From phones to watches and GPS, we’ve got all sorts that can help us on course at the tips of our fingers. But what do the Rules of Golf allow? Our expert guides you through the minefield…
The Rules of Golf have been written down in some form since 1744. Quite a LOT has changed since then – particularly with the way golf tech seems to control every part of our lives.
Plenty of us can’t survive without our phones, or we tote wearable technology that gives us up to the minute information and almost anything at our fingertips.
Need a swing tip? You could fire up YouTube. Need a quick yardage? There’s an app for that. Wondering what club to hit? Just click another button.
It’s all there, either attached to our wrists, in the palm of hands, or even beaming out from our trolleys.
As all this new kit has evolved, so have the Rules of Golf. So let’s ask a few common questions you might have about golf tech and see if we can keep some of you out of trouble on the golf course…
Golf tech rules: What can do you on the course?
Can you use Google Maps on the golf course?
A top-down pristine view of your golf course layout that you could turn into a yardage book is a quick search and a print out away.
Is this allowed? Those above-named yardage books are OK, aren’t they? What’s the difference? There isn’t.
Where you do have careful if you’re putting together a DIY job is when it comes to scale. Most of you will know there are limitations on the use of green reading materials.
This applies to stuff you do yourself as well. It’s all outlined in a clarification to Rule 4.3a for those who want to go right down the rabbit hole – as the numbers get very technical (like to the 3/8 of an inch).
Any book, or bit of paper, that contains a map or image of a putting green, can’t be larger than 4.5 inches x 7 inches. There’s a reason yardage books are the size they are.
Don’t go sticking stuff down on your freshly produced green map in minute point and then thinking you can use a magnifier to get closer. That’s not allowed too.
If you’re viewing all this stuff digitally, the same rules apply – including the scales. Think you can zoom in? You would still fall foul by “increasing the size of the green’s representation beyond the scale of size limits”.
The penalties for breaking Rule 4.3 are really severe. It’s the general penalty – two strokes or loss of hole in match play – for the first offence and disqualification for the second. “This penalty applies even if the nature of the breach was entirely different than the breach resulting in the first penalty.”
Golf tech rules: Can you film your swing during a round?
There are a lot of YouTubers who’d be in pretty big trouble if this one was against the rules. Rule 4.3a (3) says you can record – for use after the round – “playing or physiological information” from the round. That includes club distances and playing distances and, yes, I reckon it would include filming a swing too.
But… try really hard to avoid watching it back if you’re playing in a competition. How difficult is that going to be for those checking to see if they’ve got the right video?
That same rule says you must not process or interpret playing information for the round, and Rule 4.3a (4), relating to video, say you can’t watch video of the competition that helps you in “choosing a club, making a stroke, or deciding how to play during the round”.
Turn off slope on your rangefinder
There is a rangefinder on the market where slope is ‘on’ as standard. You have to go through a range of menu options to disable it.
That’s easy to forget, right? Maybe you didn’t even notice it was on. Maybe you didn’t use any of the information it presented. But it was still there and you could have seen it.
Be very careful. Here’s how the USGA put it in a document on DMD use. “If a device is readily viewable by the player… and information is being displayed that, if accessed, would result in breach of 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.”
The same applies to how you use an app. With some of them – Arccos is a notable example – there is a menu button that allows you to conform to R&A and USGA standards. Click that and you’ll be fine.
But as soon as you take your first shot, if you’re getting live club recommendations then you’re in trouble.
Here’s the bit that will mess with your head, though. You could play in a non-competition round, take screenshots of all the club recommendations it gives you during those holes, and then look at them when you’re playing in the comp itself.
It’s because it’s stuff that’s recorded, or accessed, or interpreted from the round you’re currently playing that’s the issue.
Golf tech rules: Can I watch the match on my phone while I’m playing?
I’m sure some of your playing partners might have an issue if you’re belting out the derby at full volume – and Rule 1.2 says you need to show consideration to others – but Rule 4.3a (4) says “watching video on matters unrelated to the competition being played” is fine.
Can you use headphones during competitions?
You can also listen to music, but not if it’s to eliminate distractions or to help with swing tempo. So while there is nothing in the rules, and specifically Rule 4.3a (4), saying you can’t wear headphones, I’d be particularly worried about noise cancelling devices (which are designed to eliminate distractions).
You might have a bit of a problem if challenged on whether what you were listening to, which no one else can hear, was assisting you with tempo. Why are you wearing them? Is the audio simply background music, which is allowed, or are you hitting the ball on the beat? That isn’t allowed.
As with a lot of things in the rules, it comes down to honesty and integrity.
Your smart watch really lives up to its billing. It can give you all sorts of information in real time, and if you’ve got a golf GPS running on it, it can provide some of the things that we’ve already ascertained can get you into trouble.
Lots of people like to use their watches to monitor their heart rate. Don’t do this on the course and, if it’s usually visible on your screen, shut it down before you tee off.
We’re back to Rule 4.3a (3) and physiological information. Recording, fine. Look back after the round in wonder and see how your ticker was jumping all over place when you had that nervy six-footer.
But if you’re stood staring at it while playing, in a curious bid to see how nervous you might be, then you’re interpreting and using that physiological information.
What do you think of these modern golf tech rules? Do you agree, or should the course largely be a golf tech free zone? Let me know your thoughts by leaving me a comment on X.
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