What is a Provisional Ball in Golf? (And When To Hit One!)

By Chris Moore •  Updated on 02/15/22

Provisional balls are what golfers use when they have lost their ball in the rough, or it is otherwise not possible to determine what happened to the golf ball.

This can happen for many reasons — a bad bounce off of a tree, a shot that got away from them too far, potentially out of bounds, etc.

These are common occurrences on any hole where you have trees or other hazards surrounding the course.

A provisional ball serves as a safety net so if you can’t find your ball, you can play from there and take the stroke penalty.

When this happens, what do you do? Let’s discuss everything you need to know.

When is a provisional ball allowed in golf?

According to Rule 18.3 from R&A, if a ball might be lost outside a penalty area or be out of bounds, to save time the player may play another ball provisionally under penalty of stroke and distance.

For a ball that may be lost, this applies when:

But if the player is aware that the only possible place the original ball could be lost is in a penalty area, a provisional ball is not allowed and a ball played from where the previous stroke was made becomes the player’s ball in play under penalty of stroke and distance.

If a provisional ball itself may be lost outside a penalty area or be out of bounds:

Announcing the play of a provisional ball

When you’re committed to playing a provisional ball, you’ll have to announce it to your group so they know what’s going on.

To do this, you must say something along the lines of “I’m playing a provisional ball.”

Official rule 18.3 states “the player must use the word ‘provisional’ or otherwise clearly indicate that he or she is playing the ball provisionally under Rule 18.3.”

Other important details regarding provisional balls in golf

If you hit a provisional ball and wish to play it after finding your original ball, unfortunately, this isn’t allowed.

A provisional ball is meant as a safety measure, unlike a mulligan, so you and your group can keep a good pace throughout the round.

For more information about Rule 18.3 – Provisional Ball, click here for the official USGA rules.

Chris Moore

Hi, I'm Chris Moore and I'm the guy behind As an avid golfer since 2010, I decided to create this blog to share everything I've learned over the years. Whether it's golf equipment, swing tips, or anything in-between, I want to make sure you have everything you need to become a better golfer.