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PGA Tour to allow use of distance measuring devices, but just as a test

March 28, 2017

Richard Heathcote

Distance measuring devices have become standard issue equipment for average golfers, state amateur events and even USGA competitions. Now, it seems the PGA Tour might be ready to join the trend.

The PGA Tour announced a trial run of sorts, allowing players at several upcoming tournaments on the Tour, the PGA Tour Latinoamerica and the Mackenzie PGA Tour Canada to compete in tournament rounds using laser rangefinders and other distance measuring devices. The tour said the events will be the beginning of a test to see how the devices impact play.

The rules of golf permit the use of distance measuring devices under a local rule (Decision 14-3/0.5). The stipulation allows only devices that measure distance, not slope, elevation or wind.

“For years there has been significant discussion and debate about whether distance measuring devices would have a positive or negative impact on competition at the highest levels of professional golf,” said Andy Pazder, the tour’s chief tournaments and competitions officer, in a statement. “The only way we can accurately assess their impact is to conduct an actual test during official competition on one or more of our Tours. We look forward to seeing how these tests go and carefully evaluating the use of the devices over those weeks. Our evaluation will consider the impact on pace of play, optics and any other effects they might have on the competition."

That’s a slight change in tone from statements Pazder made in 2014. That year, the USGA and R&A announced that distance measuring devices would be allowed at all amateur championships as a local rule, but Pazder said then, “we are not contemplating a change” allowing DMDs on the PGA Tour.

The use of DMDs in competition by local rule has been in place since 2006.

The events include the BMW Charity Pro Am presented by SYNNEX Corporation, May 15-21 in Greenville, S.C.; the Rex Hospital Open, May 29-June 4 in Raleigh, N.C.; the Rust-Oleum Championship, June 5-11 in Ivanhoe, Ill.; and the Air Capital Classic, June 12-18 in Wichita, Kan.

The DMD test will run during the last four events of the first segment of the PGA Tour Latinoamérica: the Essential Costa Rica Classic, April 20-23; the Quito Open, June 1-4 in Ecuador; the Puerto Plata DR Open, June 8-11 in the Dominican Republic; and the Jamaica Classic, June 15-18.

There also will be four events for the test on the Mackenzie PGA Tour-Canada: the GolfBC Championship, June 15-18 in Kelowna, British Columbia; the Players Cup, July 6 - 9 in Winnipeg, Manitoba; the Staal Foundation Open presented by Tbaytel, July 13 - 16 in Thunder Bay, Ontario; and the Mackenzie Investments Open presented by Jaguar Laval, July 20 - 23 in Mirabel, Quebec.

Derek Schuman, spokesman for Bushnell whose rangefinders are the overwhelming choice of players and caddies on the PGA Tour, thinks the tour's experiment will show immediate improvements, something that's already been apparent at the college level where distance measuring devices have been allowed.

"Initially the college golf coaches were concerned that rangefinders would actually slow down play, however, they quickly realized allowing the use of rangefinders actually increased the pace of play," he said. "We at Bushnell Golf know that rangefinders increase the speed of play, and we have conducted a couple of studies to prove this.

"We applaud the PGA Tour for exploring new avenues to make the game of golf more efficient and enjoyable at the most elite level. ...We would expect a positive outcome from the Tour testing rangefinders. Every mini-tour has been allowing rangefinders for years, and they all feel it provides their players the most accurate yardage and speeds up play."

Rob O'Loughlin, president of distance measuring device firm Laser Link, also heartily endorsed the tour's move.

"We have always believed it is inevitable," he said in an email. "I can’t imagine they will come up with any real objections. It will be interesting to see how many players choose not to carry a laser (zero)."

O'Loughlin believes the PGA Tour could adopt the rule as early as the 2018-19 season. He also believes the USGA could make DMDs OK for the U.S. Open by 2019, too.

The PGA of America allows distance measuring devices at some of its events, including state and section events, but not its marquee level tournaments, including the PGA Championship.

"The main reasons are that at our spectator championships and national PGA member championships," Kerry Haigh, PGA of America chief championship officer said in 2014, "the competitors are able to have one or more practice rounds at the course and also have caddies whose job in many cases is to able to calculate yardages and distances, whereas at the vast majority of our events players are seeing the course in many cases for the first time and do not have caddies."

Arnold Palmer told the Pittsburgh Tribune back in 2005 distance measuring devices should be allowed sooner rather than later.

"It's a foregone conclusion the pros are going to have the yardages, one way or another. Either the caddie is going to get it, or they're going to get it personally. So what's the difference?" Palmer said. "That's for sure. When do I think it will be legal on Tour? Next year. I suppose they could prevent it for a while, but I don't think forever. I think it's a foregone conclusion that it's going to be used. There's no way around it."

The PGA Tour indicated that the results of the test will be compiled and shared with the Player Advisory Council on all its tours, but did not provide a more specific timeline. According to a spokesman, the evaluation will include "pace of play metrics," "operational issues," "player feedback" and "appearance on television."