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Distance Measuring Devices

The USGA has announced that beginning in 2014, it will allow the use of DMD’s (distance measuring devices) at all of its Amateur Championships by adopting the Local Rule allowing their use under Rule 14-3.

How does this impact the VGA?

The impact is minimal since the VGA had already adopted the Local Rule allowing use of DMD’s in all of its events as stated on the VGA “hard card”.

This policy was a simple one to manage when DMD’s were dedicated, stand alone devices (e.g. a laser range finder or a GPS device like a Sky Caddie).

However, with the advent of multi-function devices (smart phones,etc.) and the creation of distance measuring apps that can take the place of the stand alone GPS devices like the Sky Caddie, things started to get confusing, since many smart phones have other apps or features on them that seem to render such devices in breach of Rule 14-3 (e.g., weather apps that provide information on wind speed, temperature etc., compass apps and the like).  January 1, 2014, revisions to the Decisions clarified the use of various apps with respect to weather, wind speed, distance, compasses and the like.

The USGA has an excellent article and flowchart on its website that explains if, when and how smart phones may be used in tournaments, providing the Local Rule under Rule 14-3 has been adopted by the Tournament Committee.  We will try to highlight the main points of the article here, but for more in depth reading, click the links above.

Rule 14-3 prohibits the use of DMDs.  However, a Committee or Golf Club may introduce a Local Rule permitting the use of devices which are capable of measuring distance, and distance only.  The use of any DMD when a) the Local Rule is not in place or which b) is capable of measuring conditions or providing information other than distance, that would assist the player in his play, would be a breach of Rule 14-3, the penalty for which is disqualification.

Here is a breakdown of what is and is not allowed when the Local Rule is in place:

Allowed:  Dedicated DMD (e.g., Laser rangefinder or GPS device) that is not capable of measuring conditions or providing information other than distance (e.g., slope, wind speed, temperature or club recommendation)

Not allowed:  Dedicated DMD (e.g. Laser rangefinder or GPS) that is capable of measuring conditions or providing information other than distance (e.g., slope, wind speed, temperature or club recommendation) even if that function of the device is disabled or turned off.

Allowed:  Multi-function device (e.g., a mobile phone) with a distance measuring application installed provided the app itself is not capable of measuring conditions or providing information other than distance (e.g. slope, wind, temperature or club recommendation).

Allowed:  Multi-function device with a conforming distance measuring application installed that also has other applications or features such as a camera, video camera or spirit level (the slope bubble on a iPhone 5) which, if used in a specific way could assist the player, but the player does not use those apps or features during the round to assist his play.  In other words, these other apps or features could be used for purposes other than to assist the player.  For example, a player uses his smart phone to take a picture of a moose walking across the fairway, or videos his fellow competitor trying to play his ball on the edge of a pond and he wants to capture the moment in case the player falls into the water.  Using the phone in such a way does not breach any Rule of Golf.  However, if the player asked his fellow competitor to take the phone and snap a picture of his club position at the top of his back swing, the device is now in breach.  Likewise, if the player uses his phone to call or text home to make sure someone comes to the course to pick him up after the round, he is not breaching any Rule of Golf; however if he uses the phone to call or text his swing coach for advice, he has now breached Rule 8 (Advice).

Not allowed:  Multi-function device which contains an app or feature in which the sole purpose of that app or feature is to assist the player, even if that app or feature is turned off or disabled, e.g. anemometer (wind speed), thermometer, or an app that helps with club selection.  In other words, this particular app or feature serves no other purpose or function except to provide information that would assist the player the minute it is turned on.  This device would be in breach of the Local Rule even if the app or feature is turned off or disabled.  

As a general rule of thumb:  during a round, if the Internet is used to find information or measurement tools which would assist the player in his play, e.g., to gauge current wind and temperature conditions at a precise location on the course, the player would be in breach of Rule 14-3.

What about accessing weather information on a weather app?  With the introduction on Jan. 1, 2014 of  Decision 14-3/18 - Weather Information Accessed on Multi-Functional Device, accessing local weather information such as temperature, wind speed and direction, humidity, and radar on such a device is permissible.  This information is local information and not specific to the exact location of the player.  Decision 14-3/18 uses precise language to make clear the distinction between accessing weather information and measuring/gauging weather information. Therefore, while a player may access weather reports provided by a weather station through an application (e.g., The Weather Channel, Weather Underground) or Internet browser, the player himself may not take measurements or gauge those same conditions.  It would also be permissible to access information on lightning strikes in the area if the weather app has that function, as the sole purpose of “measuring or gauging” the distance of lightning strikes is for the safety of the competitor(s).

To find out  more about what is the acceptable use of a Multi-Function Device under the Rules of Golf to obtain knowledge about weather conditions please read the article Our Experts Explain on the USGA website.

Also, click here for a flowchart which provides a visual reference of what DMD’s are allowed/not allowed.

Decision 14-3 / 4 has also been revised with respect to the use of a compass during play.  Use of a compass is no longer in breach of Rule 14-3 as a compass only provides directional information and does not gauge or measure variable conditions or assist the player in his play.