What is a Provisional Shot in Golf? Learn the Rules & Tips

  • By: jarret stoll
  • Date: August 29, 2023
  • Time to read: 10 min.

Golf is a game of precision and strategy. One of the most important aspects of the game is understanding the various types of shots required to navigate the course. One such shot is the provisional shot, which can be crucial in avoiding penalties and improving your score.

So, what is a provisional shot in golf? Simply put, it is another shot played by a golfer in case the original shot is lost or goes out of bounds. This type of shot can save time by allowing golfers to continue playing without having to backtrack to their original location on the course.

In this article, we will delve into the rules, techniques, and advantages of mastering provisional shots in golf.

Key Takeaways

  • A provisional shot is an additional shot played in case the original shot is lost or out of bounds.
  • Understanding the rules governing provisional shots can help golfers avoid penalties and improve their score.
  • Provisional shots require specific techniques and practice drills to master.

What Are Provisional Shots: Definition and Purpose

In golf, a provisional shot is a type of golf shot taken when a player believes their original ball has gone out of bounds, lost, or cannot be found within the five-minute search time allowed by the rules. The purpose of a provisional shot is to save time by giving the player an extra chance to keep the play moving without having to return to the original spot and hit another shot.

The provisional ball is treated as if it is the player’s original ball and the player must declare that they are playing a provisional ball to their playing partners before hitting the shot. If the original ball is found or is in bounds, the provisional ball is no longer in play. If the original ball cannot be found or is out of bounds, the provisional ball becomes the player’s ball in play and the player must continue playing from there with penalty.

Rules Governing Provisional Shots

Provisional shots are subject to specific rules that must be followed to avoid penalty strokes or disqualification. The main rule governing provisional shots is:

Rule 18-2bIf a player believes that their ball may be lost outside of a water hazard or out of bounds, they may play another ball provisionally under penalty of one stroke. The player must then inform their opponent or fellow competitor that a provisional ball is being played. If the original ball is found within five minutes of commencing the search, the provisional ball is picked up, and play continues with the original ball. If the original ball is not found or is confirmed to be out of bounds, the provisional ball becomes the ball in play, and the player must proceed under penalty of stroke and distance.

It’s important to note that provisional shots cannot be played under all circumstances. For example, a provisional shot cannot be played if the player is aware that their ball is in a water hazard or if they have already played a shot from the teeing ground on the hole. Additionally, a provisional shot cannot be played if the ball is known or is virtually certain to be found within bounds.

Exceptions to Rule 18-2b:

There are some exceptions to the general rule of playing a provisional ball under penalty of one stroke. These exceptions include:

  • If the original ball is in a water hazard, the player may proceed under Rule 26 – Water Hazards instead of playing a provisional ball.
  • If the original ball is believed to be unplayable, the player may proceed under Rule 28 – Unplayable Ball instead of playing a provisional ball.

It’s crucial for golfers to understand the rules governing provisional shots fully. Violating these rules can lead to unfavorable consequences, and it’s necessary to avoid any penalties to ensure fair play and good sportsmanship.

When to Play a Provisional Shot

A provisional shot is a smart play that can shave precious strokes off your game. Knowing when to play a provisional shot can pay off big time. Here are two scenarios when a provisional shot may be needed:

  1. Lost ball: When you hit a ball off the tee or from the fairway and can’t find it, you must play a provisional shot. This will save you time and a penalty stroke. Simply declare the shot as provisional before taking it and play it as if it were your first shot.
  2. Out of bounds: If your ball goes out of bounds, you must also play a provisional shot. The same rule applies. Declare it as provisional and play it as if it were your first shot. This way, you won’t have to go back to the original spot to play again, saving you time and strokes.

Overall, playing a provisional shot can be a lifesaver on the course. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, and in this case, it can save you strokes and keep your scorecard in check.

Techniques for Playing a Provisional Shot

Playing a provisional shot can be intimidating, but there are techniques you can use to make it easier. Here are a few tips:

  1. Take your time: Don’t rush when playing a provisional shot. Take a deep breath and focus on your technique.
  2. Visualize your shot: Picture in your mind where you want the ball to go and how you want it to get there.
  3. Use a different club: Consider using a different club for your provisional shot, especially if your first shot didn’t go as planned. This can help you adjust for any mistakes or obstacles.
  4. Take a practice swing: Practice swings can help you get a feel for the shot and make any needed adjustments to your stance, grip, or swing.

Remember, the goal of a provisional shot is to give yourself a safety net in case your first shot goes awry. Don’t be afraid to play a provisional shot if you’re unsure about the location of your first shot.

Drill: Playing a Provisional Shot

Here’s a simple drill you can use to practice your provisional shots:

1Choose a target area on the course.
2Take a practice swing to get a feel for the shot.
3Visualize your shot and plan out how you want to get there.
4Play your first shot and assess its location.
5If you’re unsure about the location of your first shot, play a provisional shot.
6Assess the location of your provisional shot and compare it to your first shot.
7Repeat steps 4-6 until you feel confident in your ability to play a provisional shot.

With practice, playing a provisional shot can become second nature, giving you more confidence on the course and improving your overall game.

Tips for Beginners on Provisional Shots

If you’re a beginner golfer, mastering provisional shots can be daunting. Here are some tips to help you improve:

  1. Know when to play a provisional shot: If you hit your ball towards a hazard or out of bounds, play a provisional shot to save time and avoid stroke penalties.
  2. Take your time: Don’t rush to hit your provisional shot. Take a deep breath, assess the situation, and plan your shot.
  3. Use a club you’re comfortable with: Choose a club that you’re confident with and that you know you can hit straight. Don’t try to hit your longest club if you’re not comfortable with it.
  4. Aim for the fairway: Your provisional shot should be aimed at the fairway to give you the best chance of getting back in play.
  5. Stay positive: Don’t let a bad shot or a difficult situation discourage you. Stay positive and focus on your next shot.

Remember, practice makes perfect. Spend time on the course practicing your provisional shots, and you’ll soon see improvement in your game.

Golfing Terminology Related to Provisional Shots

Understanding the terminology associated with golf is essential for players who want to improve their game. Here are some of the most common golfing terms related to provisional shots:

Provisional ballA ball played by a golfer when they believe their original shot may be lost or out of bounds
Lost ballA ball that cannot be found on the course
Out of boundsAn area outside the course boundaries where a ball is considered unplayable
Stroke and distance penaltyA penalty where a player adds one stroke to their score and then takes another shot from the same spot as their previous shot
Provisional shotA shot played by a golfer in case their original shot is lost or out of bounds

Knowing these golfing terms can help players understand the rules related to provisional shots and improve their overall game.

Common Mistakes to Avoid with Provisional Shots

While playing a provisional shot can come in handy when trying to save your score, there are some mistakes that golfers tend to make. Here are some common mistakes to avoid when playing a provisional shot:

MistakeExplanationHow to avoid it
Not declaring the shotWhen a provisional shot is not declared, it becomes a regular stroke, and the previous ball is considered lost.Announce your intention to play a provisional shot before taking the shot and make sure your playing partners know it.
Playing a wrong ballPlaying a wrong ball will result in a two-stroke penalty, and the player will have to correct the mistake.Make sure you are playing the correct ball before hitting it. Check the brand, number, and markings on the ball.
Not assessing the situation correctlyIf the provisional shot lands in a worse position than the previous ball, the provisional shot should not be played, and the previous ball should be searched for.Assess the situation carefully before deciding to play a provisional shot. Consider the distance, the lie, and the potential obstacles.

By avoiding these common mistakes, you can improve your chances of playing a successful provisional shot. Remember to always follow the rules and guidelines of golfing to enjoy the sport to its fullest potential.

Advantages of Mastering Provisional Shots

Mastery of provisional shots in golf can go a long way in improving your overall performance and confidence on the course. Here are some of the advantages of mastering this technique:

  • Save Time: In case you lose your ball, playing a provisional shot can save you time by allowing you to continue playing without having to return to the spot where you hit your previous shot. This can also help you maintain your momentum on the course.
  • Reduce Penalties: Provisional shots can help you avoid penalties for lost balls or out-of-bounds shots. By playing a provisional ball, you can ensure that you don’t have to incur unnecessary penalty strokes.
  • Boost Confidence: Knowing that you have a provisional shot in your arsenal can help boost your confidence on the course. You’ll feel more in control of your game, which can translate to better shots and a better overall performance.
  • Improve Strategy: By playing a provisional shot, you can adjust your strategy based on the result of your first shot. This can help you make better decisions and improve your course management skills.
  • Be Prepared: Provisional shots can come in handy in unexpected situations, such as when you hit a shot that you thought was good, but it ends up being unplayable. By being prepared to play a provisional shot, you can avoid getting caught off guard.

Overall, mastering provisional shots can help you become a better golfer and enjoy the game more. Practice this technique regularly, and you’ll find that it can make a big difference in your performance on the course.

Practice Drills to Improve Provisional Shots

Improving your provisional shots can make a big difference in your overall golf game. Here are some practice drills you can use to enhance your skills:

1. Tee Shot Practice

Practice your tee shots until you can consistently hit them straight and far. This helps you avoid situations where you need to take a provisional shot.

2. Targets in the Distance

Place targets at various distances and try to hit them with your provisional shots. This helps you develop a feel for the distance and direction of your shots.

Distance (yards)Target Size (feet)

3. Hazard Practice

Practice hitting shots out of various hazards, such as bunkers and water. This helps you remain calm and focused when you need to take a provisional shot from a hazard.

4. Pressure Practice

“Pressure is something you feel when you don’t know what you’re doing.” – Chuck Noll

To build up your confidence and reduce pressure, practice taking provisional shots with something on the line. For example, bet a friend or play for a dollar.

  • Alternate taking shots until one person hits a provisional shot.
  • The person who hits the provisional shot loses the bet.

5. Course Management

Lastly, use course management skills to avoid hitting provisional shots altogether. By carefully choosing your shots and aiming for safe areas, you can minimize the need for provisional shots and ultimately improve your score.

By incorporating these practice drills into your routine, you can master provisional shots and enhance your overall golf game.


Provisional shots are an essential part of the game of golf, and learning how to play them effectively can improve your overall performance on the course. Understanding the rules governing provisional shots is key, as is knowing when to play them and the most effective techniques to use when doing so.

Beginners should take the time to practice and master their provisional shots, as this can give them a significant advantage over their competitors. It is also important to be aware of common mistakes to avoid when playing provisional shots, and to always use correct golfing terminology when doing so.

By following the tips and drills outlined in this article, players can improve their provisional shot skills and feel confident when faced with tricky situations on the course. Remember, the goal of a provisional shot is to maintain the pace of play and avoid penalties, so incorporating this technique into your golf game can ultimately lead to a more enjoyable and successful round.

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