If you have read Confusing Rule #2: Out of Bounds and Lost Balls down to the end, this may be repetitive. But the confusion around provisional balls is sufficient enough to get it’s own section.
The idea behind provisional balls is really to keep pace of play reasonable. If you think you just airmailed a fence, you don’t want to have to go and find it to confirm it is out of bounds, then walk all the way back to where you hit it and drop another one. That’s a lot of time, time that you would rather have at the end of the round to sit in the clubhouse with the cold drink of your choice. But there are times to take a provisional and times to not take a provisional, and a golfer needs to know the difference.
If you think your ball may be out of bounds or lost, take a Provisional.
If you think your ball may be in a red or yellow staked hazard, do not take a Provisional.
To take a provisional, you must announce it to your playing partners (just say “Provisional” loud enough for them to hear it), drop the ball as closely as possible to where you last hit it — or re-tee it if it was a drive — and give it a go. Oh yeah, one important thing…make sure your provisional ball is different in some way from your original ball. It should be a different number, a different logo, a different mark, anything like that.
Now it’s time to go search for your first ball. You have 5 minutes to search before it is a lost ball and you must play your provisional ball (which requires you take a penalty stroke), but you can give up the search and hit your provisional ball at any time (again, with the penalty stroke). If you find your original ball before hitting your provisional, and it is in bounds, you MUST play your original ball. It’s not a scramble where you get to choose. No choice. Play the original. Finally, you don’t have to find it. Anyone can find it. Your opponent, your caddy, the kid selling lemonade next to the course.
Here’s a crazy thing to keep in mind. There are times where you may not want to find the original ball. You put it in a big, wide shrub that is in bounds, for example. If you find it, you may need to take an unplayable penalty (maybe even a second one) and still struggle to get it back into play. But if you run to your provisional ball and hit it, it automatically makes your first ball a “lost ball”. Even if the original ball is found within 5 minutes, if you hit your provisional before it was found, the original is “lost” and your provisional is the ball in play (albeit with the penalty stroke). This may not be using the rule as intended, but it may allow for you to use the rule to your advantage when necessary.
Problems with Provisionals to be aware of:
* I used a virtually identical ball for my provisional and I found both my original ball and my provisional ball. What do I do? Well, that’s really too bad. Because you can’t tell them apart, you will have to declare the first ball “lost”. You pick up one ball, and play the rest of the hole with the other ball but you need to score it as if the first ball was out of bounds or lost. Tough break. Scoring: 1 for the original drive, 2 for the penalty, and 3 for your provisional ball. So you are lying 3.
* I hit a provisional ball when I thought the ball was going into a pond with red stakes. What do I do? Another tough break. Provisionals can’t be used when you think the ball may have gone into a red or yellow marked hazard. Once you hit a “provisional”, it became your ball in play and the original ball is treated as if it were lost our out of bounds. That means a penalty stroke. Scoring: 1 for the original drive, 2 for the penalty, and 3 for your provisional ball. So you are lying 3.
* I hit my ball into a deep and wide shrub and thought it may be lost, so I hit a provisional. I found the ball stuck in the bush and picked it out, put it in my pocket and headed to my provisional ball. My playing partner had a fit. What do I do? OK, you’re in deep doo-doo here. You can’t play your provisional because you found your original ball. But now you’ve handled your original ball “illegally”. So pick up your provisional and put it in your pocket. Then go back to the bush and try to re-create where it was as best as you can. Take 2 penalty strokes for man-handling and go from there. You have the option of trying to hit it out or taking an “unplayable”, but be prepared for a big number on this hole. Scoring: 1 for your original ball, 3 for handling the ball. So you are lying 3 and still in the bush.
* I hit my original ball out of bounds, I think. I then put my provisional ball out of bounds, I think. What next? Take another provisional. Yes, if your first two are in fact out of bounds, and you play the provisional, you will likely have a snowman (an 8) or worse as a score. Scoring: 1 for your original ball, 2 for the penalty, 3 for provisional ball number one, 4 for the penalty and 5 for provisional ball number two. So you are lying 5.
USGA Rule 27
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