Less than a week after introducing the “Lexi Thompson Rule,” or New Decision 34-3/10, the USGA sent a signal that it has something else on its radar. Namely, defending the art of green reading.

Viewing the issue through the lens of Rule 14-3, the USGA expressed concern over, it seems, the green detail in professional yardage books. Rule 14-3 bars a player from “the use of any artificial device or unusual equipment … for the purpose of gauging or measuring distance or conditions that might affect his play.” Thus, in a roundabout way, the green-mapping technology used to create the highly sophisticated and detailed pro yardage books is troubling to the guardians of the game.

The USGA-R&A’s full joint statement reads:

“The R&A and the USGA believe that a player’s ability to read greens is an essential part of the skill of putting. Rule 14-3 limits the use of equipment and devices that might assist a player in their play, based on the principle that golf is a challenging game in which success should depend on the judgment, skills and abilities of the player. We are concerned about the rapid development of increasingly detailed materials that players are using to help with reading greens during a round. We are reviewing the use of these materials to assess whether any actions need to be taken to protect this important part of the game. We expect to address this matter further in the coming months.”

Reading between the lines, it certainly seems the “concern” is centered around yardage books that show slope and topographical information. You know, like these.

Credit: Golf Digest/Tour Sherpa
Credit: Golf Digest/Tour Sherpa
Credit: Golf Digest/Tour Sherpa
Credit: Golf Digest/Tour Sherpa

Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of rules and amateur status, told Golf Digest’s Mike Stachura the worry centers around the following:

“The increased level of detail that the USGA and the R&A has seen of late, both in printed and electronic form, that has prompted the study. It is fair to say all materials will be reviewed, but the original intent was not focused on basic printed yardage guides found at most golf courses, but those with an increased level of detail/sophistication.”

This led Stachura to connect the dots, writing, “It seems conceivable that green charts instead of contour lines measuring the percentage of slope…might someday reach a stage where all putting locations might be determined to have a certain break like two feet right or six inches left.”

Yardage books in general have long been contentious on the PGA Tour, but the USGA largely hasn’t had an issue with the pocket course maps until now. It will be interesting to see if the folks in Far Hills ultimately rule on the level of detail in Mark Long’s (and similar) yardage books.

If you ask PGA Tour pro Luke Donald, he seems to agree with the concern.

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  1. So, here’s a question… if the USGA generally allow rangefinders that don’t allow slope, how is it they’re being provided with slope information? How has that been allowed to become a cottage industry?

    Personally, I think this is all a waste. I think the slope algorithm in the current rangefinders aren’t a big deal. Frankly, whatever speeds play is good, and those books don’t sink putts. But this type of grandstanding just annoys players. But please start making the pros play like we have to. Let them have a laser, but take their books. Or don’t, and clarify that slope information is ok. What drives me batty about the USGA is they approach it as if it’s this new thing. It’s not.

  2. Personally I think you would have to have studies in rocket science to even read this thing. I would not know which way to turn the thing up down or sideways. But then I never went far in college never got to map reading.

  3. The game has gotten too concerned with low scores and records. We also should go back to not allowing to mark the ball on the green and play stymie. It’s about who navigates the situations to win the tournament, not about just getting low scores

  4. I would like to see this stopped.
    Along with that I would also like to see caddies actually just caddy.
    Carry the bag, give distance from the ball to the pin and little else.
    Keep them off the greens and lets see the pros use their own skills to navigate the contours.
    Simplify the rules also, ball on tee not to be touched again until it is on the green.
    Any unplayable/lost/hazard ball, drop at the original point of strike with a shot penalty.
    Remove all line of sight relief.
    As mentioned above remove all grandstands from the green area.
    Also in agreement with Brandon … Brandon May 3, 2017 at 10:05 am

    Actually I would like to see a 90 second shot clock with 3 60 second extensions per round, but that is me personally.

    The game is too slow and the rules too complex.
    We are losing a generation to the game, almost no one understands the rules now .

  5. Why not go all the way and make the pros play like the rest of us do? Ban yardage books (except for notes they personally make during practice rounds), ban daily pin sheets, ban caddies. Make them pull their clubs around on a cart and hunt for sprinkler heads to get their distances. Really! I’m not kidding. Once a year I would like to see a tournament played like this.

  6. Fully agree that the governing bodies should ban the use of detailed green charts during competitive rounds. They both slow down the game and reduce the need to develop and deploy one of golf’s key skills.

  7. Good idea! Caddies should also not be able to give players any information other than distances and wind direction. The player ought to be able to figure out what club to hit and how to hit it. That goes for alignment too.
    And, USGA, address the ball in motion rule, where the wind moves the ball on the green. The player who doesn’t cause the ball to move should be able to replace it in its original spot without penalty.

  8. Great idea. Let’s make a 6 hr round 6 1/2 while watching a pro do laps on a green before they decide to get over the ball. Next thing you know there’ll be a 24 sec. clock.

    • Agree 100%. In fact last week in China at the European Tour event the 18th hole had water cutting in to the green on the right side with the flag (for round 4) inaccessible some 6 paces from the water. Immediately left of the green was a stand, the closest to a green I’ve ever seen. What happens? More than one pro took dead aim at the lower portion of this stand from 150-180 yards away and bounced the ball onto the green and close to the flag; closer than could have been achieved by a normal shot. Utter madness on the part of the tournament director and officials…those guys need sacked. It’s golf not billiards!

  9. Yeah, I can see how this is a problem since nobody seems to miss any putts…. lol I mean, who cares? You better ban all yardage books then, and sprinkler heads with numbers on them, since those numbers were derived from laser range finders.

    Stupid is as stupid does, sums up the USGA nicely.

  10. If all players have access to this same information what does it matter? If the information is out their and they are banned during tournament play, all you are doing is giving a leg up to players with better memory/photographic memory…

    Access to this information speeds up play as well. Do you really want to have these guys(and gals) with millions of dollars on the line taking longer to read putts on their own? If pace of play is such an important issue to the USGA why would they take detailed information out of a players hand that is going to make the pros take longer to do their job? If anything, Courses that have this information should give these to any player with the knowledge to use them to help speed up play!

    • Nonsense, use of these green-reading books slows play down; are you Stevie Wonder? But slow play isn’t the real issue in this: skill and judgment is what golf is founded upon not having fancy, cheat-bibles like these.

  11. I thought the yardage books just had blank green shapes and the pros filled them out as they read the greens. The advantage to the more veteran guys whom have played the greens more and have had many different looks. I didn’t know they were given how the topography of the greens were.

  12. Good grief. I had no idea they were that detailed. Let us get back to the player and only the player lining up his putts. And these maps should be banned. The club player uses his own eyes so why not someone supposedly more skilled?

  13. So if I can bring a topographical map why not a wind gauge?? Could extend my 18 foot ball retriever, stick it on the top of that and be a little more certain about what the winds speed and direction is.

  14. I believe the charts get even more complicated/detailed than what is pictured.

    And I think they should be restricted at some point. Laser rangefinders that calculate slope are banned from tournament use. What’s the basic difference between that and a fold-out chart that details every little slope in the green?

  15. More ridiculousness from the USGA. Graphite shafts, titanium golf clubs, range finders and four piece multi material golf balls are good, topographical maps bad! ridiculous! the toothpaste is out of the tube.

  16. Seriously USGA….

    This is completely ridiculous. These guys talk about growing the game but yet have zero clue as to what it takes to actually pulls off what current PGA tour pros do. Its actually a little disgusting that these dinosaurs are guiding a sport that so desperately needs an injection of life.

    This still comes down to execution. You HAVE to be able to execute exactly what it says on the books, whether its yardage or the slopes on a green.


  17. I have been playing the same courses for years and am still trying to figure out and remember all the breaks. I definitely think green reading is a big part of the art of putting. The green contour map like shown above can be viewed as equipment that aides the golfer. It’s at least worth a debate. (Can I order such a map for my home course, surely could eliminate some 3 putts.)

  18. If reading a green is an integral part of the game to be preserved where does that leave us with rangefinders? If judgement of a putt is a skill to be preserved and rewarded why not yardage estimation?

    But, I don’t need a thing to make the game harder and I’d wager the bulk of golfers don’t either. Furthers the argument that rules bifurcation is needed in some degree.

    • You can’t use rangefinders in professional competition. So that’s what this is implying, that perhaps during play, these contour-Aimpoint maps will be banned, only to be used during practice rounds, as the rangefinders are.

  19. I assume, then, that these things are why pros look COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY BEWILDERED when they miss something inside 10 feet? They look at these sheets, it tells them one things, they go with it, they miss, they curse the world. How much reliance is on these books and how much of it is actual green reading?

  20. It is an interesting sort of “give an inch, take a foot” quandary for the USGA. A topographic map for backpacking is good, a topographic map for reading greens is cheating. Unless you’re camping out on the steep ridge on #14 green at Pebble Beach.

  21. seems like luke donald needs to heed some advice from Kendrick Lamar – sit down, be humble.

    wow, players doing what they can while adhering to the rules to help gain information about a course? crazy talk. USGA, stop screwing things up every chance you get. Let your DVR-committee do your bidding to get your rulings right. USGA puts out that they want to allow rangefinders or measuring devices but want to dial back the information you can put in your yardage book? smh.

    • I don’t think their issue is necessarily the level of detail within a yardage book as much as it is how that information is obtained. However, you could not achieve the same level of detail by simply walking a green and rolling a few putts. I agree with the USGA and with Luke Donald though. Green reading is an acquired skill and a bit of an art. Players should be allowed to record slope information in their yardage book, but without the assistance of special equipment. They should only be allowed to make note of the things they can visibly see and physically feel. They should not be able to use any type of technology to help them measure the various contours of a green. Plain and simple. And no, I don’t believe this is in any way similar to using a rangefinder that ONLY measures yardage. Yardage is a far easier measurement to obtain through other means and I believe the use of rangefinders can only help pace of play.

      • These contour maps are made by digital mapping of the greens. It would be impossible to enforce a rule banning the maps as players could review in privacy off the course. They should be banned on the course during play, including practice and tournament rounds.