We know we can use our mobiles for GPS purposes. But what else can we do, and what is forbidden? Our Rules of Golf expert marks your card
I routinely use my phone as a distance measuring device. I’m sure plenty of you reading this are the same. I recently won a tournament (humble brag) where one of my playing partners observed me going to my phone throughout the round and asked me if that was OK under the rules.
It wasn’t such a preposterous question. It was only in January 2019 that distance measuring devices were allowed under the Rules of Golf. You’d previously needed a Local Rule to make the acceptable.
But, unlike our lasers, or specialist GPS units, our phones are capable of so much more than just delivering mere numbers.
Theoretically, the world is your oyster when it comes to information thanks to the pocket computer resting in your hands.
Rule 4.3a looks to put some limits down on what you can and can’t use devices for – especially if they are multi-functional like a phone or a tablet. So let’s take a look at these golf mobile phone rules…
Golf mobile phone rules
What can I access?
Well, yardages for a start. You can get information on distance or direction.
You can use any type of weather information – and that includes wind speed – that you can get from weather forecasts. You can measure temperature and humidity at the course.
You can use information that you’ve gathered before the round. That includes playing information from previous rounds, swing tips, as well as club information.
Fancy playing a tune? You’re even allowed to listen to audio, or watch video, as long as you’re not eliminating distractions, or helping with swing tempo.
What can’t I access?
You can’t measure wind speed yourself at the course, or altitude, or anything really that gauges or measures “variable environmental conditions”, as the USGA puts it.
You can’t get live club recommendations from apps or get a line of play, and you can’t measure elevation changes or slope to get “other plays-like distance information”.
If you’re processing or analysing information from your round, like heart rate or playing statistics, you’re not allowed to use them either.
Here’s the absolute killer if you’re using a phone
There’s a small section at the bottom on the USGA’s advice, called ‘Use Additional Care’, that it’s worth reading.
What if you were looking at your phone (the same applies to a watch that can do lots of different tricks and is “readily viewable by the player”) and there was information being displayed that, if you used it, would mean you breached the rules?
“The player is considered to have ‘used’ the information generated by a prohibited function, even if the player has not actually viewed it”.
So be very careful when scrolling down your phone, you don’t click on something that’s going to get you a penalty.
What are the punishments? And why integrity plays such an important role
Speaking of penalties, the sanctions for breaching this rule are very stiff. You’ll pick up a two-stroke penalty, or lose the hole in match play, on the first occasion you breach the rule.
Do it again and it is disqualification. Like so many of the rules, though, integrity in this sphere plays a hugely important role.
Unless your playing partners are staring over your shoulder at your phone, they’re likely to have no clue what you’re looking at on your screen.
Club golf is a self-policing sport. Only you know whether you’re using your analysis app as a virtual caddie, or you’re checking out how the wind is spinning across that fairway.
Why is it important that we all play by the rules? Well, apart from the obvious – because it’s the right thing to do – your clubs do have recourse to a Local Rule if they ever felt they were being exploited.
They have the power to prohibit the use of any electronic distance-measuring devices.
What do you think of these golf mobile phone rules? Have you ever been caught out? Does it really matter what information we view at club level? Let me know by hitting me up on X, formerly known as twitter.
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