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The ruling bodies of golf tend to be mired in tradition, and are notoriously slow in adapting to developments in the game. However, the R&A and USGA recently took another step in embracing the use of rangefinders in amateur competition. The move reflects the reality that such devices have become ingrained in the game, and may in fact speed up play.

Rule 14-3 has long prohibited the use of any “artificial device” or “unusual equipment” for the purpose of gauging or measuring distance or conditions that might affect play. However, in 2006 the rule was amended to allow a rules committee to adopt a local rule allowing players to use devices that measure distance only, but not other factors such as wind speed or the contours of the ground.  (See Appendix I,B,9 for a model local rule.)  As a result, rangefinders are permissible in most recreational golf, but not in professional golf.

While many state golf organizations, including the MGA, have for years adopted the local rule permitting rangefinders in their competitions, the R&A and USGA took a traditionalist stance and did not allow the use of such devices at events such as the British Amateur, U.S. Amateur, and the many other competitions they conduct.  However, in January the R&A announced that it would permit the use of rangefinders in its amateur competitions, including the British Amateur, in 2014. Such devices will not be permitted at the British Open.

It did not take long for the USGA to follow suit.  In February, the USGA announced that rangefinders will be permitted at all USGA amateur events, but not at the U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s Open, or U.S. Senior Open. USGA president Thomas J. O’Toole remarked that “we’ve seen progressive developments in technologies available to golfers who seek to improve their playing performance and enjoyment.  It is in this spirit that we are allowing the use of distance measuring devices in our amateur competitions.”  The move is also consistent with the USGA’s campaign to speed up play.

So the game of golf is finally coming into the 21st century technologically. Perhaps one day the PGA Tour will permit the use of rangefinders. Who knows? Had Tiger Woods had a Bushnell at Augusta last year, his shot might not have hit the flagstick on the 15th hole and careened into the water hazard. Two yards can make a difference.

Jack Ross is the editor of Ross’s Rulings.  He completed an intensive PGA/USGA rules workshop.

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