18 March 2011
R&A / USGA Joint Statement on Electronic Devices, Including Distance-Measuring Devices
As the governing authorities for the Rules of Golf, R&A Rules Limited (“The R&A”) and the United States Golf Association (“USGA”) issued a ‘Joint Statement of Principles’ on the Rules concerning golf equipment in May 2002. These principles continue to be relevant to the game and have proved invaluable in guiding the governing authorities’ actions since their publication seven years ago.
Since that time, the effects of advancing equipment technology on the playing of the game have spread beyond golf clubs and golf balls to electronic devices, especially distancemeasuring devices. The R&A and USGA are aware that this subject has attracted wideranging comment and a number of conflicting views. History has proved that it is difficult, if not impossible, to foresee the developments in golf-related equipment which advancing technology will deliver. It is of the greatest importance to golf’s continuing appeal that such advances are judged against clearly articulated principles that are designed to preserve the integrity of the sport.
In an historical context, the game has seen progressive developments in the means by which distance information is available to golfers. From the days when selecting a club was a matter of human judgement, the use of yardage books and hole location sheets and reference to oncourse markings has increased significantly. Most recently, the use of distance-measuring devices has become more widespread.
The R&A and USGA first allowed the use of distance-measuring devices in January 2006. Prior to this, while the use of yardage books was allowed, the use of distance-measuring devices was prohibited by Rule 14-3. The change introduced in 2006 permitted the committee in charge of a competition or course to introduce a Local Rule allowing distancemeasuring devices. A very important proviso of this permission is that the device must measure distance only; it must not measure other conditions such as wind speed or direction, the slope of the ground or the temperature.
The Rules and their Purpose
While accepting this development in the provision of distance information, The R&A and USGA will remain vigilant when considering the Rules on distance-measuring devices. As with the equipment Rules, the purpose of these Rules is to protect golf’s best traditions, to prevent an over-reliance on technological advances rather than skill, and to ensure that skill is the dominant element of success throughout the game. Permitting the use of a measuring device to provide the same information that can be obtained through use of a yardage book or on-course markings is not considered to diminish the skill level required to play the game.
The R&A and USGA believe that the current practice of allowing distance-measuring devices by Local Rule remains appropriate. In the current circumstances, The R&A and USGA are not advocating that this practice should be changed and neither The R&A nor USGA plan to introduce the Local Rule at any of their championships.
A Clarification of the Rules
The emergence of multi-functional devices that can provide additional information to golfers (that could, for example, further help the golfer to determine how to make his next stroke or that could otherwise affect his playing of the game) is a relatively new development. For the avoidance of doubt, the governing bodies do not believe that it is necessary or appropriate for the Rules of Golf to allow all such devices. The following points clarify how the Rules will be applied:
1. Distance-measuring devices (i.e. devices whose primary function is to measure distance) may continue to be used only if the Local Rule is in effect.
2. When the Local Rule is in effect, distance-measuring devices must be limited to measuring distance only. The use of a distance-measuring device would constitute a breach of the Rules if:
•The device has the capability of gauging or measuring other conditions that might affect play (e.g. wind speed, gradient, temperature, etc), or;
•The device has some other non-conforming feature, including, but not limited to, recommendations that might assist the player in making a stroke or in his play, such as club selection, type of shot to be played (e.g. punch shot, pitch and run, etc.), or green reading (i.e. a recommended line of putt), or other advice-related matters. However, it is permissible to use such a device, during a stipulated round, to access distance information from previous rounds that has been processed prior to the commencement of the current round (e.g. a chart of all club yardages), or;
•The device has the capability to assist in calculating the effective distance between two points (i.e. distance after considering gradient, wind speed and/or direction, temperature or other environmental factors).
There would be a breach of the Rules even if all of the above features can be switched off or disengaged, and in fact are switched off or disengaged.
3. Multi-functional devices such as mobile phones, PDAs, etc (i.e. devices that are primarily communication devices, but which may have other potential uses) may be used as follows:
•The device may be used for any non-golfing purpose (e.g. as a communication tool to phone, text or email), subject to any club / course regulations and the Rules on accessing advice-related matters – see Decision 14-3/16.
•When the Local Rule is in effect, a distance-measuring application may be used, provided the specific application is restricted to “distance only” and the device does not have any other “non-conforming” features. This is the case even if these other features are not being used. As above, the Rules on advice-related communications (including the use of the internet) still apply.
The R&A and USGA have no intention to permit the use of electronic devices to go beyond the current Rules and interpretations. This means that distance-measuring devices and applications will be limited to distance information only. If a device that is being used for distance-measuring purposes has any additional features, all such features must conform to the Rules of Golf.
All manufacturers of distance-measuring products are encouraged to submit their devices or applications to the appropriate governing body for a ruling.
Distance Measuring Devices, with David Rickman, Director of Rules and Equipment Standards
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.
In November 2009, The R&A and the USGA 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.
Most of the questions that we receive in connection with the Joint Statement relate to distance measuring devices, and some of the most common questions, along with the answers, are provided below.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
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 some such devices via a Local Rule.
Q. What kind of distance measuring devices are allowed by Local Rule?
A. GPS, laser, 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, like gradient, wind speed or temperature, is not permitted, regardless of whether such an additional function is used or not, and even if that function is disabled.
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 or email – provided the purpose is not a breach of the Rules, e.g. you are not asking 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 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 other features or applications are used 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. 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 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 that national event?
A. No. It is the responsibility of the national golf association to establish its own Local Rules for the event. Those Local Rules supersede what the Club has in place on a day to day basis.
Q. Does The R&A permit distance measuring devices at events like The Open Championship or The Amateur Championship?
A. No, it doesn’t, but ultimately it is for each individual Committee to decide whether it wants 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 for distance measuring devices is in place, may players share a distance measuring device?
A. Yes…although it is important that players sharing devices do not unduly delay play.
Q. Is there a List of Distance Measuring Devices telling players which products conform to the Local Rule and which do not?
A. No……but watch this space!