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?

For those of you looking for the quick answer…
The USGA and R&A provide a “local rule” that with the exception of most major professional tours (PGA, LPGA etc), is adopted for almost all competitions. So unless you’re a high level professional golfer, this most likely applies to the events you play.

The local rule allows the use of distance measuring devices. If your device (laser rangefinder, smartphone, or GPS rangefinder) measures other conditions such as Slope or wind speed, those features must be turned off or disabled. If you can’t turn off those features, then it’s not legal, but if you can and do turn them off, it is legal.
See our Best Legal Golf Rangefinders if you are looking for recommendations for laser golf rangefinders. All of the GPS devices on this site would be “legal”, so check out our Best Golf GPS page to find the one that is right for you.

For those of you who are interested in getting a full understanding of how the rule has evolved, 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, the USGA and R&A decided to allow tournament committees to have the option of adding a local rule that allows “distance-measuring devices”.

If this local rule is in effect, artificial devices that measure distance ONLY, are permitted. Prior to 2016, devices that measured slope or provided other prohibited information were not allowed even if the features were turned off.

In 2016, the USGA and the R&A revised the rule (see Appendix IV-5) to allow devices with the capability of measuring conditions other than distance, as long as those features were turned off.

The exceptions to the earlier rule were the now retired Bushnell Tour X and the the Leupold GX-4i2. Both of these laser rangefinders had gotten special approval from the USGA by using a brightly colored faceplate to turn on the Slope feature, thus indicating to anyone paying attention that the device was not legal. When the bright faceplate was removed, the devices were (and still are) legal.

With the new rule, it’s more of an honor system. Faceplates are not required, and manufacturers have implemented a simple ON/OFF switch rather than the faceplate system. The player will simply switch the device out of Slope mode to make it legal.

As far as golf GPS devices go, most have been legal in competition since 2006. However, this new rule change did affect a few devices that were previously not allowed in competition. The Garmin Approach G7 and the Approach G8 both have a “Plays Like” feature and a “Club Advice” feature that are not allowed in competition, but those features can be turned off, which means that as of 2016, these devices can be used in competition.

Smartphone golf GPS apps also benefitted from the rule change. They may now be used in competition as long as no prohibited features are being used within the app OR on otherwise on the device.

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 or has an on/off mode for prohibited features? If your laser binoculars measure “slope” or provide other prohibited information and those features cannot be turned off, your rangefinder won’t be allowed.

If you’re playing a friendly game, just make sure your group is in agreement about what rules are in effect. 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. See the USGA Rules FAQ.

Below are our top picks for legal laser golf rangefinders. If you have any questions, please leave us a message in the comments at the bottom of the page.

Best Legal Laser Golf Rangefinders
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Bushnell Pro X2Read Full Review

We’re very excited about the Bushnell Pro X2! Bushnell was quick to adapt to the 2016 rule modification that made rangefinders with Slope legal as long as the slope mode could be turned off for competitive rounds. The sophisticated faceplate hardware change is no longer required, so Bushnell put a simple toggle switch on the side of the unit. The Pro X2 utilizes Dual Display technology that allows the user to choose standard black or red VDT for displaying distance information. Just press the logo on the side of the rangefinder while ranging to switch modes. This unit also features 6x magnification, is fully waterproof, has Jolt technology that vibrates when it locks the pin, and it ranges accurately to within a half yard.

Rating: 4.77 (112 ratings)  Magnification: 6x  Slope: both
Weight: 8 oz.   Legal: Yes* When Slope Switch is turned off.


Bushnell Tour V4 ShiftRead Full Review

The Bushnell Tour V4 Shift replaces the Tour V4 Slope model. Both are legal in USGA competitions that allow rangefinder as long as the Slope feature is disabled. The difference is that the V4 Shift has a slider switch on the side that is simple to use and displays on the outside of the unit when it is in Slope mode. We like this improvement from the Bushnell V4 Slope that gave no indication of the mode until you looked into it. This model will likely become the best-selling laser golf rangefinder with Slope on the market. It has Pinseeker, Jolt, and 5x magnification.

Rating: 4.48 (90 ratings)  Magnification: 5x  Slope: both
Weight: 5.6 oz.   Legal: Yes, if Slope Switch is Down (Off).


Leupold GX-3i2Read Full Review

Leupold continues to develop solid performing golf laser rangefinders. The GX-3i2 has 6x magnifcation, PinHunter technology that quickly locks onto the pin, and prism-lock technology for courses that have prisms on the flag. The user adjustable red OLED is a feature we think is worth spending a little extra for and we think Fog Mode is a nice bonus feature. If you’re set on buying a laser golf rangefinder without Slope, the GX-3i2 is the best one you can buy right now.

Rating: 4.70 (111 ratings)  Magnification: 6x  Slope: No
Weight: 7.8 oz.   Legal: Yes


Bushnell Tour V4 JoltRead Full Review

The Bushnell Tour V4 replaced the extremely popular Bushnell Tour V3. This model is a little bit smaller and had an easy to use focus ring. Although we think the Tour V4 is a terrific rangefinder with Jolt and Pinseeker, we think its popularity will be shared with the Bushnell Tour V4 Shift. The Shift version has Slope, but also allows you to turn it off to make it legal for most competitive events as of the 2016 rule change. If you have not interested in Slope, the Bushnell Tour V4 is an excellent choice.

Rating: 4.64 (176 ratings)  Magnification: 5x  Slope: No
Weight: 6.6 oz.   Legal: Yes


Precision Pro NX7 ProRead Full Review

We like the looks, features, and the price of this newcomer to the golf rangefinder market. This is a Slope rangefinder that meets the new USGA requirements with a switch to turn off the Slope mode, thus making it legal for competition. It looks to have all the same features as the much more expensive Bushnell Tour V4 Shift at a significantly lower price. Plus it offers free lifetime battery replacement. The NX7 Pro will also be in direct competition with the Leupold GX-2i2, which sells for a similar price. In our hands-on testing, we have been very pleased with the performance of the NX7 Pro.

Rating: grsScore  Magnification: 6x
Weight: 5.45 oz.   Legal: Yes, with Slope Mode turned OFF.

$249.00
Precision Pro NX7 Pro
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Comments

  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 http://www.usga.org/news/2009/November/USGA-R-A-Joint-Statement-On-Electronic-Devices/

    • Joe Shimer says:

      The reality is, there are yardage markers all over golf courses for a reason. To allow a player to determine the distance. It matters not how you get the yardage because if you are standing at the white marker you are 150 yards. If you use a range finder, you are at 150 as well. Whats the difference? There are sprinkler markers all over many golf courses as well. So, does it matter weather you walk over to a sprinkler head, or use a range finder. The sprinkler is a range finder. What about getting the information from a Caddie? A Caddie will tell you distance, where to land the ball on the tee, and even tell you where your line is for putting. In fact PGA caddies play a course for as many as two weeks prior to their boss, use range finders, and take hundreds of notes for the sole purpose of telling their partner the yardage. The reality is, one could gain the distance from a range finder a sprinkler head, a yardage marker. A player still has to strike the ball. The GPS does not strike the ball. The biggest point, and frankly only real advantage is pace of play. Which would you prefer, walking around the course for two three or four minutes searching for a sprinkler head with a yardage distance, which may not exist, or simply pressing a button and get the yardage in 3 seconds. Time is the only thing on earth which is not replaceable. I’d prefer to be more efficient, and get off the course 30 minutes sooner. I’m already inefficient in almost every other aspect of my life, so any help I can get to maximize my time is fine by me.

  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.

  3. If everyone is using them, then what’s the problem? even smartphones have GPS apps these days (costing a few bucks) so who cares if you know the EXCAT yardage. The game has evolved. Deal with it!

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