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Lost, Out of Bounds, ProvisionalGolf is the only game in which a precise knowledge of the rules can earn one a reputation for bad sportsmanship. - Patrick Campbell
Clubs and Balls
Playing the Ball
Provisional, Lost, Out of bounds
Hazards, Penalty Areas
1812 St Andrews maintained the stroke and distance penalty, but now allows a player to tee his ball.
1839 Honourable Company adopted the 1829 St Andrews rules, and thus inherited the stroke and distance penalty.
1842 St Andrews changed to three strokes and distance! Rescinded in 1846.
1891 Separate procedures for match and stroke play. In stroke play, stroke and distance unchanged, but for match play a lost ball meant a lost hole (see below).
1902 Stroke and distance, ball to be teed.
1920 Stroke and distance in both forms of play. Ball must now be dropped if not played from the tee.
1950 R&A changes penalty to distance only.
1952 Back to Stroke and distance.
1956 Ball may be declared lost by player. This option removed in 1964.
1960 USGA Distance only. Rescinded 1961.
1972 ball may be abandoned as lost without searching. Option Removed 1976.
The five minute time limit for searching for a lost ball was introduced by the Aberdeen Golfers in 1783. The same time limit was used by Musselburgh 1834.
1842 St Andrews introduced a limit of 5 mins, and removed it in 1846 (as part of 3 strokes and distance rule mentioned above).
1882 St Andrews reintroduced a time limit - lost if not found within 10 mins; reduced to 5 mins in 1891. Royal Isle of Wight 1886 also introduced a limit of 5 minutes.
Up to 1956 the definition of a lost ball was that it was not found within five minutes of searching. In 1956 the ball was either lost after five minutes or the player could declare the ball lost.
1964 definition was five minutes search or if the player put another ball in play. Players could no longer declare a ball lost.
1972 : 5 minutes search, if the player puts another ball into play, or if the player plays a provisional ball nearer hole than the original was likely to be, or if the player abandons the ball
1976 : 5 minutes search, if the player puts another ball into play, or if the player plays a provisional ball nearer hole than the original was likely to be.
2004 An additional condition to the definition of lost ball, that the original ball is lost when a stroke is made at a substitute ball. This was in conflict with rule 20-4, which states that a ball is in play when dropped, meaning that a player could have two balls in play simultaneously.
To give some idea of the confusion even at the highest level, here is a brief history of the developing answers to decision 27-1/2, a fairly simple scenario:
2008 lost ball re-defined to correct previous ambiguity.
2012 lost ball definition revised again.
2019 Ball search time reduced to 3 minutes.
Lost Ball=Lost Hole
1882 R&A adopted lost ball=lost hole for match play.
1899 Lost hole, except if ball is lost in water, or out of bounds.
1920 match play penalty made the same as in stroke play.
Out of Bounds
1908 Redefined as all ground on which play is prohibited. Penalty distance only still, but may be changed to stroke and distance by local rule for both forms of play. Also, a ball out of bounds may be treated as lost by local rule, (i.e. lost hole in match play). This change was not adopted by the USGA until 1915, although the local rule adjustment was not incorporated.
1920 Stroke and distance, but now the penalty stroke may be remitted by local rule.
1947 USGA and 1950 R&A. Distance only, and no provision for change by a local rule.
1952 Stroke and distance.
1960 USGA experimentally changed to distance only.
1961 USGA back to stroke and distance. in addition, the USGA allowed an alternative procedure of stroke only - dropping a ball within two club lengths of where the ball went out of bounds on courses where the penalty of stroke and distance would be "unduly severe".
1964 USGA allowed a local rule to be adopted which allowed a stroke-only option if it was felt that stroke and distance would be "'unduly severe."
From the introduction of out of bounds, a ball was out of bounds when the greater part of it lay out of bounds. From 1950, all the ball has to be out.
When out of bounds is defined by a line, the line was in bounds until 1954.
However, the idea was quashed in 1858. The original only continues in play if found before the second ball is played.
1891 The option available only in medal play (lost ball=lost hole in match play).
1902 Following the introduction of out of bounds in 1899, a provisional ball was allowed for a ball possibly played out of bounds.
1908 The term 'Provisional' first appears, as a sub-heading. 1912 new wording, "in order to save delay" a player may play a provisional ball "at once".
1920 Provisional ball now allowed for a ball out of bounds, lost outside water, or unplayable. An additional requirement is that a player must play the ball before going forward to search.
1933 Clarified that a player may play up to the place where original is likely to be, but it wasn't until 1972 that a provisional ball played beyond this point automatically becomes the ball in play.
1947 USGA. Added, although a provisional may not be played for a ball in a water hazard, if the original is found in a water hazard, and the provisional has been played in accordance with the relief procedure for water hazards, then it becomes the ball in play, otherwise it must be abandoned.
1950 R&A Now no provisional available for an unplayable ball; for the other options, one provisional only may be played.
1952 Rule completely revised. Provisional can be played for ball lost, out of bounds, unplayable, or in a water hazard. If the original is playable, the player has the choice of which ball to play. However, if the original ball is in a water hazard, either the original can be played as it lies, or the provisional, but no other option under the water hazard rule may be used; similarly for unplayable, no alternative option under the unplayable ball rule may be used.
1956 Provisional must be announced before being played.
1960 USGA abolished the play of a provisional for a ball in a water hazard and for an unplayable ball.
1964 R&A abolished provisional for a ball in a water hazard, and in 1968 for an unplayable ball. Also removed the choice of ball to play - now player must abandon prov if orig is found in bounds