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provisional ball

Can you play a provisional if your ball might be in a penalty area?

We know provisionals are banned if you’ve seen your ball splash. But what if you just think it might be in a penalty area? Our Rules of Golf expert wades knee deep into the water

 

Provisional balls cause lots of grief, don’t they? If it’s not players failing to correctly announce one, and inadvertently ending up putting another ball in play, it’s when and where you’re allowed to utilise the provisions of Rule 18.3.

Ian James emailed me with just such an example. “A fellow player thought he was in a penalty area and played a provisional ball, despite me telling him that it would immediately become the ball in play,” he wrote. “His ball was found in the penalty area but in a playable position.

“A referee allowed him to play the original ball without penalty. Was this the correct decision?”

provisional ball

Provisional ball rule and penalty areas

It is true that if your ball is in a penalty area then you can’t play a provisional. For that to be the case, though, it’s got to be known or virtually certain that it’s in there.

In Ian’s example, the player thinks they are in a penalty area. Do they know, or are virtually certain? If not, then Rule 18.3 allows you to save time and play a provisional ball when “a ball might be lost in a penalty area but also might be lost somewhere else on the course”.

A clarification to this rule adds that when a player is deciding whether they’re allowed to play a provisional, “only the information that is known by the player at that time is considered”.

So it doesn’t matter if the ball is subsequently found in the penalty area. As long as it wasn’t known or virtually certain it was there at the time the provisional was played, there is no harm done.

But if that original ball is found in that penalty area, and the provisional has not yet become the ball in play, then that provisional must be abandoned.

You would proceed either by playing the original ball as it lies or by using the penalty area relief options available to you under Rule 17.1d (stroke-and-distance relief, back-on-the-line relief, or lateral relief in a red penalty area at the cost of a penalty stroke).

Have a question for our Rules of Golf expert?

Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s Level 3 rules exam with distinction, I’ll try to help by featuring the best in this column.

What do you think of the provisional ball rule when it comes to penalty areas? Let me know with a tweet.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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