Frequently Asked Questions: Distance-Measuring Devices

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. Selected language from this statement has since been added to Appendix IV, Section 5 of the Rules of Golf.

While Rule 14-3 and Appendix IV govern the general use of electronic devices and, specifically the use of distance-measuring devices, this document answers a number of common questions including: use of the Local Rule; what types of devices can be used to measure distance; 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. Additionally, in all cases where an answer states that use of a DMD is conforming, it is implied the DMD conforms to the Rules of Golf only when the Committee has also 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, even if the device only measures distance.

The bullets below 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 devices 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.

In addition to the information in this document, individuals can also access a flow chart to help determine if a device conforms.

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 has approved the use of conforming DMDs in all USGA amateur championships and their respective qualifying events. However, the Local Rule will 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 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.”

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.

Q5. What restrictions apply to stand-alone devices?

A5. Stand-alone devices can only be capable of measuring or gauging distance. However, it is OK for the device to have other conforming features such as weather/lightning alerts, clocks, calendars, or a basic scorecard function.

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

A6. No, a device cannot recommend a club. 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 stipulated round to recalculate the average distances displayed.

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

A7. Yes, so long as the device is measuring distance only and 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).

Q8. Some stand-alone devices have a removable part that, when installed or attached,  allow the device to measure effective playing distance or display other non-conforming information, yet, when the removable part is not installed or attached, the device can only measure distance. Do ALL such devices conform?

A8. No. Whether or not this type of device conforms will depend on how the device was manufactured and questions regarding these types of devices should be directed to USGA Equipment Standards.

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.

Q9. Is it OK to use a multi-functional device to measure distance?

A9. 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 would render use of the device non-conforming, even though the application being used to measure distance is itself conforming.

Q10. What types of features or capabilities can be included as part of an application that measures distance?

A10. Any feature or capability permitted on a conforming stand-alone device is also permitted within a distance-measuring application. Generally, if an application is capable of measuring anything, other than distance, that might assist the player in his play, use of the application would be a breach of Rule 14-3.

Q11. When a multi-functional device is being used to measure distance and the specific application being used to measure distance is conforming, what other installed features or applications are prohibited, even if these additional applications are not used?

A11. While not a comprehensive list, if a multi-functional device is being used as a DMD, the following features must not be present on the device or the application must not be installed on the device, regardless of whether they are used:

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

· Any application designed to analyze the golf swing.

Q12. In follow-up to Q11, would it be OK to have these features or applications on a multi-functional device if the device is not being used to measure distance?

A12. Yes, provided they are not used during the stipulated round.

Q13. While Q11 indicates that a player cannot measure or gauge weather conditions, can a player use an internet browser or application installed on a multi-functional device to access weather related information, which was measured, through a local weather station (e.g., temperature, wind speed, nearby lightning strikes, etc.)?

A13. Yes, accessing weather information reported by another source is permitted. Whereas actively measuring or gauge these conditions is not. See Decision 14-3/18.

Q14. There are many features and applications available for multi-functional devices that could be used in a way that might assist the player in his 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?

A14. 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, email, internet: OK to call home, respond or send a business email, 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.