Is Your Golf Rangefinder ‘Legal’?

Photo of Man using golf rangefinderOf course what I mean by asking “Is your golf rangefinder ‘legal’?”, is does it conform to the rules of golf? To get a full understanding, let’s explore the joint USGA / R&A rule and decision that allows or disallows GPS and laser rangefinders to be used.

Rule 14/3b prohibits a player from using any artificial device or unusual equipment for the purpose of gauging or measuring distance or conditions that might affect his play. That alone would make all golf GPS and laser rangefinders against the rules and the penalty for the breach is disqualification. However, in 2006, Decision 14-3/0.5 was created to give tournament committees the option of adding a local rule that allows “distance-measuring devices”.  

If this local rule is in effect, then artificial devices that measure distance ONLY, are permitted. Any device that measures anything other than distance is prohibited even if you’re not using those other features. Exception: The Leupold GX-4i2 has a SmartKey that turns off the Slope function and has specifically been approved by the USGA. (UPDATE: In March 2015 the Bushnell TourX will arrive, offering a similar feature.)

Most organized golf tournaments utilize the local rule, but it’s always a good idea to read the rules sheet or check with the tournament organizer before using your golf rangefinder or GPS. Elite professional events and some high level amateur events do not adopt the local rule. You won’t find these devices being used during a PGA or LPGA tournaments, but if you’re out there during the practice rounds, caddies and players will be using laser rangefinders and taking notes diligently.

So if you know that your golf tournament or golf group has adopted the local rule, then there is only one question remaining. Did you buy a GPS or laser that measures ONLY distance? If you laid out more cash for the laser binoculars that measure “slope”, they won’t be allowed. See Exception noted above. Also, if you’re using your smartphone with a GPS app, you are probably in violation of the rule because smartphones have weather and compass apps built into them. Golf’s ruling bodies (the USGA and R&A) may have to modify or clarify this further in the future, but that’s where it stands right now.

If you’re playing a friendly game, then it probably won’t ever come up and if your playing partners are really your friends, they probably won’t care if you use your smartphone or your rangefinder with slope. With regards to posting scores for your handicap, the local rule is in effect. You should post all scores when using your distance-only measuring device.

I hope that explains it, but if not, please post your questions below.


  1. Clayton G. Dinger says:

    I’m 90 yrs old and have played the game of golf since I was 5 yrs old.
    Apparently I’m out of touch with the rules of golf. From my understanding
    “Range Finders” are now considered legal to use while playing a round of golf…I consider this is a blatant insult to the game. Years ago the use of croquette style putting was determined illegal…as was the use of square grooved irons..such was called an advantage to playing the game. Why doesn’t the use of a “Range Finder” fit into this category??Guess big business runs the show…RIGHT!!! May as well throw out all
    of the rules and let the best cheater win.

    • Golf Rangefinder Shop says:

      Hi Clayton. There has certainly been some disagreement on the issue of distance measuring devices. Here is part of the statement issued by the USGA & R&A on this subject.

      “In an historical context, the game has seen progressive developments in the means by which distance information is available to golfers. From the days when selecting a club was a matter of human judgement, the use of yardage books and hole location sheets and reference to on-course markings has increased significantly. Most recently, the use of distance-measuring devices has become more widespread.

      The USGA and The R&A first allowed the use of distance-measuring devices in January 2006. Prior to this, while the use of yardage books was allowed, the use of distance-measuring devices was prohibited by Rule 14-3. The change introduced in 2006 permitted the committee in charge of a competition or course to introduce a local rule allowing distance-measuring devices. A very important proviso of this permission is that the device must measure distance only; it must not measure other conditions such as wind speed or direction, the slope of the ground or the temperature.

      The Rules and their Purpose
      While accepting this development in the provision of distance information, the USGA and The R&A will remain vigilant when considering the rules on distance-measuring devices. As with the equipment rules, the purpose of these rules is to protect golf’s best traditions, to prevent an over-reliance on technological advances rather than skill, and to ensure that skill is the dominant element of success throughout the game. Permitting the use of a measuring device to provide the same information that can be obtained through use of a yardage book or on-course markings is not considered to diminish the skill level required to play the game.”

      For the full statement, see

  2. Crotchety old fart says:

    Back in my day we had to hit golf balls in 4 feet of snow and slow play didn’t exist cause we walked the course and used our feet to measure every hole before hand just so we didn’t hold up the twosome behind us. I remember hitting my persimmon driver 315 plus every drive into the wind and I could just look at the flag and use my thumb to gauge the distance. It was hard to putt with that silly old man yelling at us to get off the lawn but we still managed snow and all.

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