MEMBERSHIPRules Topic – Out of Bounds/Lost Ball/Provisional

Rules Topic – Out of Bounds/Lost Ball/Provisional

Topic Overview:

If you hit your ball out of bounds or lose it (you have three minutes to search for your ball before it becomes lost), your only option is to go back to the spot of your previous stroke to play under stroke and distance. The only exceptions to this are if your ball is lost in a penalty area (when you can use any of the penalty area relief options) or lost in an abnormal ground condition or in an obstruction.

If you think that your ball might be out bounds or that you might not find it, you can play a provisional ball to save time. You must announce that you are playing a provisional ball before doing so. If you are then unable to find your original ball, or you find it out of bounds, your provisional ball is your ball in play under stroke and distance, and you don’t have to take the time to walk all the way back to the spot of your previous stroke. Click here to learn more about playing a provisional ball.

Rule 18 – Stroke-and-Distance Relief; Ball Lost or Out of Bounds; Provisional Ball

Purpose of Rule: Rule 18 covers taking relief under penalty of stroke and distance. When your ball is lost outside a penalty area or comes to rest out of bounds, the required progression of playing from the teeing area to the hole is broken; you must resume that progression by playing again from where the previous stroke was made.

This Rule also covers how and when a provisional ball may be played to save time when your ball in play might have gone out of bounds or be lost outside a penalty area.

18.1  Relief Under Penalty of Stroke and Distance Allowed at Any Time

At any time, you may take stroke-and-distance relief. Once you put another ball in play under penalty of stroke and distance, your original ball is no longer in play and must not be played. This is true even if your original ball is then found on the course before the end of the three-minute search time.

18.2  Ball Lost or Out of Bounds: Stroke-and-Distance Relief Must Be Taken

a. When Your Ball Is Lost or Out of Bounds

When Ball is Lost. Your ball is lost if not found in three minutes after you or your caddie begin to search for it. If a ball is found in that time but it is uncertain whether it is your ball:

  • You must promptly attempt to identify the ball and are allowed a reasonable time to do so, even if that happens after the three-minute search time has ended.

  • This includes a reasonable time to get to the ball if you are not where the ball is found.

If you do not identify your ball in that reasonable time, the ball is lost.

When Ball is Out of Bounds. Your ball at rest is out of bounds only when all of it is outside the boundary edge of the course.

b. What to Do When Your Ball Is Lost or Out of Bounds

If your ball is lost or out of bounds, you must take stroke-and-distance relief by adding one penalty stroke and playing a ball from where the previous stroke was made (see Rule 14.6).

Exception – Player May Substitute Another Ball under Other Rule When It Is Known or Virtually Certain What Happened to Ball.

18.3  Provisional Ball

a. When Provisional Ball Is Allowed

If your ball might be lost outside a penalty area or be out of bounds, to save time you may play another ball provisionally under penalty of stroke and distance.

But 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 and a ball played from where the previous stroke was made becomes your ball in play under penalty of stroke and distance.

b. Announcing Play of Provisional Ball

Before the stroke is made, you must announce that you are going to play a provisional ball.

It is not enough for you only to say that you are playing another ball or are playing again.

You must use the word “provisional” or otherwise clearly indicate that you are playing the ball provisionally under Rule 18.3.

If you did not announce this (even if you intended to play a provisional ball) and played a ball from where the previous stroke was made, that ball is your ball in play under penalty of stroke and distance.

c. Playing Provisional Ball Until It Becomes the Ball in Play or Is Abandoned

Playing Provisional Ball More Than Once. You may continue to play the provisional ball without it losing its status as a provisional ball so long as it is played from a spot that is the same distance or farther from the hole than where your original ball is estimated to be.

When Provisional Ball Becomes Ball in Play. Your provisional ball becomes your ball in play under penalty of stroke and distance in either of these two cases:

Exception – Player May Substitute Another Ball Under Other Rule When It Is Known or Virtually Certain What Happened to Ball.

When Provisional Ball Must Be Abandoned. When your provisional ball has not yet become your ball in play, it must be abandoned in either of these two cases:

Penalty for Playing Ball from a Wrong Place in Breach of Rule 18.3: General Penalty.

United States Golf Association “Rules and Interpretations” USGA.org Rule 18 Rules of Golf 2019

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