Your Distance Measuring Device Questions Answered

From the days when selecting a club was done by “eye”, we have progressed through yardage books, a development often attributed to Jack Nicklaus, distance markers at the sides of fairways and distances on sprinkler heads, to a point where electronic distance-measuring devices, have become quite common in certain areas of the world.

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; however, it is important that the device only measures distance. The use of a distance-measuring device that is designed to gauge or measure other conditions that might affect a player’s play, such as gradient or wind speed, is not permitted, regardless of whether such an additional function is used or not, and even if that function is disabled.

To help golfers and/or referees to determine the status of a particular device, The R&A has produced a flowchart explaining what is allowed when the Local Rule is in place:

DMD Flowchart

You can download the above flowchart here.

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

A. On the course, subject to any club or course regulations, a multi-functional device may be used to phone, text, email or to look up general information, provided the purpose is not a breach of the Rules, e.g. you cannot make a phone call to ask for advice.

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. If there are other features or applications on the phone that can specifically gauge or measure conditions that might affect the player’s play, such as an anemometer or thermometer, this would render the device non-conforming for use as a distance-measuring device, regardless of the fact that these other features or applications are used or not.

The flowchart referred to above also covers the use of multi-functional devices and should be of assistance in determining whether a certain device is permissible for use.

Q. If a player uses his 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.

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 provided directional information and does not gauge or measure variable conditions or assist the player in his play.

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

A. The wording of the recommended Local Rule (Appendix 1, Part B, 9) reads as follows:

“Distance-Measuring Devices

[Specify as appropriate, e.g. In this competition, or For all play at this course, etc.], a player may obtain distance information by using a device that measures distance only. If, during a stipulated round, a player uses a distance-measuring device that is designed to gauge or measure other conditions that might affect his play (e.g. gradient, wind speed, temperature, etc), the player is in breach of Rule 14-3, for which the penalty is disqualification, regardless of whether any such additional function is actually used.”

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.