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DMDs Could Speed Up Pace of Play

Imagine taking a cross country trip using your GPS navigational system and confronting a sign at a state line: “The use of GPS devices is prohibited in this state. Navigation by maps only. GPS devices will be confiscated.” Bewildered drivers learn that the prohibition reflects a finding by the state that navigation by maps is integral to the driving experience.

Golfers who are lucky enough to make it to the professional level find themselves in a similar situation. Although distance-measuring devices (DMDs) are ubiquitous at virtually all levels of amateur golf (including USGA championships), they are banned by the professional tours. Professional golfers and their caddies carry detailed yardage books from which they compute distances in competition, even though they are allowed to use DMDs during practice rounds.

GPS

The rules governing the use of Distance-Measuring Devices (DMDs) have evolved in recent years, and will change again when the recently proposed comprehensive revisions to the rules of golf become effective in 2019. Rule 14-3 generally prohibits the use of DMDs, but since 2006 DMDs have been permitted if authorized by a local rule. Most state golf associations have allowed DMDs in competitions for many years, and since 2014 the USGA has followed suit in its amateur championships (but not the U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s Open, and U.S. Senior Open.)

So far, the professional tours have been a hold-out. Several years ago, then PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchem told Golfweek magazine: “We don’t like the way it looks. We don’t see a need to do it unless we conclude it would speed up the game, and there is no indication it would. Some argue it would slow down the game.”

Padraig Harrington concurred. “I’ve played at tournaments with lasers, and it slowed play down incredibly” he said. Harrington noted that even with DMDs, players would still use their yardage  books to confirm exact distances to the hole location. “Once we have a yardage book, our yardage book is better,” he argued.

There is some evidence that DMDs do increase the pace of play for amateur golfers. A 2013 study found that players with handicaps between 6-13 played 30 minutes faster with DMDs. They, presumably, were not checking their DMD readings against yardage books.

However, golf might be entering a more DMD-friendly environment. The sweeping changes to the rules of golf that will become effective in 2019 would permit the use of DMDs unless a local rule prohibits such devices. This in effect switches the default rule in favor of DMDs. The USGA and R&A reasoned that the change conforms to the widespread use of DMDs at most clubs and amateur competitions throughout the world, and may speed the pace of play. The rules gurus also acknowledged that distance is public information that may be obtained from a variety of sources, and that calculating distance is not integral to skill and judgment.

Will the Professional Tours Join the Party?

Possibly.

In March, the PGA TOUR announced that it will begin testing the use of DMDs this year at selected tournaments on the Web.com Tour, the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada and the PGA TOUR Latinoamerica. The hope is that the testing will reveal whether DMDs would have a positive or negative impact on competition. The evaluation will consider the impact on pace of play , optics, and other factors.

So it’s possible that you’ll see Jordan Spieth pull out his Bushnell rangefinder on the 12th tee at Augusta next year to avoid another close encounter with Rae’s Creek. (And no doubt earn some more endorsement money in the process.) But he’ll still have to check the flag on the 11th green to assess the wind. The rules will continue to prohibit devices that measure anything other than distance.

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