Play A Provisional Ball In Golf?

There is no penalty if you hit a provisional, but end up finding your first shot. You simply pick up the provisional ball and continue your round.

If you can’t find your first shot or you find it out of bounds, then you play your provisional ball with a “stroke & distance” penalty.

You may also hear golfers refer to a “stroke & distance” penalty as a two-stroke penalty. This is effectively a true statement.

Here is a quick example. You hit your drive into the woods. You aren’t sure where it ended up, so you decide to hit a provisional.

After you look for 3 minutes, you realize your first drive is lost and you play your provisional shot. You are now hitting your 4th shot.

Why Should You Hit A provisional Ball In Golf?

As you noticed in the previous section, hitting a provisional shot doesn’t save you any strokes, so why do it?

The quick answer is that it saves you time and steps. If you don’t hit a provisional ball and you can’t find your first shot, you have to walk back to the tee box.

Do you really want to walk back 300 yards and tee off while the foursome behind you gets impatient?

The provisional ball in golf is designed to help your pace of play and avoid you from having to walk (or drive your golf cart) back to the tee.

Provisional Ball In Golf

When Is A provisional Ball In Golf “Dead”?

The piece of this rule that is most often confused and can lead to disqualification in a tournament is related to when you can’t use your provisional shot.

Remember, you hit a provisional shot because you think your ball might be lost or out of bounds.

You cannot use that provisional shot if you find your ball in bounds. Why does this cause confusion? Here is the scenario.

You aren’t sure where your tee shot ended up, so you hit a provisional ball. You find your first drive. It is in bounds, but in a terrible location (the middle of a giant bush).

If you don’t think you can hit the ball, you can use the “unplayable lie” rule. This rule comes with a few options and one of them is the “stroke and distance” penalty.

Golfers make the mistake of thinking that they can use their provisional shot in this scenario, but they cannot.

Once you find your first shot in bounds, the provisional shot you hit is “dead”. It cannot be used for any reason.

If you want to take the “stroke and distance” penalty under the “unplayable lie” rule you must walk or drive back to the tee box and replay the shot.

Provisional Ball In Golf

The provisional shot can only be used if you don’t find your ball or find it out of bounds.

It doesn’t happen often, but you might find yourself in a situation where you don’t want to find your first shot. Let us explain.

You hit your first drive into waist-high grass. You decide to hit a provisional shot and you crush it down the middle of the fairway.

You might be better off playing your provisional (hitting your 4th shot) than finding that first ball in the high grass.

It is important to know – you don’t have to look for your first shot. You can declare it lost and proceed to the provisional shot.

If you want to take this approach, make sure you ask your playing partners not to look. Sadly, if one of them finds it, you can no longer declare it lost.

Provisional Ball In Golf

Additional Rules Of Golf Resources

There is no doubt that knowing the rules of golf can be an advantage. Making the best decision can save you strokes and lower your score.

If you are playing a match play event, you want to make sure your opponent follows the correct procedures.

The USGA has several resources available on its website. We are sure you have a smartphone – download the “USGA Rules Of Golf” application.

We hope you understand the provisional ball in golf rule. Let us know if you have any questions.

Up Next: Learn What To Do When Your Ball Ends Up In A Hazard (penalty Area)

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Ray has been playing golf for 35+ years, including being part of his High School and College golf teams. While he still enjoys playing in amateur tournaments, Ray now focuses on growing the game of golf through teaching and coaching. He has two sons that both play golf competitively and loves spending time watching them compete. Ray continues to play in local amateur golf events and currently has a +2 handicap.

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