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

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

18.1/1 – Teed Ball May Be Lifted When Original Ball Is Found Within Three-Minute Search Time

When playing again from the teeing area, a ball that is placed, dropped or teed in the teeing area is not in play until the player makes a stroke at it (definition of “in play” and Rule 6.2).

For example, a player plays from the teeing area, searches briefly for his or her ball and then goes back and tees another ball. Before the player plays the teed ball, and within the three-minute search time, the original ball is found. The player may abandon the teed ball and continue with the original ball without penalty, but is also allowed to proceed under stroke and distance by playing from the teeing area.

However, if the player had played from the general area and then dropped another ball to take stroke-and-distance relief, the outcome would be different in that the player must continue with the dropped ball under penalty of stroke and distance. If the player continued with the original ball in this case, he or she would be playing a wrong ball.

18.1/2 – Penalty Cannot Be Avoided by Playing Under Stroke and Distance

If a player lifts his or her ball when not allowed to do so, the player cannot avoid the one-stroke penalty under Rule 9.4b by then deciding to play under stroke and distance.

For example, a player’s tee shot comes to rest in a wooded area. The player picks up a ball, believing it is a stray ball, but discovers the ball was the ball in play. The player then decides to play under stroke and distance.

The player gets one penalty stroke under Rule 9.4b in addition to the stroke and distance penalty under Rule 18.1, since at the time the ball was lifted the player was not allowed to lift the ball and had no intention to play under stroke and distance. The player’s next stroke will be his or her fourth.

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

18.2a(1)/1 – Time Permitted for Search When Search Temporarily Interrupted

A player is allowed three minutes to search for his or her ball before it becomes lost. However, there are situations when the “clock stops” and such time does not count towards the player’s three minutes.

The following examples illustrate how to account for the time when a search is temporarily interrupted:

18.2a(1)/2 – Caddie Is Not Required to Start Searching for Player’s Ball Before Player

A player may instruct his or her caddie not to begin searching for his or her ball.

For example, a player hits a long drive into heavy rough and another player hits a short drive into heavy rough. The player’s caddie starts walking ahead to the location where the player’s ball might be to start searching. Everyone else, including the player, walks towards the location where the other player’s ball might be to look for that player’s ball.

The player may direct his or her caddie to look for the other player’s ball and delay search for his or her ball until everyone else can assist.

18.2a(1)/3 – Ball May Become Lost if It is Not Promptly Identified

When a player has the opportunity to identify a ball as his or hers within the three-minute search time but fails to do so, the ball is lost when the search time expires.

For example, a player begins to search for his or her ball and after two minutes finds a ball that the player believes to be another player’s ball and resumes search for his or her ball.

The three-minute search time elapses and it is then discovered that the ball the player found and believed to be another player’s ball was in fact the player’s ball. In this case, the player’s ball is lost because he or she continued the search, failing to identify the found ball promptly.

18.2a(2)/1 – Ball Moved Out of Bounds by Flow of Water

If a flow of water (either temporary water or water in a penalty area) carries a ball out of bounds, the player must take stroke-and-distance relief (Rule 18.2b). Water is a natural force, not an outside influence, therefore Rule 9.6 does not apply.

18.3 Provisional Ball

18.3a/1 – When Player May Play Provisional Ball

When a player is deciding whether he or she is allowed to play a provisional ball, only the information that is known by the player at that time is considered.

Examples where a provisional ball may be played include when:

18.3a/2 – Playing Provisional Ball After Search Has Started Is Allowed

A player may play a provisional ball for a ball that might be lost when the original ball has not been found and identified even if the three-minute search time has not yet ended.

For example, if a player is able to return to the spot of his or her previous stroke and play a provisional ball before the three-minute search time has ended, the player is allowed to do so.

If the player plays the provisional ball and the original ball is then found within the three-minute search time, the player must continue play with the original ball.

18.3a/3 – Each Ball Relates Only to the Previous Ball When It Is Played from That Same Spot

When a player plays multiple balls from the same spot, each ball relates only to the previous ball played.

For example, a player plays a provisional ball believing that his or her tee shot might be lost or out of bounds. The provisional ball is struck in the same direction as the original ball and, without any announcement, he or she plays another ball from the tee. This ball comes to rest in the fairway.

If the original ball is not lost or out of bounds, the player must continue play with the original ball without penalty.

However, if the original ball is lost or out of bounds, the player must continue play with the third ball played from the tee since it was played without any announcement. Therefore, the third ball was a ball substituted for the provisional ball under penalty of stroke and distance (Rule 18.1), regardless of the provisional ball’s location. The player has now taken 5 strokes (including penalty strokes) with the third ball played from the tee.

18.3b/1 – What Is Considered Announcement of Provisional Ball

Although Rule 18.3b does not specify to whom the announcement of a provisional ball must be made, an announcement must be made so that people in the vicinity of the player can hear it.

For example, with other people nearby, if a player states that he or she will be playing a provisional ball but does so in a way that only he or she can hear it, this does not satisfy the requirement in Rule 18.3b that the player must “announce” that he or she is going to play a provisional ball. Any ball played in these circumstances becomes the player’s ball in play under penalty of stroke and distance.

If there are no other people nearby to hear the player’s announcement (such as when a player has returned to the teeing area after briefly searching for his or her ball), the player is considered to have correctly announced that he or she has the intent to play a provisional ball provided that he or she informs someone of that when it becomes possible to do so.

18.3b/2 – Statements That “Clearly Indicate” That a Provisional Ball Is Being Played

When playing a provisional ball, it is best if the player uses the word “provisional” in his or her announcement. However, other statements that make it clear that the player’s intent is to play a provisional ball are acceptable.

Examples of announcements that clearly indicate the player is playing a provisional ball include:

Examples of announcements that do not clearly indicate the player is  playing a provisional ball and mean that the player would be putting a ball into play under stroke and distance include:

18.3c(1)/1 – Actions Taken with Provisional Ball Are a Continuation of Provisional Ball

Taking actions other than a stroke with a provisional ball, such as dropping, placing or substituting another ball nearer to the hole than where the original ball is estimated to be are not “playing” the provisional ball and do not cause that ball to lose its status as a provisional ball.

For example, a player’s tee shot may be lost 175 yards from the hole, so he or she plays a provisional ball. After briefly searching for the original ball, the player goes forward to play the provisional ball that is in a bush 150 yards from the hole. He or she decides the provisional ball is unplayable and drops it under Rule 19.2c. Before playing the dropped ball, the player’s original ball is found by a spectator within three minutes of when the player started the search.

In this case, the original ball remained the ball in play because it was found within three minutes of beginning the search and the player had not made a stroke at the provisional ball from a spot nearer the hole than where the original ball was estimated to be.

18.3c(2)/1 – Estimated Spot of the Original Ball Is Used to Determine Which Ball Is in Play

Rule 18.3c(2) uses the spot where the player “estimates” his or her original ball to be when determining whether the provisional ball has been played from nearer the hole than that spot, and whether the original or provisional ball is in play. The estimated spot is not where the original ball ends up being found. Rather, it is the spot the player reasonably thinks or assumes that ball to be.

Examples of determining which ball is in play include:

18.3c(2)/2 – Player May Ask Others Not to Search for His or Her Original Ball

If a player does not plan to search for his or her original ball because he or she would prefer to continue play with a provisional ball, the player may ask others not to search, but there is no obligation for them to comply.

If a ball is found, the player must make all reasonable efforts to identify the ball, provided he or she has not already played the provisional ball from nearer the hole than where the original ball was estimated to be, in which case it became the player’s ball in play. If the provisional ball has not yet become the ball in play when another ball is found, refusal to make a reasonable effort to identify the found ball may be considered serious misconduct contrary to the spirit of the game (Rule 1.2a).

After the other ball is found, if the provisional ball is played from nearer the hole than where the other ball was found, and it turns out that the other ball was the player’s original ball, the stroke at the provisional ball was actually a stroke at a wrong ball (Rule 6.3c). The player will get the general penalty and, in stroke play, must correct the error by continuing play with the original ball.

18.3c(2)/3 – Opponent or Another Player May Search for Player’s Ball Despite the Player’s Request

Even if a player prefers to continue play of the hole with a provisional ball without searching for the original ball, the opponent or another player in stroke play may search for the player’s original ball so long as it does not unreasonably delay play. If the player’s original ball is found while it is still in play, the player must abandon the provisional ball (Rule 18.3c(3)).

For example, at a par-3 hole, a player’s tee shot goes into dense woods, and he or she plays a provisional ball that comes to rest near the hole. Given this outcome, the player does not wish to find the original ball and walks directly towards the provisional ball to continue play with it. The player’s opponent or another player in stroke play believes it would be beneficial to him or her if the original ball was found, so he or she begins searching for it.

If he or she finds the original ball before the player makes another stroke with the provisional ball the player must abandon the provisional ball and continue with the original ball. However, if the player makes another stroke with the provisional ball before the original ball is found, it becomes the ball in play because it was nearer the hole than the estimated spot of the original ball (Rule 18.3c(2)).

In match play, if the player’s provisional ball is nearer the hole than the opponent’s ball, the opponent may cancel the stroke and have the player play in the proper order (Rule 6.4a). However, cancelling the stroke would not change the status of the original ball, which is no longer in play.

18.3c(2)/4 – When Score with Holed Provisional Ball Becomes the Score for Hole

So long as the original ball has not already been found in bounds, the score with a provisional ball that has been holed becomes the player’s score for the hole when the player lifts the ball from the hole since, in this case, lifting the ball from the hole is the same as making a stroke.

For example, at a short hole, Player A’s tee shot might be lost, so he or she plays a provisional ball that is holed. Player A does not wish to look for the original ball, but Player B, Player A’s opponent or another player in stroke play, goes to look for the original ball.

If Player B finds Player A’s original ball before Player A lifts the provisional ball from the hole, Player A must abandon the provisional ball and continue with the original ball. If Player A lifts the ball from the hole before Player B finds Player A’s original ball, Player A’s score for the hole is three.

18.3c(2)/5 – Provisional Ball Lifted by Player Subsequently Becomes the Ball in Play

If a player lifts his or her provisional ball when not allowed to do so under the Rules, and the provisional ball subsequently becomes the ball in play, the player must add one penalty stroke under Rule 9.4b (Penalty for Lifting or Moving Ball) and must replace the ball.

For example, in stroke play, believing his or her tee shot might be lost, the player plays a provisional ball. The player finds a ball that he or she believes is the original ball, makes a stroke at it, picks up the provisional ball, and then discovers that the ball he or she played was not the original ball, but a wrong ball. The player resumes search for the original ball but cannot find it within the three-minute search time.

Since the provisional ball became the ball in play under penalty of stroke and distance, the player is required to replace that ball and gets one penalty stroke under Rule 9.4b. The player also gets two penalty strokes for playing a wrong ball (Rule 6.3c). The player’s next stroke is his or her seventh.

18.3c(3)/1 – Provisional Ball Cannot Serve as Ball in Play if Original Ball Is Unplayable or in Penalty Area

A player is only allowed to play a provisional ball if he or she believes the original ball might be lost outside a penalty area or might be out of bounds. The player may not decide that a second ball he or she is going to play is both a provisional ball in case the original ball is lost outside a penalty area or out of bounds and the ball in play in case the original ball is unplayable or in a penalty area.

If the original ball is found in bounds or is known or virtually certain to be in a penalty area, the provisional ball must be abandoned.