Rules of golf: Provisional ball
The GCAA is partnering with the USGA, represented by Jamie Wallace, to do a feature on the Rules of Golf focusing on common situations that players encounter. Each month, we plan to highlight a specific Rule or Rules situation that is relevant to college golfers or one that is often misunderstood. We will highlight what the Rule says and how it is applied to the situation at hand.
This month, Jamie takes a deeper look at Rule 27-2, playing a provisional ball. (Click here for video reference)
Most golfers are generally aware of the fact that they can play a provisional ball in certain circumstances. The Rules are fairly specific though about when you have this permission and what you are required to do in order to do so correctly. So let’s take a closer look at how the provisional ball Rule works.
There are two times when your only option under the Rules is to return to the spot of your previous stroke to play under stroke and distance: when your ball is lost or when it is out of bounds. If you hit a shot and think that your ball might be either lost or out of bounds, the Rules allow you to play a ball provisionally to save time. Walking all the way to where your ball landed to confirm that it is lost or out of bounds and then walking all the way back to the spot of your previous stroke would not be good for pace of play.
Rule 27-2 (Provisional Ball) requires two things to be done correctly: 1) you must announce your intention to play a provisional ball and 2) you must play the second ball before you have gone forward to search for the original ball.
Requirement 1 means that you must actually use the words “provisional ball” or reference the Rule number (which is 27-2a) when announcing your intention. Statements like “I’m going to reload” or “I’ll hit another” do not satisfy this requirement. Playing a second ball after one of these types of statements means that you have put a second ball into play under penalty of stroke and distance (and you can no longer play your original ball). This announcement must be made to your opponent in match play or to your fellow competitor/marker in stroke play.
Requirement 2 simply means that if you have walked forward to search for your original ball, which is usually when you have gone forward approximately 50 yards or more, you can no longer turn around to walk back and play a provisional. Most golfers play a provisional right away, so this requirement is usually satisfied.
One important item to note is that you can’t play a provisional ball if you think your ball might be lost in a water hazard. If there is some chance that your ball is lost in a water hazard but also a chance that it’s lost in trees or long grass outside the water hazard, then you can go ahead and play the provisional. Then if it is determined that your ball is in the water hazard, you must abandon the provisional and proceed by playing your original ball or taking relief under the water hazard relief options.
If you play a provisional and also think that your provisional might be lost or out of bounds, the Rules allow you to play a second provisional ball.
You can continue to play your provisional ball until you reach the place where your original ball is likely to be. So as an example, if you hit your original ball 250 yards from the tee but only hit your provisional ball 100 yards, you can keep playing that provisional ball until you get to be the same distance from the hole as where your original ball is likely to be.
With Golf’s New Rules taking effect on January 1, 2019, golf courses and tournament organizers will have the option to use a Local Rule that provides an alternative to stroke and distance for balls that are lost or out of bounds. Note that this optional Local Rule is not intended for higher levels of play. We can take a look at this topic in more detail later this year, but if you would like to learn more now, please click here.
Most golfers know the basic requirements to successfully play a provisional ball, but to avoid any potential miscommunications, it is always best to make a very clear statement to the players in your group about what you plan to do!