Golf Rules – Can You Really Change Your Ball at Any Time?


Can you change your ball at any time during the play of a hole, the provisional ball rule?


golf balls


A hole is played as a progression of strokes made from the teeing area to the putting green and into the hole. After teeing off, the player is normally required to play the same ball until the hole is completed. The player gets a penalty for making a stroke at a wrong ball or a substituted ball when substitution is not allowed by the Rules.

A – Holing Out with Same Ball Played from Teeing Area

  • A player may play any conforming ball when starting a hole from the teeing area and may change balls between two holes.
  • The player must hole out with the same ball played from the teeing area, except when:
    • That ball is lost or comes to rest out of bounds, or
    • The player substitutes another ball (whether or not allowed to do so).
    • The player should put an identifying mark on the ball to be played (see Rule 7.2).

BSubstitution of Another Ball While Playing Hole

  • (1) When Player Is Allowed and Not Allowed to Substitute Another Ball. Certain Rules allow a player to change the ball he or she is using to play a hole by substituting another ball as the ball in play, and others do not:
    • When taking relief under a Rule, including when either dropping a ball or placing a ball (such as when a ball will not stay in the relief area or when taking relief on the putting green), the player may use either the original ball or another ball (Rule 14.3a),
    • When playing again from where a previous stroke was made, the player may use either the original ball or another ball (Rule 14.6), and
    • When replacing a ball on a spot, the player is not allowed to substitute a ball and must use the original ball, with certain exceptions (Rule 14.2a).
  • ( 2) Substituted Ball Becomes Ball in Play. When a player substitutes another ball as the ball in play (see Rule 14.4):
    • The original ball is no longer in play, even if it is at rest on the course.
    • This is true even if the player:Substituted another ball for the original ball when not allowed by the Rules (whether or not the player realized that he or she was substituting another ball), or Replaced, dropped or placed the substituted ball (1) in a wrong place, (2) in a wrong way or (3) by using a procedure that does not apply.
    • If the player’s original ball has not been found and the player put another ball in play to take stroke-and-distance relief (see Rules 17.1d, 18.1, 18.2b and 19.2a) or as allowed under a Rule that applies when it is known or virtually certain what happened to the ball (see Rules 6.3c, 9.6, 11.2c, 15.2b, 16.1e and 17.1c):
    • The player must continue playing with the substituted ball, and
    • The player must not play the original ball even if it is found on the course before the end of the three-minute search time (see Rule 18.2a(1)).
  • (3) Making Stroke at Incorrectly Substituted Ball. If a player makes a stroke at an incorrectly substituted ball:
    • The player gets the general penalty.
    • In stroke play, the player must then play out the hole with the incorrectly substituted ball.
    • If multiple Rule breaches result from a single act or related acts, see Rule 1.3c(4).


  • Generally, you aren’t permitted to change your ball at any time during the play of a hole, but there are situations when you can change your ball.
  • The situations where you can change your ball during play of the hole are:
    • If you are taking free relief from an abnormal course condition, such as temporary water, a cart path, or a sprinkler head, then you may change your ball when dropping/placing a ball. 
    • When your ball is at rest on top of a movable obstruction, and you choose to take free relief.
    • When play has been suspended and then resumed.
    • If you are taking penalty relief for an unplayable ball, or stroke-and-distance relief when you have lost your ball or hit it out-of-bounds.
  • Generally, you are not permitted to change your ball after you have marked and lifted it, however the following situations do allow you to change your ball in this situation:
    • When your ball is unable to be easily retrieved, and is not as of a result of a deliberate act by the player to ‘lose it’.
    • The original ball was stolen, or played by another player.
    • The original ball is cut and/or cracked.

Blakey’s Golf Tips

  • These days, there really is no need to change your ball during the hole, as you can get golf balls that minimise spin and thus maximising distance for your longer shots, as well as being soft and having the ability to stop quickly for your shorter shots.
  • For more information about which ball suits your skill and clubhead speed, check out this blog….

Paul Liberatore
Paul Liberatore

As the Founder of Golfers Authority Paul Liberatore Esq. has spent the last 7+ years writing about the best golf equipment or instruction from the top golf instructors in the world. He has been a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated Golf and GolfWRX. After graduating with honors from Purdue University, he realized that he had a passion for the golf business and the law. When he's not practicing law, or creating golf content on YouTube, he can be found on his syndicated Behind the Golf Brand podcast talking with the most prolific leaders in the golf industry. 

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