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.

See our Best Legal Golf Rangefinders if you are looking for recommendations.

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. However in 2016, the USGA and the R&A revised the rule (see Appendix IV-5) to say that these devices were okay to use as long as those features were turned off.

The exceptions to the earlier rule were the highly rated 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 will not be required, and already the Bushnell Tour V4 with Slope can be made legal without the appearance changing. The player will simply switch the device out of Slope mode to make it legal. We expect many other devices will follow suit.

As far as golf GPS devices go, most have been legal in competition since 2006. However, this new rule change did affect two of the Garmin GPS 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.

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

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  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

    • 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.

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