The most predictable thing in golf – right there with Tiger Woods’ Sunday red shirt and sandbaggers not posting their low scores – is the commotion that erupts when a rule is changed.
The concept of universal approval evidently does not exist in golf.
So it came as no surprise last week that when the PGA of America announced it will allow the use of distance measuring devices – let’s call them what they are, rangefinders – in this year’s PGA Championship as well as the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, it had the effect of a solar flare, creating a surge of static.
Is it a big deal?
But is it that big a deal?
It doesn’t need to be.
Like the embedded ball rule.
As everyone knows, rangefinders are almost as prevalent as soft spikes, an accepted part of the game that most of the world plays. For us, rangefinders speed the process, saving the unnecessary time of searching for a sprinkler head or trying to remember how far it is from the sycamore tree in the corner of the dogleg on No. 12 to the green.
In a foursome, it’s a community thing. Usually one person checks the yardage on a par-3 tee and shares it. Better players will study the carry distance over a bunker, how much room there is behind the flag and, if it’s a casual round, use the slope device to add or subtract yardage up or down hill.
They’re better than gift cards when someone hits it in another fairway and is trying to find their way back.
The worst that can be said for rangefinders is they lead some of us to debate how much difference 1 or 2 yards either way means to our club selection, as if we’re that consistent.
Also, they’re expensive and people tend to leave them in carts when they’re finished.
They are accepted virtually everywhere, even in USGA events except for the men’s, women’s and senior U.S. Opens. The PGA of America, with more than 29,000 golf professionals under its umbrella, allowed rangefinders in every event except the three added to the list last week.
“(Rangefinders) have become widely used including by tour players and caddies in practice rounds to check, add to and improve on their yardage books.”
For traditionalists – and Lord knows there are plenty of those where the rules are concerned – rangefinders are allowed under the revised Rules of Golf. Their use was approved in 2019.
It takes a local rule to ban them from PGA Tour events, the major championships and other tournaments where they hang from players’ bags but can’t be used after practice days.
Some would suggest that is a form of bifurcation but let’s leave that for another day.
So when Seth Waugh, Kerry Haigh and the leaders of the PGA of America decided to allow rangefinders at Kiawah Island in May, they did the right thing. It’s not a sudden decision. It’s been under discussion for at least three years.
The truth is, they were hoping to do it in the PGA Championship at Harding Park last May but then the pandemic hit and by the time they played the event last September, there were too many other things to worry about so it was pushed to this year.
“They have become widely used including by tour players and caddies in practice rounds to check, add to and improve on their yardage books,” said Haigh, chief championships officer for the PGA of America.
“All the information was being transferred into written form. The yardage books even give the slope and gradients, uphill and downhill information. The general golfers are using them pretty much all the time.
“All those factors led to our officers and board thinking now is the time.”
There is another factor to consider.
“Players don’t have to use them,” Haigh said. “It is just an option.”
Will their use speed up play?
Have you seen a college golf tournament recently? They use rangefinders and still take forever. The AJGA pace of play policy has been effective but it hasn’t transferred up the ladder.
Some professional caddies don’t like the new rule. Some are OK with it. Players generally want every bit of information they can get but rangefinders and yardage books can disagree.
The top caddies justifiably pride themselves on the work they do, particularly when triangulating the distance from some out-of-the-way spot. In studying a shot, they look at many things, not just where the hole is cut.
“What Webb (Simpson) and I do every hole is look at the front number, the carry number, the pin and a long number, then we look left and right,” said Simpson’s caddie Paul Tesori, one of the best in the business.
“If I do my numbers and he uses a rangefinders and gets a different number we have to redo the numbers. In our world 2 yards can mean everything. In my opinion it’s going to slow down play.”
That’s where stricter enforcement of pace of play policies should come into play.
In response to the PGA of America’s decision, the PGA Tour released a statement saying it has no plans to change its rangefinder policy though it could be brought to the Player Advisory Council again.
It’s fair to assume the administrators at the Masters and the U.S. Open and the Open Championship will watch closely how the PGA of America plays out in May.
Someone will win because they played the best.
Not because they used a rangefinder.
Top: Jordan Speith’s caddie Michael Greller during a practice round at the 2020 Masters