Are Laser Rangefinders Legal in Golf?

Are Laser Rangefinders Legal in Golf?
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Knowing the precise distance to the spot where you want to put your golf ball is one of the most important pieces of information you can ever have. With that bit of data, you’ll be able to determine exactly which club to use and the kind of force you need to exude for your next swing.

While you may have distance posts on the course, you can get a more precise measurement when you use a laser rangefinder. These things are so easy to use and so useful that your golf game can improve considerably.

This can lead you to wonder: are laser rangefinders legal in golf? Are there even rules that touch on the use of them?

Golf Rules: Are Laser Rangefinders Legal in Golf?

There’s a rule in the official rulebook promoted by the USGA and R&A that seems to indicate that these things aren’t exactly kosher. According to the Rule14/3b, golfers are prohibited from using any artificial device or even unusual equipment to measure or estimate distance, or any condition that may affect their play.

Laser rangefinders aren’t exactly “usual” equipment since they’re fairly new, and their sole purpose is to use a laser beam to measure the distance to a target precisely. These are good enough reasons to presuppose their ineligibility for golfing usage. Therefore, you would think that using this item would be grounds for disqualification from an official tourney.

Amendments to the Rule

What happened next was somewhat of a surprise. In 2006, the USGA and the R&A permitted tournament committees to have a choice as to whether these things are allowed or not. This rule amendment referred to “distance measurement devices” such as laser rangefinders.

When this rule was enacted, it was understood that these committees could only allow devices that were able to measure distances. That was their sole function, and nothing else.

If they offered additional capabilities that helped golfers, then those devices weren’t legal to use. It didn’t matter if the players didn’t use those additional capabilities. These capabilities included measuring slope.

Exceptions to the Rule

There were two particular laser rangefinders—the Leupold GX-41 and the Bushnell Tour X—which were allowed. The USGA gave these two its special dispensation for use because of a special feature.

When players used the Slope feature on these devices, it involved the use of a brightly colored faceplate. Removing the faceplate made them legal to use, since then they can’t be used to access the Slope feature.

The New Honor System

The rules changed again in 2016. The USGA and R&A then came out with a new rule, which stated that these devices would be eligible for players to use—provided they didn’t use the prohibited capabilities. The features must be turned off, but that’s it. There’s no more need for removing faceplates.

That’s all you need to do now with laser rangefinders. You just have to turn the slope and other features off, and that’s it.

Additional Tips

So what does all this mean for you as a golfer? Here are some tips to help you navigate these new rules:

  • Should you buy laser rangefinders? Sure, you can. They’re of great help, and you can have your caddy give you measurements as you play. If you’re planning to use them for organized tournaments, you just need to buy a rangefinder with extra features that can be turned off. You can use the Slope feature for practice rounds, and then turn these features off when it’s an official round.
  • Just knowing the distance to a target can really help, so you can use these for local tournaments that allow their use. Most of the time, they do permit it. However, it always makes sense to make sure. Consult with the organizers and read the rule sheet. You do have to accept that for high-level amateur events and elite professional tournaments, these things aren’t allowed except during practice rounds.
  • When you do use the rangefinder during a tournament, you must also make sure to turn off the prohibited features like the slope measurement. Double-check with your caddy to be really sure. You must be very certain that your device can only measure distance and nothing else. If you have extra features that can’t be turned off, then you can’t use that device at all.
  • When you’re posting scores for your handicap, local rules apply as well. This means that you only post the scores you made that were obtained with just the use of a distance measurement If you have used the slope and other features, they don’t count.
  • What about friendly games? Well, these things do have a more relaxed attitude, but you still need to check with the others about what the rules are. It’s not exactly fair when you use the prohibited features while your partners aren’t even using a device at all.

Follow these tips, and you should be fine. Laser rangefinders are somewhat legal in golf, and you should always check to see if new rules have come up!