By the Rules: Using Electronic Aids

By Bob Duncan, PGA.

Bob-Duncan-4cNow hold on – lots of players are using lasers and GPS devices to measure distances.  In fact, they can be used under a local rule: In 2006, the USGA determined the Committee can permit the use of a distance measuring device.  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 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.

So, it’s ok to use for regular play under a local rule, but you may notice that the Pros don’t use them in tournaments.  The PGA Tour doesn’t allow their use during tournament play, and the USGA doesn’t allow them to be used in their major tournaments.

Multi-functional devices such as mobile phones, PDAs, etc. (devices that are primarily used for communication, 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.
  • New Decision 14-3/18 confirms that players can access reports on weather conditions on a smartphone during a round without breaching the Rules. Importantly, this new Decision also clarifies that players are permitted to access information on the threat of an impending storm in order to protect their own safety.

There are a couple of other interesting new Decisions on the Rules for 2014, including one based on a penalty Tiger Woods received in a tournament:

  • New Decision 18/4 provides that, where enhanced technological evidence (e.g. HDTV, digital recording or online visual media, etc.) shows that a ball has left its position and come to rest in another location, the ball will not be deemed to have moved if that movement was not reasonably discernible to the naked eye at the time.

This one gives you a chance to take a quick look ahead to see if you need a provisional ball:

  • Revised Decision 27-2a/1.5 allows a player to go forward up to approximately 50 yards without forfeiting his or her right to go back and play a provisional ball.

While there are still only 34 rules in the USGA Rules of Golf, there are a couple thousand Decisions on the Rules of Golf – pretty good reading too!  You can read some decisions here:  USGA Rules of Golf.  Also, for some frequently asked questions click here:  Rules FAQ.  Some of the Rules in this article were reprinted from the USGA website.

So feel free to use your distance device, but be sure to check the local rules in competitions and tournaments.


Bob Duncan’s Golfer Positioning System emphasizes on-course play as the primary driver of performance.  The G P S Player’s Academy techniques and strategies are specifically designed for performance where the game is played.  For more on G P S playing lessons contact Bob at, and visit his website at