Whenever you hit a wayward shot and aren’t sure of the ball’s whereabouts or you think it may have gone out of bounds, it’s always a good idea to declare a provisional ball. Hitting a provisional has little-to-no downside as long as you know the proper procedure to follow.
First, you want to announce to your playing partners that you’re intending to hit a provisional ball. Make sure that the provisional is a different numbered golf ball than the original and it’s not a bad idea to put a different mark on the provisional to avoid confusion.
You are allowed under the rules to hit your provisional ball multiple times as you play up to the area that you believe your original ball is in. Once you search for your original ball, if you find it, you must play that ball and your provisional is ruled to be out of play.
However, if you’re unable to locate the original or it has gone out of bounds, you have saved yourself and your group a lot of time that would have to be used to to return to the spot the original ball was struck from.