When will distance measuring devices go pro?
It could be sooner than you think, as it’s already happening on the Europro Tour
Where would we be without rangefinders, GPS watches and smartphones? Probably still hacking around in the woods, lamenting poor club choice as our score nears double figures. Before 2014, it was a common sight during amateur competitions for golfers to pace out distances from sprinkler heads and yardage markers. Now, with just the click of a button, we can find out the exact distance to the front, back and middle of the green. And the best bit? It’s legal during USGA and R&A amateur championships.
A National Golf Foundation survey revealed that two thirds of us now use some kind of distance measuring device (DMD) on the course. They are even more popular on the PGA Tour, with 97% of pros and caddies admitting that they used a Bushnell laser during the Players Championship in May. At least that was the case during the practice days. The rules currently prohibit their use during competitive play on the PGA Tour and European Tour, which means the likes of Jordan Spieth and Michael Greller have to rely on course guides and their own intuition from Thursday through to Sunday. But come 2019, that could all change. Under a proposed rules revamp, the R&A and USGA will allow players to use DMDS to measure distance. Though a committee will still be able to invoke a Local Rule to prohibit their use, the PGA Tour has already been readying itself by trialling DMDS during tournaments on the Web.com Tour, Mackenzie Tour and PGA Tour Latinoamérica since April.
Andy Pazder, chief tournaments and competitions officer of the PGA Tour, said: “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 pro golf. The only way we can accurately assess their impact is to conduct an actual test during official competition on our tours. Our evaluation will consider the impact on pace of play, optics and any other effects they may have on the competition.”
One man who’s already made up his mind is Bryson Dechambeau, who says “it’s the best thing they could possibly do”. But not everyone is convinced. USGA boss Mike Davis has admitted that “caddies aren’t crazy about it,” while former PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has even confessed that “we don’t like the way it looks.” Nevertheless, recent developments suggest the PGA Tour’s stance has softened, and Andrew Grose, MD of Bushnell, believes there is plenty of evidence that DMDS can help golf to become more of a spectator sport.
“It’s clear that knowing your exact distance within seconds of arriving at your ball is very important to speed of play,” says Grose. “When you’re having to guess, find a yardage marker or work out where you are from a course guide, you must be saving 15 seconds per shot, which can easily be 20 minutes a round. A booklet or a strokesaver is what we’ve been used to seeing and I think there is a reluctance to break that tradition. But more and more officials appreciate the speed benefits and often criticise five or six-hour tournament rounds, so it’s got to be the way forward.”
Rangefinders have been standard issue for all golfers on the Europro Tour since they were permitted way back in 2005, so much so that every winner now receives a Bushnell device. Daniel Godding, chief executive of the Europro, has seen first-hand how pace of play has been affected, and he backs up Grose’s claims that they can help to rid the game of slow play.
“We make decisions that enhance and improve the game and excite the viewer, and we believe that the use of DMDS has assisted in a continued improvement in pace of play,” says Godding. “In the past, players would have to walk to the green and measure the distance with their stride. Now, they simply look through a lens. It’s a technical development which does not affect the skill of a player but does improve the pace of play.”
Grose points out that the feedback from Europro players has been “tremendous” and thinks it’s only a matter of time before the major tours take notice. For now, though, the world’s best will still have to keep their Bushnells locked away in their bags during tournament play.