Is Using a Golf Rangefinder in a Tournament ‘Legal’ and Allowed?

bushnellGolf Rangefinders have been such a huge advancement in recent years as technology has come into golf and other sports. Many people own and practise with a rangefinder, and if you don’t, you’ll probably be considering buying one to aid your game, but it is important to know exactly what the rules are and whether you’re going to be able to use it when it comes to playing the sport competitively.

The short answer is that often, Rangefinders as a concept are totally legal. USGA / R&A (the governing bodies who make these decisions) rules clearly state that an ‘artificial device or unusual equipment’ are not allowed, but an extra ‘local rule’ was created when these devices started to crop up, which state that ‘distance measuring devices’ are often legal. The majority of tournaments use these rules, but it is always worth checking the rule sheet of the tournament you are going to play in, which will be available to you in advance and tell you what you need to know.

The slight grey area comes in when it comes to the features contained within your rangefinder, if they have a ‘slope’ measurement (accounting for the contours and slopes on the course) then it may not count as merely a distance measuring device, though these abilities can be disabled and some models which do offer slope are still able to be used in most tournament play, the Bushnell Tour X being an example of such model.

How to Be Safe

To be 100% safe that you are sticking to the rules, there are two steps you should take.

  1. Consult the manual or material that accompanies your rangefinder to check it is tournament legal, the vast majority of these products will liberally advertise if they are because it is a huge selling point.
  2. Before you enter a specific tournament, check the rules sheet which you will probably be either sent or will be available online, and see if it has specific rules about using devices such as these around the course. If you have any doubts whatsoever, get in touch with the organisers of the event, it makes sense to cover your back.

Recommended Tournament Legal Model

Bushnell are one of the best manufacturers of these products, and in their words it is the ‘worlds most advanced’ rangefinder. Quite a claim, but it lives up to scratch. It has a mode which makes it totally tournament legal in the majority of cases and is truly one of the very best models of rangefinder.

What the Rulebook Says

Here are the specifics of what it says in the rules:

Q.Is it legal under the Rules of Golf to use a Rangefinder or other Electronic Distance Measuring device?

A.The use of a distance-measuring device is a breach of Rule 14-3, which states that during a stipulated round, the player shall not use any artificial device or unusual equipment for the purpose of gauging or measuring distance or conditions which might affect his play (Rule 14-3).

The USGA Handicap System requires players to post scores made when a device which measures distance only has been used (regardless of whether the Committee has adopted the Local Rule described below). Scores made while using a device which measures other conditions which might affect play (e.g., wind speed or the slope of the ground) are not acceptable for Handicapping purposes. Please refer to Section 5-1 of the USGA Handicap System Manual regarding acceptable scores. USGA Handicap Home Page

The Committee may, by Local Rule, permit the use of devices that measure distance only (i.e., the device may not be used to measure other conditions such as wind-speed or the slope of the ground). (Rule 14-3 Note and Decision 14-3/0.5)

So as you can see, the slope or wind measuring devices are most likely a no-go in many cases, but rangefinders are usually allowed by the committee.

Conclusion

The short answer is that the majority of the time these products are very useful for tournaments. If you’re playing with friends a simple gentleman’s agreement will do it, but for tournaments it is worth double checking.

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