The use of golf GPS watches and rangefinders by amateur golfers is prevalent in the game today. Since 2006, the US Golf Association’s Rules of Golf have permitted these devices in both casual and competition, but they were not allowed until earlier this year at the elite level.
Pro golfers had not been able to use GPS golf watches or rangefinders in competition until 2021, where the US PGA permitted the use of Distance Measuring Devices or DMD’s at three of their events only. Still, there were strict rules regarding which features could be active on those devices.
These devices all fall under rule 4.3 of golf which governs the use of distance measuring devices, and failure to adhere to these rules is punishable by disqualification from the event.
What Is Rule 4.3 Of Golf
Rule 4.3 states that no player may use any device that assists or helps the player assess distance or conditions.
Until 2006, no device that offered assistance with gauging distance was allowed during play. On January 1, 2006, the USGA changed the rule to allow the enactment of a Local Rule that permitted the use of such devices to gauge distance only.
In 2016, that rule was amended to allow such devices, but measuring distance only. This also covered the use of multi-purpose devices such as smartphones and tablets.
In 2019, the rule was amended to allow DMD’s without the need for a Local Rule allowing them.
Why Were Distance Measuring Devices Not Allowed In Golf
The use of distance measuring devices or abnormal equipment and the abnormal use of equipment are all governed under rules 4.3.
The use of DMD’s was considered an unfair advantage to players that had them against players that didn’t, and the fact that these devices could assist the player in improving their game by gauging distance and other course conditions.
The Amended 4.3 Rule Includes Other Uses Of DMD’s
After 2016, some additional functions have been allowed, and those include :
- Use the device for distance measurement to target
- Share the GPS device with other players for the uses described here
- You may measure and record shot distances
- The device may use the calendar, clock, and a scorecard
- You can use the device to access emails, phone calls, messages, and weather
- You may record your swing for analysis after completing the round
The amendment was strict on what features may not be activated or used:
- Measuring or calculating distances for slope is prohibited
- Any built-in features that measure weather or wind conditions are prohibited
- Club suggestion features are not permitted
- Measuring the golf swing features are not permitted
- Any contact with a swing coach during a round via phone, email, or SMS is prohibited
- No reviews of swing images or video during the round is allowed
Why Did The USGA Allow The Use Of Distance Measuring Devices In 2021
One of the major issues that measuring devices solve is slow play. Much time can be used while looking for course distance markers or consulting on distances with a caddy before club selection and shot execution.
According to the chairman of the US PGA, Jim Richerson, the PGA is always interested in ways that can speed up play, and as such, they agreed to trial the use of DMD’s an elite-level competition.
For the US Men’s PGA Championship, Ladies PGA Championship, and Senior PGA Championship, DMD’s were permitted provided they were used to assess distance only and that all other features on rangefinders or GPS watches were deactivated.
However, these devices were not allowed at the US Open and The Open of 2021, and it is most improbable and unlikely that they ever will be.
For the amateurs, these devices have been allowed at the US Amateur Championships since 2014.
When Would Pro Golfers Use A Golf Watch
Considering the level of earnings these players have and that many have sponsored timepieces from elite brands like Rolex, they don’t need another watch. However, many players don’t wear their watches when playing as it can be uncomfortable.
Golf watches offer players some amazing features such as full-color touch screens and highly accurate course data related to distances to hazards, greens, and bunkers from all points on the course.
Touring players and their caddies would use GPS watches during training and practice rounds. These devices (like the Garmin S40 or Garmin S42)can record valuable data around shot distances, club selections, course and wind conditions, and other fitness-related data such as heart rate and distance walked.
This type of data is then analyzed and compiled for review by the player and the coaching teams for future reference in competition or practice.
Some top-level watches offer more specific data like shot grouping off the tee, which can be used for strategic purposes for future tournaments at that specific course. Also, the superior accuracy of GPS watches could assist caddies in distance measurements, and slope and green undulations.
Do Distance Measuring Devices Speed Up Play
While many believe that they speed up play, remember that pro golfers and their caddies get detailed yardage books, and the consensus is that they do not speed up play, nor are they likely to.
Rangefinders do not provide more specific details like carrying distances over bunkers or front and back of the green, and GPS watches provide the same info as that of the yardage books.
Jordan Spieth was quoted as saying, “I have a hard time seeing it speed things up unless you get it way offline or you’re out of contention.”
Where the golf watch could speed up play would be used for measuring wind effect and slope or green undulations, but this is unlikely to become common practice for some time still – if ever.
There still exists a desire with players – both professional and amateur alike- to have some human input when assessing course conditions, as this has long been one of the game’s fundamental skills.
The great of old like Vardon, Hagen, Jones, Hogan, Snead, Sarazen, and even the more modern players like Nicklaus, Norman, Player, and Trevino all played the game without the use of any of this technology and relied on their caddies and their experience and skill to become superb players.
In short, pro golfers’ use of golf watches is currently limited to practice rounds only and unless there is a greater call for and acceptance of these devices by the players themselves , the appearance and use of golf watches in professional golf is unlikely to materialize.