A recent National Golf Foundation survey shows that over two-thirds of golfers use a distance-measuring device of some sort. Advocates say it gives them greater confidence, makes the game more enjoyable and, crucially, helps combat slow play.
Ironically, the only players able to hit exact yardages consistently are the only ones not permitted to use them. On the PGA and European Tours, where slow play is a contentious topic, distance-measuring devices continue to be prohibited in competitions...
What are the rules?
Rule 14-3 states that “artificial devices” cannot be used, with the penalty for breach being disqualification. However, it does state that “the Committee may make a Local Rule allowing players to use devices that measure or gauge distance only”. Most club committees have, which is why DMDs have become so popular in amateur golf.
Why aren’t Tour pros allowed to use distance-measuring devices?
Despite a softening of the rules in the last 12 months, which has seen DMDs permitted in top-tier amateur tournaments, you still won’t see any PGA or European Tour players using a DMD on anything other than a practice day. “We are not contemplating a change,” says PGA Tour executive vice president Andy Pazder.
“The competitors are able to have one or more practice rounds at the course and also have caddies whose job is to calculate yardages and distances,” says Kerry Haigh, PGA of America chief championship officer.
Would they speed up play?
Exponents believe that not having to pace off distances from a sprinkler head saves time, whilst naysayers argue that it adds another element to the pre-shot routine, adding time to each shot.
“Sometimes we go to a sprinkler head and there’s no number,” says Brian Davis. “Then my caddie has to walk over and double-check another sprinkler head or calculate it off the bunker. That just cost us a minute. Or if we hit it way off line, you can see the pin, but the sprinkler is over there, so he’s got to walk over to the middle of the fairway, pace it off, then you lose another three minutes.”
The National University Golf Academy, based in California, conducted a study with mid (6-13) and high (14-18) handicappers, in which they played one round without DMDs, then a second round with a laser rangefinder. The better players saved nearly 30 minutes when using the rangefinder, while the higher handicappers shaved off 17 minutes.
According to John Spitzer, managing director of equipment standards for the USGA, a trial run at last year’s Women’s State Team Championship showed that 80 per cent of the players used a DMD on par 3s and 89 per cent used one for their approach shot on par 4s with “no significant difference” in pace of play.
Would it make caddies redundant?
“I don’t think using a DMD would help us out, as we don’t just use a yardage to the pin,” says Ian Poulter’s caddie Terry Mundy. “They wouldn’t speed up play as the pros would still want all the extra information; that is probably why no Tour has put them in play. Our yardage books are very detailed with information we compile before the first round; to stand there shooting all sorts of targets during play would actually slow play down.”
What do the players think?
“In competitions, good players always want yardages to the front of the green; allowing a laser just adds another step. Lasers are great for rounds with your mates and for caddies to check yardages in practice rounds, but I don’t think they should be used in competitions.”
“I think they should be allowed throughout the game of golf, especially if it helps speed up play. The numbers we use are lasered during the practice rounds. Technically, we are using lasers. The only days we don’t use lasers when we play golf is in PGA Tour events.”
“It’s fine for amateurs, but I don’t think it should be approved in professional events. It’s just the tradition of the game and it also takes out judging distances or the angles of distances when you’re out of position.”
“Horrible idea. It doesn’t improve speed of play. If you want to speed up play, just cut down the time you give someone to hit a shot. It takes less than 10-15 seconds to get your yardages, but I’ve played with some guys who take two minutes to line up a shot, figure out what club to hit and go through their routine.”
With your livelihood on the line, you’re not going to hit a shot until you’re exactly sure how far you’re going to hit it, which means Tour pros and their caddies spend a significant amount of time pacing and gauging yardages as part of the pre-shot routine. If a DMD can speed-up that process, it makes no sense not to go for it.