Date: October 26, 2016
Author: R&A

In Focus: Distance Measuring Devices

From the days when selecting a club was done by “eye”, there has been a progression of aids available to players to help gauge distance. Initially, there was the introduction of course yardage charts (a development often attributed to Jack Nicklaus), distance markers at the sides of fairways and distances on sprinkler heads. More recently, we have reached a point where it has become quite common for Committees in certain areas of the world to put a Local Rule in place to permit competitors in their events to use electronic distance-measuring devices.  (See Appendix I, Part A, Section 7 in the Rules of Golf for the recommended wording.)

Where such a Local Rule is in place, competitors must ensure that the Device they are using complies with the restrictions of this Local Rule and that they do not access other information which would cause them to be in breach of the Rules.

Understanding the Rules on DMDs

Rule 14-3 does not permit the use of any artificial device or unusual equipment for the purpose of gauging or measuring distance.

However, a Local Rule may allow the use of a distance-measuring device during a round of golf, to measure distance and distance alone.

Do’s and Don’t’s

You may use a device to:

• Measure straight line distance between two points;

• Access a club yardage chart based off historical information;

•  Enter your hole scores;

• Enter shot information – for later analysis (e.g. club used and location);

• Access a local weather forecast.

You may not use a device to:

• gauge or measure slope;

• gauge or measure other conditions that might affect play (e.g., wind speed or direction);

• gauge or measure a player’s physical or mental state, such as heart rate;

•  access recommendations that might assist the player in making a stroke or in his play

• calculate effective distance based on elevation changes or other conditions affecting shot distance.

Your Distance-Measuring Device Questions Answered

Most of the questions that The R&A receives in connection with distance-measuring devices, along with the answers, are provided below.

Q. Can I use a distance-measuring device in a competition?

A. The use of a distance-measuring device during a stipulated round remains contrary to the Rules of Golf – the penalty being disqualification under Rule 14-3 (Artificial Devices, Unusual Equipment and Unusual Use of Equipment). However, since January 2006, a Committee can permit the use of some such devices via a Local Rule.

Q. What kind of distance-measuring devices are allowed by Local Rule?

A. A GPS, laser, smart phone, any really – provided the device meets certain guidelines and recommendations.  The important thing to remember is that the device must only be used to access permitted information.  The player would be in breach of the Rules if the device is used to access prohibited information, such as slope and club recommendation features.

Q. What about multi-functional devices, such as a mobile phone, with a distance-measuring application?

A. Subject to any club or course regulations, a multi-functional device may be used, provided it is not to access information that, if used, would cause the player to be in breach of the Rules.

Q. If a player uses a smartphone to look up a weather forecast, is the player gauging the conditions?

No. Accessing weather reports provided by a weather station through an app or internet browser, is not considered to be actively measuring or gauging the conditions and is permissible whether or not the Local Rule for distance-measuring devices is in effect.

Q. My smartphone has an inbuilt spirit level as part of the functionality of the phone but it is not part of the distance-measuring app. Can I use the phone as a distance-measuring device?

Yes, provided that you do not use the level in a manner that might assist you in your play.

Q. My smartphone has a compass feature. Can I use the phone as a distance-measuring device?

Yes. A compass only provides directional information and does not gauge or measure variable conditions or assist the player in his play and is permissible whether or not the Local Rule for distance-measuring devices is in effect.

Q. What should the Local Rule permitting distance-measuring devices say?

A. The wording of the recommended Local Rule (Appendix 1, Part A, 7) reads as follows:

“Distance-Measuring Devices

• [Specify as appropriate, eg In this competition, or For all play at this course, etc.], a player may obtain distance information by use of a distance-measuring device. If, during a stipulated round, a player uses a distance-measuring device to gauge or measure other conditions that might affect their play (eg elevation changes, wind speed, etc), the player is in breach of Rule 14-3.”

Q. Why not simply allow distance-measuring devices without the need for a Local Rule?

A. The advent of distance-measuring devices and their use in the game divides opinion at many levels. Many golfers are fans of these devices as they feel it puts them on a level footing with tournament professionals who have caddies providing precise distance information, whilst others will argue that there is no place for such technology in the game. As such, it was, and remains, appropriate to allow individual clubs and Committees to decide what is right for them, their competitions and their players.

 Q. If a Club has in place the Local Rule permitting distance-measuring devices and an external body, the national golf association, for example, is running an event there, does that mean that distance-measuring devices are automatically allowed in the national event?

A. No. It is the responsibility of the national golf association to establish its own Local Rules for the event. The Local Rules written by the Committee in charge of the competition supersede what the Club has in place on a day-to-day basis.

Q. If the Local Rules for distance-measuring devices is in place, may players share a distance-measuring device?

A. Yes, but it is important that players sharing devices do not unduly delay play. In addition, information on distance obtained from a distance-measuring device can be shared between the player, partner, fellow-competitor or opponent if so wished.