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This latest USGA equipment decision might bring artificial intelligence closer to competition

December 07, 2017

The USGA issued a decision Wednesday that expands the possibilities of how technology is used in competition.

Responding directly to Arccos, the GPS-based stat-tracking platform, the USGA ruled that Arccos Caddie—a feature in the company's Arccos 360 App for smart phones that uses stored data to give strategy recommendations to a golfer on the tee based on your past performance—is permitted during competition, as long as it stays on Tournament Mode and only discerns information with yardage, just as the USGA ruled on distance-measuring devices with Rule 14-3.

Here is the USGA's full explanation:
"Based on the information provided and our understanding that the Arccos 360 is incapable of gauging or measuring any parameter other than distance, use of the Arccos Caddie application in conjunction with the Arccos 360 application, as submitted, has been evaluated and it has been determined that the use of the Arccos Caddie application is permitted under the Rules of Golf when a Committee establishes a Local Rule permitting the use of distance measuring devices (see Decision 14-3/0.5). However, please note that in the absence of such a Local Rule, use of the Arccos System during a stipulated round is contrary to Rule 14-3."

The intelligence given from Arccos Caddie is only considered conforming off the tee, because, according to the USGA, those recommendations can be made before a round begins.

Just as a 2016 USGA rules revision (Rule 14-3a) allowed distance-measuring devices to be used only in a tournament mode, with anything extra such as slope or shot recommendations not being permitted, the USGA made that point clear in this decision:

"Please note that if a player could access certain information through the Arccos mobile application during the stipulated round that might assist him in his play, such as current round shot information (e.g., shot distance, individually or included in the club averages, or club selection during the round) or certain statistics, the player could be in breach of Rule 14-3a of the Rules of Golf. This is because the player could be deemed to have used an artificial device to access information that might assist him in his play."

The USGA did not immediately return a request for comment.

It is fascinating to think about competitors in the U.S. Amateur or other elite USGA events consulting their conforming Arccos Caddie app, just as they would their green-reading books or caddie advice. It's a new world, but in 2017 and our reliance on smartphones, it's a step toward progressiveness.

"Everything in golf is sort of an evolutionary process," says Tom Williams, Arccos vice president of sales and marketing. "We think this is a really important step in a process that's going to speed up, not slow down.

"We certainly feel the product breaks new ground, but this decision does, as well. You never know what's going to happen when you're pushing the boundaries, but we're just super pleased that this is the outcome of many months of our process."

In an August 2017 piece in Golf Digest, USGA senior director of rules and amateur status Thomas Pagel made it clear that any live recommendations of the Arccos Caddie, which was launched in May as part of a partnership with Microsoft and their Azure Cloud, would violate Rule 14-3.

"Golf is still a game of skill and judgment, and anything that can give a player an advantage and diminish that judgment is a problem," Pagel told Golf Digest's Mike Stachura. "The compilation of two or more data points to provide some recommendation that takes that judgment away from the player, that's where the issue comes in."