Are you someone that often needs to reload? You need to make sure you understand all this first.
If you were going to teach a new golfer a few of the rules of golf before playing a round, the rules of playing a provisional ball must be near the top of the list. At the very least, it makes for a quicker round of golf (unless you’re hitting them straight) and introduces a newbie to the quirks of the game.
The rules for hitting a provisional ball are some of the most misunderstood in golf (not just by beginner golfers) and I thought I’d share a list of some of the most important aspects relating to the rule. All of these situations and more are covered in the Rule 27-2 in the Rules of Golf.
1. You can only play a provisional ball if you think your ball may be lost outside of a water hazard or out-of-bounds
This is an often misunderstood rule so take note, these are the only two scenarios when you can play a provisional ball.
2. If you are virtually certain that your ball is in a water hazard, do NOT hit a provisional
You lose the right to drop the ball near the hazard in this scenario and your provisional ball was not in fact a provisional at all and was in play. (Decision 27-2a/2)
3. Make sure you announce that you are about to play a provisional ball
Seriously, say something like “I’m going to hit a provisional ball” and say it out loud so there is no doubt as to what you are doing. You must include the words “provisional ball”. Simply saying “I’m going to re-load” or “I’ll hit another one” is not enough and your next shot may be deemed in play. (Decision 27-2a/1)
4. If you hit a provisional ball because you think it may be lost, you have 5 minutes to search for it
After that, your provisional ball is now in play.
5. You can hit the provisional ball as many times as you like until you reach the distance where you ball may be lost
If you then find your original ball, then disregard the provisional and the number of shots you have played with it. If you don’t find you original ball, continue playing your provisional ball.
6. Make sure you can clearly differentiate between your first ball and your provisional
If you can’t do this then things can get murky real quick as covered in Decision 27/11. For example, if you find that one ball is out-of-bounds and the other isn’t, then the ball in bounds is assumed to be the provisional ball.
7. The provisional ball is much easier to hit straight than your original ball
Studies have shown that a provisional ball will go three times straighter than your first ball.*
8. When playing a provisional from the tee it must be played after your playing partners have played their first shot
If more than one golfer elects to play a provisional ball, the original order must be preserved. (Rule 10-3)
9. If your original ball is found but deemed unplayable, the provisional ball cannot be played
The provisional ball can only be played if the first ball is lost or out-of-bounds. In this case, play proceeds with the original ball under the rules for an unplayable lie – which may mean going back to the place the original ball was struck, under penalty of stroke and distance.
* This isn’t true as far as I’m aware but I think it’s crying out for a proper clinical trial.