What Is A Provisional Ball In Golf?

A provisional ball is a golf ball that is used for an emergency or provisional shot and is a replacement for any number of reasons. The term has been used for a variety of different objects over the years, from the balls themselves to the hole they are used in.

In this provisional ball guide we will not only be defining what a provisional ball is to help you understand but also discussing rule 18 which covers the provisional ball and explaining when a provisional ball can and can not be played. 

What Is A Provisional Ball In Golf?

This guide will be covering exactly why they have provisional balls and what they are used for, what is their purpose in the game! Find out more here. 


The provisional golf balls will be used if the golfer thinks their ball is lost and cannot be found. Most of the time they will be able to find their ball, but in different circumstances like water or deep forest areas, this can be very difficult. They will have to use their second provisional ball to confirm. 

What Happens When The Ball Is Out Of Bounds? 

If you hit a ball too far to one side and it goes out of bounds where you will be unable to find or hit from, you will have to use another ball and have a penalty stroke. You will take the ball from where you previously hit it from. 

Rule 18

When referring to the rule book, provisional balls are explained under Rule 18, specifically under rule 18.3. Rule 18.3 is the penultimate rule of three sections under rule 18. 

The first clause of Rule 18.3 states “ if you are aware that the only possible place your original ball could be lost is in a penalty area , a provisional ball is not allowed. 

Rule 18.3c shows a diagram to assist golfers when that provisional becomes their ball in play.  One way this happens is when the golfer plays it from a hole closer to the hole than the original ball. 

When Can And Can’t A Provisional Ball Be Played?

When explaining when a provisional ball can be played it is best broken down into 5 areas that your ball could end up after a hit. 

1. You Know Your Ball Is Out Of Bounds

An example of this would be if you hit your ball and you see it fly out of bounds and onto someone else’s property. 

2. You Are Aware Your Ball Has Landed In The Rough, Bunker, Fairway, Or On The Putting Green And You Do Not Think The Ball Is Lost

An example of this could be you have hit your ball towards the  rough but due to your previous knowledge you do not believe the ball is lost. 

3. When You Hit Your Ball It Falls Into A Penalty Area, Where The Ball Will Either Be Lost Or Found

For example, when you hit your ball and it looks like it is going to the penalty area and then you splash in the water. 

4. Similar To Area  2, You Hit Your Ball And It Lands In Either The Rough, The Bunker, Fairway Or On The Putting Green; However, You Do Believe The Ball Could Be Lost 

For example, You hit your ball and see it land in the sand area, however you know it was a hard and fast hit and therefore could be buried deep into the sand. 

5. Your Ball Could Be Out Of Bounds

You have hit your ball and are not sure whether it has stayed in bounds or is out of bounds. For example you hit your ball along a boundary and it hits trees. 

Now you are aware of the 5 areas of where the ball can come to rest , it is pretty simple to work out when you can and can not play a provisional ball. 

You can not play a provisional ball when you have knowledge of your ball being in areas 1,2 or 3  either individually or combined. 

In contrast to this , you are permitted to play a provisional ball if you think your ball is in the areas covered by areas 4 and / or 5. 

What Is A Provisional Ball In Golf?

Your Original Ball Has Not Yet Been Found Can You Play A Provisional Ball?

If you are permitted to play a provisional as relating to the section above and you have not learned any additional information ( for example: The only place your ball could be is in a penalty area) then you can indeed play a provisional ball. However this is up until: 

  1. The original ball has been located, or
  2. The original ball has been lost.

Final Thoughts

We hope this guide helps to create clarity and clear up the meaning of a provisional ball, when a provisional ball can and cant be played, and how to use rule 18.3.

We hope this guide is useful for beginners who have little to no knowledge at all or more experienced golfers who are hoping to expand their knowledge.  

Frequently Asked Questions

How Many Times Are You Allowed To Hit A Provisional Ball In Golf?

You are permitted to hit a provisional ball just once. However, do note that you do also get a penalty of stroke and distance with it. In addition to this, there is a chance to have special cases wherein you are permitted to hit a provisional ball more than one time. 

Is It Imperative That I Play A Provisional Ball In Golf? 

If it is evident that the ball has been lost either outside of a penalty area or out of bounds it is imperative that you continue playing with a provisional ball under penalty of stroke and distance.

If your original ball is located in bounds, you must then continue with that original ball and stop playing the original ball straight away.

Garratt Shmidt
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