When will dis­tance mea­sur­ing de­vices go pro?

It could be sooner than you think, as it’s al­ready hap­pen­ing on the Euro­pro Tour

Today's Golfer (UK) - - Best Golf Tech -

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.

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