Distance-Measuring Devices FAQ
See the corresponding flowchart here.
In November 2009, the USGA and The R&A issued a ‘Joint Statement’ on electronic devices, including distance-measuring devices, to clarify how the Rules are applied in relation to these devices. See the full Joint Statement here. Additionally, in 2012, the USGA and The R&A added the language of the ‘Joint Statement’ to Appendix IV, Section 5 of the Rules of Golf.
Most of the questions we receive in connection with the Joint Statement relate to distance-measuring devices and some of the most common questions are addressed below.
Q. Can I use a distance-measuring device in a competition?
A. The use of distance-measuring devices 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 such devices via a Local Rule.
Q. What kind of distance-measuring devices are allowed by Local Rule?
A. GPS, Laser, any type of device 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 (slope), wind speed or temperature, is not permitted, regardless of whether such an additional function is used or not - even if that function is disabled.
To help golfers and/or officials determine the status of a particular device, the USGA has produced a flowchart explaining what is allowed when the Local Rule is in place.
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, access the Internet or e-mail – provided the purpose is not a breach of the Rules, e.g. you are not asking for advice or accessing an application which gauges, measures or reports conditions that might affect a player’s play. Using the device for any prohibited function would result in disqualification.
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 any other features or applications on the phone that gauge or measure other conditions that might affect a player’s play, such as a temperature gauge, compass or anemometer, this would render the device non-conforming regardless of whether these features or applications are used or not. If such features or applications exist, use of the distance-measuring application would result in disqualification. The device could still be used for other permitted purposes as described above.
If the device contains applications specifically intended to access the Internet to gather information regarding conditions that might affect a player’s play such as the local wind speed or temperature, these applications must not be used, but the device may still be used for distance measurement or other permissible uses.
If the device contains general purpose applications which access the Internet such as a browser, the applications may be used so long as they are not used to access information regarding conditions that might affect a player’s play. The device may still be used for distance measurement.
If the device has a weather application that is active on the home page of the device and that shows the temperature or other weather information when the device is accessed for any reason, the player is in breach of Rule 14-3 and would be disqualified.
The flowchart provided also covers the use of multi-functional devices and should be of assistance in determining whether a particular device is permissible or not.
Q. What should the Local Rule permitting distance-measuring devices say?
A. The wording of the recommended Local Rule (Appendix I, Part B, 9) reads as follows:
[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. 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 that national event?
A. No. It is the responsibility of the external body running the event to establish the Local Rules for the event. Those Local Rules supersede what the club has in place on a day-to-day basis.
Q. Does the USGA permit distance-measuring devices at events like the U.S. Open Championship or the U.S. Amateur Championship?
A. No, it doesn’t, but ultimately it is for each individual Committee to decide whether to allow the use of such devices for play on its course or in certain of its competitions. In the absence of a Local Rule, the use of such a device is contrary to the Rules of Golf, so always check the Local Rules!
Q. If the Local Rule allowing distance-measuring devices is in place, may players share a distance-measuring device?
A. Yes. The Definition of “Advice” and Decision 8-1/2 clarify that the distance between objects is a matter of public information and therefore not advice…although it is important that players sharing devices do not unduly delay play.
Q. Can I post a score that is made while using a distance-measuring device?
A. Yes. The USGA Handicap System™ requires players to post scores made when a device which measures distance only has been used (regardless of whether the Committee has adopted the Local Rule described above). Scores made while using a device which measures other conditions that might affect play (e.g., wind speed or the slope of the ground) are not acceptable for Handicapping purposes. Please refer to Section 5-1 (Acceptability of Scores) of the USGA Handicap System Manual regarding acceptable scores.