Do You Understand Golf Rule 27-2a?

This week I received this question referring to Rule 27-2a, and thought it would be useful to share my reply with everyone:


“Hi Barry,

I have a rules question that arose in our group yesterday.

We were playing in an eighteen hole medal play contest. A guy in our foursome pushed his tee shot to the right such that none of us could see whether the ball had come to rest in bounds or just out. The player announced his intention to hit a provisional and proceeded to do so.

Unfortunately, he overcompensated and pulled his provisional to the left such that it entered a lateral water hazard not too far from the tee box. At this point, the player believed that if he hit another shot from the tee, it would be the same as if he had hit his provisional from the fairway which would preclude him from playing his original ball if it were found to be in bounds. With a foursome in front of us and one behind us as well, none of us wanted to spend the time going to the original ball and then, possibly, having to return to the tee. So we three, his competitors, convinced him to hit another ball from the tee as a second provisional. Which he did.

When we reached his original ball, we found it lying nicely playable and in bounds. So he played it and we scored the hole as if the two provisional swings had never occurred. In the end, there were no hard feelings and we all had a fun round of golf. But, on later reflection, I wondered if the player may have been right when he believed that hitting that second provisional constituted putting his first provisional in play (even though it was at the bottom of the lake) and abandoning the opportunity to play his original ball if it were found in bounds.

What is the proper ruling?

And a follow-up question: If the player’s first provisional, instead of entering the lateral hazard, had echoed the flight of his original ball and landed in an indeterminate position near the out of bounds, could he then have hit a second provisional and retained the opportunity to find and play his original ball?

And one last follow-up:

Have the powers that be in golf ever considered eliminating the stroke and distance penalty? In the 50 years I have been playing golf, I can’t remember ever seeing someone go back to the tee to hit again. And if they had, a lot of people would have been shouting at them and calling for the ranger to throw them off the course. Why not just play everything – out of bounds, lost ball, water hazards, etc – 1 stroke and drop in line, not nearer the hole? Is there a lot of resistance to this idea? Speeding up the game is a good idea.

Thanks, Barry. Keep up the good work.”


“Your friend was wrong in his interpretation of the Rules. However, he was not permitted to play a second provisional ball from the tee as his first provisional ball was known to be lost in a water hazard. If his provisional ball had come to rest (in the water) short of where his original ball may have been lost then the correct procedure was to have played another ball under penalty of one stroke under one of the options under Rule 26-1 Relief for Ball in Water Hazard (behind the water hazard or from the teeing ground). If his provisional ball had been lost in water at a point nearer to the hole than where his original ball may have been lost he should have searched for his original ball before playing another ball under penalty from a point on a line behind where the ball crossed the margin of the hazard and the hole, or from the teeing area (his 5th stroke).

To answer your second point, if a player’s provisional ball could have been lost outside of a water hazard then playing a second provisional ball (5th stroke if the original ball is not found) from the tee would have been the correct procedure.

These points are covered in a note to Rule 27-2a, which states “Note: If a provisional ball played under Rule 27-2a might be lost outside a water hazard or out of bounds, the player may play another provisional ball. If another provisional ball is played, it bears the same relationship to the previous provisional ball as the first provisional ball bears to the original ball.

In my opinion the authorities are extremely unlikely to ever change the ‘stroke and distance’ penalty. It is an integral part of the game that if you do not know where your ball is lost then you have to go back to where you played your last stroke in order to complete the stipulated round. This is the reason that the Rules permit the playing of a provisional ball, in order to maintain the pace of play. Unlike you I have seen many players return to where they played their last stroke, and did so myself only two weeks ago. There is no other option if you cannot find a ball that you did not think would be lost, and you want to return a completed score card. Rangers should not have a problem with competitors abiding by the Rules of Golf, providing they play provisional balls when they think their balls may be lost, always attempt to close any gap with the group in front and allow the following group through if they are holding them up. In my experience there are many more serious causes of slow play other than the stroke and distance penalty.”

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Disclaimer: Whilst every attempt has been made to ensure the accuracy and reliability of this information on the Rules of Golf I am human and have been known to be wrong! Neither I, nor anyone connected with, shall be held responsible for any losses caused by reliance upon the accuracy or reliability of such information. Readers should refer to the full text of the rules and decisions as published in the official publications of the R&A and the USGA, The Rules of Golf 2008-2011 and Decisions on the Rules of Golf 2008-2009.

4 Responses to “Do You Understand Golf Rule 27-2a?”

  1. Moe Immel says:

    If you hit a ball look for it, don’t find it, hit a new ball then find the 1st ball and play it, How do you score it?


  2. David says:

    I think it is about time that the R&A and USPGA changed some of the rules for CLUB players, we are supposed to be playing for fun!

    So how about:

    1 Yes, forget stroke and distance. Just a penalty point and play from where ball crossed O B ( + or – 2 club lengths.)
    2 plugged ball can be roled out ANYWHERE and ANYTIME (inc rough, summer etc)
    3 if ball lands in mud move it – just like standing water or GUR
    4 Wet compacted bunkers can be played as GUR
    5 Lost ball, play from where ball is believed lost + one stroke penalty
    6 No penalty if wind moves ball being addressed on putting green

    These changes and some which other club players might suggest, would speed up play and avoid the odd sprained wrist or broken club and help to make a wonderful yet truly frustrating game more enjoyable.

    They might also improve the decorum and perhaps encourage a more sunny disposition than that which is often only to evident in areas not too adjacent to the fairway!

  3. john Riley says:

    this is a tricky one. i believe that when the player played a second provisional ball that ball then became the ball in play irrespective if vhis original ball was found or not.

  4. Roger Garrett says:

    When I started playing golf, there was no penalty stroke added for an OB ball. You played your second from the tee, and I would endorse strongly a return to this ruling. However your suggestion to play under penalty from along the line of entry to the OB is a most interesting suggestion, and i will sound it out with my golfing mates, and let you know if there is support for it. My initial reaction is in favour, because of the time saved when quite often it is not possible to see from the teeing ground if the ball is OB. Interesting !!
    As always I enjoy your interesting and thought-provoking letters.

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