Rules of Golf: Distance Measuring Devices

Emma Williams
By Emma Williams November 13, 2011 14:51

Rules of Golf: Distance Measuring Devices

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 distance information, while others will argue that there is no place for such technology in the game.

As the governing authorities for the rules, in November 2009 The R&A and the USGA issued a ‘joint statement’ on electronic devices – including distance-measuring devices – to clarify how the rules will be applied in relation to these devices.

The fact is that from the days when selecting a club was done by ‘eye’, we have progressed through yardage books (this development often being attributed to Jack Nicklaus), distance markers at the sides of fairways and distances on sprinkler heads, to a point where electronic distance-measuring devices, either in the form of laser or GPS devices, have become quite common in certain areas of the world.

As we enter a new decade, technology continues to be the driving force in all walks of life and golf is no exception. The game of golf has seen progressive developments in golf clubs, golf balls and all the paraphernalia that golfers tend to carry. Nonetheless golf has always stayed very close to its traditions, endeavouring to keep the focus on skill, rather than an over-reliance on technological advances.

In January 2006, The R&A and the USGA took the decision to allow committees to permit the use of distance-measuring devices by local rule only, and this remains the position today. These devices can provide the same information that can be obtained from a yardage book or on-course markings and are not considered to diminish the skill level required to play the game.

It is important to understand that it is at the discretion of the committee in charge of the competition or the course to introduce such a local rule. Without the local rule, the use of a distance-measuring device results in disqualification. A very important stipulation of this local rule for permitting distance-measuring devices is that the device must measure distance only. It cannot be used to measure other conditions such as wind speed or direction, the slope of the ground or the temperature.

Recently, technology has seen the emergence of the multi-functional devices, such as mobile phones, which, through downloadable applications, also have the capability to provide distance information. On the course, these multi-functional devices may be used for any non-golfing purpose (for example as a communication tool to phone, text or email), subject to any club or course regulations, provided it is not for the purpose of accessing advice-related matters.

Yet when an application that measures distance has been downloaded to the device, the application must be restricted to providing only distance information in order to conform to the local rule. Any other applications on the phone such as a temperature gauge or anemometer would render the device non-conforming regardless of whether these applications are used or not.

But what about the internet? It is appreciated that as the internet is now readily available on most mobile phones and multi-functional devices, it is possible to access non-conforming information through this route at any time. In terms of the rules, provided the internet is not used for this purpose, the fact that it exists on the phone does not render the distance application non-conforming.

It is worth noting that The R&A does not advocate the use of distance-measuring devices and does not plan to introduce the local rule at any of its championships.  However, if you or any members at your club are considering using a bespoke distance device or a mobile phone application to obtain distance information, remember to check that firstly, the local rule is in place, and secondly, that your distance-measuring device or phone applications measure just ‘distance’ only.

This article was written by Shona McRae, manager of The Rules of Golf at The R&A

Emma Williams
By Emma Williams November 13, 2011 14:51
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