Unsure whether your ball has come to grief, but don’t fancy the long walk back? Our Rules of Golf expert explains what you can do

There’s only one thing worse than a shot over water. You’ve guessed it. It’s a blind shot over water. I don’t know what sadist thought that was a good architectural idea but not only is it a heinous assault on the meagre skills of the average golfer it also brings with it some minor Rules of Golf complexities.

So what happens if you’ve hit your ball towards a penalty area and you’re not quite sure where it’s ended up? Can you hit a provisional ball, or is it stroke-and-distance if you play another shot?

Provisional ball in penalty areas

Rule 18.3a says if your ball might be lost outside of a penalty area then – to save time – you can play a provisional ball.

If you are aware, though, that the only possible place your ball could be lost is in a penalty area then a provisional ball is not allowed.

If you’ve already hit one, then that becomes your ball in play under penalty of stroke-and-distance.

provisional ball

Short and sweet, right?

A clarification to Rule 18.3a says when a player is deciding whether they can play a provisional ball or not, “only the information that is known by the player at that time is considered”.

It then states that examples where a provisional ball may be played include when “the original ball might be in a penalty area, but it might also be lost outside a penalty area or be out of bounds”.

Let’s take it further. What if – in “unusual cases” – “the size, shape, or location of penalty area may be such that”: You couldn’t see whether it was in the penalty area, it would unreasonably delay play if you had to go hunting for the ball and then go back to play under stroke and distance, and if you couldn’t find the ball you’d know, or were virtually certain, that it was in the penalty area?

In these circumstances, and to save time, a committee can employ Model Local Rule B-3 which modifies Rule 18.3 to allow a player to play a provisional ball under the relief options in Rule 17.

Have a question for our Rules of Golf expert?

Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf at the beginning of 2019, there is still plenty in the rule book that leaves us scratching our heads. As I’ve passed the R&A’s Level 3 rules exam with distinction, I’ll try to help as much as possible. If there’s a subject, you’d like me to get into, why not tweet me? You can also look up our weekly Rules of Golf explained column.

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 23 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former captain and committee member, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the national Tournament Administrators and Referee's Seminar. He has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying and the PGA Fourball Championship. A member of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap.

Handicap: 10.9

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