Are Golfing GPS Devices Legal?

Brad Carey12 Mar 2022

Just a few years ago, the use of electronics was illegal in most golf tournaments. However, most golfing GPS devices are now legal for use in tournaments and championships although some advanced types remain illegal. So if you’ve found a really good GPS watch and you are planning to use it in a tournament, just know that it is more likely to be legal than not. This post will lay out all you need to know about the legality of using golf GPS watches and similar devices. It could be the difference between winning that championship you have been training for and getting disqualified! To understand the legality of golfing GPS devices, you must first understand what they are. Golfing GPS devices are watches or handheld devices that are essentially GPS receivers. They receive and use data from GPS satellites to calculate your distance from any point on the course. They are primarily used to measure the distance from any point of the course to the front, the center, and the back of the green. The devices can also measure shot distances and have several other capabilities. In summary, they provide golfers with valuable information that they can subsequently use to strategize and get good scores out of every round they play.

So, are GPS devices allowed for use in major tournament events?

The quick answer to this question is yes. However, there is something you need to know. Golfing GPS devices have only surged in popularity over the past few years. Although it is nowadays increasingly becoming difficult to see a golfer who is not using such devices, it was only a few years ago that the devices were considered to be illegal. This is because it was initially thought that such devices gave some players undue advantage. However, the rules were changed by USGA to allow the use of rangefinders since the information such devices provide is already available on course markers. Nevertheless, not all GPS devices are allowed for use in golf tournaments. This is because some of them have extra capabilities that may provide undue advantage to the players who own them.

The USGA 14-3 rule

Rule 14-3 covers “Artificial Devices and Unusual Equipment.” The crux of the rule is that no golfer is allowed to use any electronic gadget that can assist him or her in a game. Based on this rule, any device that can enhance the abilities, the skills, or the judgement of a player is illegal for use on the course during a tournament. This rule was, however, revised in 2006 by the USGA (United States Golf Association) and R&A to permit the use of golfing GPS devices on the course but under certain restrictions. This is because of the reason mentioned earlier about USGA coming to the conclusion that rangefinders offered information that was already on the course and therefore provided no undue advantage. However, the rule was further revised in 2016. This time the USGA allowed tournament organizing committees to decide whether they will allow players to use rangefinders in their tournaments. Thus, event organizing committees can institute what is referred to as a “Local Rule” to officially allow the use of distance measuring devices during their tournaments. It is therefore advisable to always check with tournament organizers before using a golfing GPS device to ensure that the Local Rule permits it.

Understanding the Local Rule

The Local Rule allows golfers to use distance measuring devices such as golf GPS watches during tournament play. However, if your golfing GPS device measures other conditions like wind speed and slope, those features have to be disabled during play. If they cannot be disabled then it becomes illegal to use the device. Nearly all major golf tournaments are organized in locations that have a Local Rule. However, exclusive professional golfing events and a few high-level amateur events do not use this rule. This is why you will not see players using rangefinders in LPGA and PGA tournaments except during practice rounds.

What is allowed on the course?

There are two kinds of gadgets permitted by the USGA. They include:

  • Standalone gadgets: This category includes GPS and laser devices. The device could either be wearable or handheld.
  • Multifunctional gadgets: This category includes devices such as tablets and smartphones that have multiple uses. A Local Rule can allow you to use such devices to measure distances on the course.

Conditions for using a golfing GPS device

Although a Local Rule may give you the go-ahead to use a GPS device, there are some restrictions. There are some things that are allowed and some things that are not allowed. Below are the things that are **ALLOWED **during tournament play:

  • Measuring and estimating the distances to your next flag target
  • Sharing the GPS device with other players
  • Measuring and recording shot distances
  • GPS devices that have additional features such as a calendar, a clock and a basic scorecard
  • GPS devices that can notify users of incoming calls, texts, and emails

Below is a breakdown of what is **NOT **permitted during tournament play:

  • Any device that can measure the degree of elevation of the shot you are taking and can display the actual yardage is considered illegal.
  • Any device that can read certain weather conditions such as air pressure, temperature and wind speed is also not allowed because it is considered to provide undue advantage. However, devices that can check conditions such as thunderstorms are allowed.
  • Any device that can suggest the club to use for a specific shot is also not allowed
  • Any software that can review swing metrics during play is illegal

In conclusion

There have been a lot of issues surrounding the use of golfing GPS devices during tournament play. The 14-3 rule has, however, been revised to permit the use of such devices as long as their users adhere to the restrictions contained in the local rule. In other words, GPS golf watches are now legal if permitted by local golf associations. Most associations have adopted the local rule so you’ve got nothing to worry about when using a golf GPS watch.

However, you should always confirm with the organizers of the tournament you are playing before using doing so. And you should make sure that your golf GPS device does not have any of the banned features or capabilities. And if you are playing a friendly game, just ensure that your group is in agreement on whether or not to use such devices.

Brad Carey

Brad Carey

An avid golfer, brad loves a round of 18 on a Sunday. After getting involved in the technical side of golf, he thought he'd share his insights with others.

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