Distance-Measuring Devices FAQ December 31, 2015


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. This Joint Statement will be updated in 2016. Selected language from this statement has since been added to Appendix IV, Section 5 of the Rules of Golf.

Rule 14-3 (Artificial Devices and Unusual Equipment; Abnormal Use of Equipment and Appendix IV govern the general use of electronic devices and, specifically the use of distance-measuring devices and this document answers a number of common questions including: use of the Local Rule and the general use of multi-functional devices during a round of golf.

Throughout this document DMD will be used as an abbreviation for Distance-Measuring Device. In all cases where an answer states that use of a DMD is permitted, this also assumes that the Committee has permitted the use of a DMD through the Local Rule. If the Local Rule has not been adopted, use of a DMD or a multi-functional device to measure distance is a breach of Rule 14-3.

The following terms are provided to help readers better understand the terminology used in this document:

·        Two types of conforming DMDs are permitted under the Local Rule:

o   Stand-alone devices are designed to measure distance and, while the device may have additional features, the primary function of the device is to measure distance. Common devices include Lasers, and handheld and watch-style GPS units.

o   Multi-functional devices are devices such as mobile phones and tablets that are designed for general use yet it is also possible to install an application or program which would allow the device to function as a DMD.

·        Effective playing distance is used to describe the use of measured data other than distance (e.g. elevation, temperature, shot trajectory, humidity, or wind) to calculate a distance other than the actual distance from the device to the target.

·        Access means that a player has viewed or otherwise used the information generated by a prohibited function, or the player uses a device where such output is displayed.

Application of the Local Rule

Q1. Does the USGA permit DMDs at events like the U.S. Open Championship or the U.S. Amateur Championship?

A1. Beginning in 2014, the USGA approved the use of DMDs in all USGA amateur championships and their respective qualifying events. However, the Local Rule was not be adopted for the U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Senior Open championships and their respective qualifying events.

Q2. If a club uses the Local Rule permitting DMDs and an external body (e.g., the local golf association) is running an event there, does that mean DMDs are automatically allowed in the event?

A2. No. It is the responsibility of the Committee in charge of 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.

Q3. What should the Local Rule permitting DMDs state?

A3. The wording of the recommended Local Rule (Appendix I, Part A, 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 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 his play (e.g., elevation changes, wind speed, etc.), the player is in breach of Rule 14-3.”

Q4. If the Local Rule allowing DMDs is in place, may players share the device?

A4. 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.

Distance-Measuring Devices

Q5. What restrictions apply to stand-alone devices?

A5. Stand-alone devices may contain many functions, however, certain functions may not be accessed during the stipulated round without violating Rule 14-3. Examples of functions which may not be accessed include, but are not limited to:

·         the gauging or measuring of slope;

·         the gauging or measuring of other conditions that might affect play (e.g., wind speed or direction);

·         recommendations that might assist the player in making a stroke or in his play (e.g., club selection, type of shot to be played, green reading or any other advice related matter); or

·         calculating the effective distance between two points based on elevation changes or other conditions affecting shot distance.

Q6. Can a stand-alone device include a club recommendation feature?

A6. Yes, but you may not access such recommendations during the stipulated round. However, you are permitted to reference a chart of estimated distances you hit each club based on data processed from prior rounds. As a result, a device can include a similar function (e.g., display the average distances you hit each club), which still requires the player to make a decision in selecting a club. The device must not use data collected from the current stipulated round to recalculate the average distances displayed until after the stipulated round is complete.

Q7. Can a device measure and record the distance I hit my clubs?

A7. Yes, so long as any data collected is not used during the stipulated round in a manner that is not permitted (e.g., updating average club distances, displaying yardages hit during the stipulated round other than on the hole currently being played).

Multi-Functional Devices

The following questions provide guidance only to multi-functional devices, such as a smart phone or a tablet.


By design, these devices are capable of performing many different functions during a stipulated round, only one of which is the ability to measure distance. It is important to recognize the interactions of the multiple Rules regulating what is generally permitted and those that apply only if the device is used to measure distance. 

Though it is outside of the scope of the Rules of Golf, all players should abide by any club or organization policies related to the use of these multi-functional devices.

Q8. Is it OK to use a multi-functional device to measure distance?

A8. Yes, however additional care should be taken to ensure that using a multi-functional device to measure distance is not in breach of the Rules. Multi-functional devices may contain other features or applications that, if accessed by the player during the stipulated round would cause the player to be in breach of Rule 14-3.

Q9. Are there features or capabilities that may not be included as part of an application being used to measure distance?

A9. No. Any feature or capability permitted on a conforming stand-alone device is also permitted within a distance-measuring application. However, if an application is capable of measuring anything, other than distance, that might assist the player in his play, accessing this information during the stipulated round would be a breach of Rule 14-3.

Q10. When a multi-functional device is being used to measure distance what other installed features or applications are prohibited, even if these additional applications are not used?

A10. There are no restrictions on the types of features or applications that might be available on a multi-functional device. However, there are features or applications which may not be accessed during the stipulated round. While not a comprehensive list, if a multi-functional device is being used as a DMD, the following features or applications must not be accessed:

·        Any application or feature that can measure or gauge variable conditions that might assist the player in his play (e.g., anemometer, pressure, etc.) or

·        Any application designed to analyze the golf swing.

Q12. While Q10 indicates that I cannot measure or gauge weather conditions that might assist me in my play, can I use an internet browser or application installed on a multi-functional device to access weather related information that was measured through a local weather station (e.g., temperature, wind speed, nearby lightning strikes, etc.)?

A12. Yes, accessing weather information reported by another source is permitted. Whereas actively measuring or gauge these conditions is not. See Decision 14-3/18.

Q13. There are many features and applications available for multi-functional devices that could be used in a way that might assist me in my play. Are there general guidelines that should be followed to ensure that, if used, they are only used in a way that does not breach Rule 14-3?

A13. The following examples are provided to help clarify how a variety of common features and applications can be used in such a way that is not a breach the Rules and how these same features or applications, when used in a different way, would result in a disqualification penalty under Rule 14-3.

·        Phone, text messaging, e-mail, internet

§  OK to call home, respond or send a business e-mail, or check the weather

§  Not OK to call a swing coach and discuss your swing

·        Camera (still photos and videos)

§  OK to capture your swing and review it after the round

§  Not OK to review an image or video that was recorded during the round

·        Spirit Level

§  Use of a spirit level is a breach only if the level is used in such a way that might assist the player (e.g., measure the slope on the green)

Note these features or applications can be present or installed on a multi-functional device regardless of whether the device is being used to measure distance. See Decision 14-3/16.

Distance-Measuring Devices and Handicapping/Score Posting

For questions related to the acceptability of scores made when the player uses a DMD, see the USGA Handicap System Manual, Rule 5-1 and related Decision 5-1e/2.