The Provisional Ball: What? How? When?
Often in casual play and SCGA competitions, players don’t seem to know when or how to properly play a provisional ball. It is one of the most-asked questions that the SCGA Rules Crew receives. Well, it’s time to set everyone straight on the key points and procedures of playing a provisional ball … correctly!
What is a provisional ball?
Rule 18.3a states that if a ball might be lost outside a penalty area or out of bounds, to save time the player may play another ball provisionally under stroke and distance. The portion of the rule that players seem to struggle with is regarding penalty areas. If the only place the original ball is believed to be in is a penalty area, the player is not allowed to play a provisional ball. If the player were to play a provisional ball under the sole belief that his or her original ball was in a penalty area, that would be their new ball in play under penalty of stroke and distance — it wouldn’t be a provisional ball. On the flip side, if there is a reasonable chance that the ball may be lost outside of a penalty area, the player may play a provisional ball. Key distinction: The player’s intent and understanding of where the original ball may be lost is critical.
How and when do I announce a provisional ball?
A player needs to announce his or her intention to play a provisional ball before the stroke is made. The player must use the word “provisional” or otherwise clearly indicate that he or she is playing the ball provisionally under Rule 18.3.
How many times can I play the provisional ball?
The player may continue to play the provisional ball without it losing its status as a provisional ball as long as it is played from a spot that is the same distance or farther from the hole than the spot where the original ball is estimated to be (Rule 18.3c). The whole idea is to save time!
When does the provisional ball become the ball in play?
There are two ways the provisional ball becomes the ball in play:
▪ When the original ball is lost anywhere on the course except in a penalty area or is out of bounds. This includes the original ball being found on the course after the three-minute search period expires.
▪ When the provisional ball is played from a spot nearer the hole than where the original ball is estimated to be (See diagram).
When must a provisional ball be abandoned?
There are two times when a pro-visional ball must be abandoned:
▪ When the original ball is found on the course outside a penalty area before the three-minute search time expires.
▪ When the original ball is found in a penalty area, or it is known or virtually certain to be in a penalty area.