RULE: Provisional Ball

What is a provisional ball? When can I/can't I hit one? My provisional ball doesn't go very far - what do I do now?
Can I hit my provisional ball more than once? If so, when 

If your ball may be lost OUTSIDE A PENALTY AREA, or may be OUT OF BOUNDS you may play another ball provisionally.

BUT – you must inform your marker or a fellow competitor (opponent in match play) that you intend to do so, and you must play that provisional ball BEFORE you go forward to search for your original ball. (You cannot search for your first ball, and then return to the previous spot to play a provisional ball.) If you fail to inform the others as noted, and then play another ball, that ball is NOT a provisional ball, but it immediately becomes the ball in play under penalty of stroke and distance (Rule 18.3b); the original ball is lost (even if you do find it). So don’t forget to say “provisional ball

Here is one good case in point!  You are on the tee on Number 4, and your tee shot heads towards the corner of the penalty area on the right and you hear it hit a tree, but no one sees where your ball finishes. It could be in the penalty area; it could be in the drain section further ahead at eastern end of that penalty area; it could even have ricocheted out onto #3 (if you are lucky); or it could have bounced into the long grass under the trees near the drain.It may not be certain where your ball finished!

So you do not know where your ball is – lost in the penalty area, lost outside the penalty area, or if really unlucky, stuck up a palm tree. You cannot play a provisional ball if you “know or are virtually certain” that your ball is in the penalty area.

The Rule 17-1d says, “When it is known or virtually certain that the original ball is in the red penalty area….”, then you can play under the penalty area rule (17-1). BUT you cannot play a provisional ball if you “know or are virtually certain” that your ball is in the hazard.

However, because you do not know where your ball finished, and it may be lost outside the penalty area, you may play a provisional ball from the tee (provided you announce so as discussed above).

So let’s go forward to search for your ball.

a)       You find your ball in the penalty area– proceed under Rule 17-1. Pick up your provisional ball – it doesn’t figure now. (Rule 18.3

b)       You find your ball outside the hazard – play that ball and pick up your provisional ball – it doesn’t figure now.

c)       You search for up to three minutes without being able to find the original ball. Your original ball is now a lost ball, and your provisional ball becomes the ball in play. I hope it is in a good position – you will now be hitting shot number 4 (you hit shot #3 from the tee after penalty of stroke and distance!)                                         

What happens if your provisional ball only goes as far as B? Can I hit it, or do I have to go forward first to where the original ball probably is and look (and return to B if I cannot find my ball?).

The rule 18-3c covers this situation. To save time, you may play the provisional ball (at B) until you reach the place where your original ball may be (A).

However, if you hit the provisional ball to C, go up and hit that ball again, before going back to look around point A, then the original ball is by definition LOST and the provisional ball now becomes the ball in play under penalty of stroke and distance! This is because you have played a stroke with the provisional ball from a point nearer the hole than the place where the original ball is likely to be.

 
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