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Smartphones and competitive golf


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#1 zakkozuchowski

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Posted 09 November 2012 - 01:57 PM

Posted Image

Smartphones and competitive golf

By Chris Hibler

GolfWRX Contributor

In a tournament this past weekend I inadvertently opened a can of worms. I asked the tournament director if I was allowed to use my iPhone as a distance measuring device. The answer I received was an unequivocal “yes,” but he added, “just as long as you only use it for distance.”

My cart partner overheard out discussion and promptly lost his marbles!  He began spouting about it being against the rules:

“The tournament director does not have the power to overrule the USGA,” he said.

I decided to play it conservatively, sticking to my trusty rangefinder instead of my iPhone. As soon as the round ended, I jumped onto my iPad to see what I could find out about this murky and misunderstood rule. You know what I found out? It is a murky rule and I have misunderstood it all year long.

Here are the facts: Prior to 2006, all distance-measuring devices (aka DMD’s) were illegal during competitive rounds. In 2006, the USGA and R&A made a ruling saying that golfers could use a DMD under Local Rules during competitive rounds as long as the devices were either dedicated devices (i.e., laser ranger finders or GPS units) or golfers could use smartphones as long as they only used the devices for the DMD and not for weather or any other "illegal" data.  Thus, we as golfers, were on the "honor system" -- as it should be.

But, this year, the USGA and R&A came out and essentially reversed their argument saying that smartphones could be used as DMD as long as they didn't have the capability anywhere on the device of measuring wind velocity or accessing weather data. This rendered all smartphones illegal as, in the case of iPhones, the phones contain an embedded weather app that cannot be deleted.  Also, all smartphones are web-accessible, meaning you could access any website that has weather info from virtually any smartphone on the market.

This is not new news to most of you as the smartphone ban has been widely discussed since the GPS apps that many golfers have bought have been rendered useless for tournament play by the USGA this year. That could give you an unfair advantage by possibly glancing at your built-in weather app to tell you the speed and direction of the prevailing wind (which could vary widely from where the golfer is on the course, but I digress).

Posted Image

Back at my tournament, since I decided that I would not stir up controversy by using my iPhone, I was faced with a day with no access to my device at all -- radio silence. It was just me, my clubs, my laser rangefinder and the hope that a TV was on at the turn to check NFL scores. Yes, many of you are applauding this as you would rather have me focus my attention on my round as opposed to sneaking glances at my “DirecTV Sunday Ticket” app – it keeps the round moving you say. I get that. But for me, the issue isn't about checking football scores, using the latest golf GPS app, calling home, or even checking the wind speed; the issue here is about trust and integrity --- and maybe even greed.

By banning the use of smartphones and related devices, the USGA is essentially saying that if a typical golfer uses these devices they are going to cheat. I’ve got news for you USGA, if I am going to cheat, I am going to REALLY cheat.  What are the ways to REALLY cheat?  Here they are in no particular order:
  • "Find" my lost ball in the deep woods by dropping a matching ball down my pant leg.
  • Improve my lie in the greenside rough to make it easier to chip the ball
  • Count my whiff in the long grass as “a practice swing.”
  • Mark my ball closer to the hole to shorten my putt.
Do I do these things? No. Have I seen (or suspected others) from doing these? You bet. I know one thing, nowhere on that list do you see where I think that a device will give me a wind speed reading that will actually help me to lower my score. I also didn't make any note on that list about how a compass reading would assist me in any way.

I will go so far as to say that at even the highest level of golf, there would be little advantage gained with the knowledge that a smartphone could tell them about wind direction or wind speed that they couldn't better themselves by dropping grass clippings in midair moments before their shot.
My point is this: golf is a game of integrity. The job for us as golfers is to play the course fair and square. We call penalties on ourselves when the ball moves inadvertently. We mark the ball where it came to rest on the green. We don't try to cheat our competitors or ourselves. If you do, you don't belong in this game.

I personally believe two things about golf integrity, which I call "Golf Karma"
  • The guilt of "getting away" with a cheat weighs heavily on the golfer's mind resulting in errant shots as the round progresses.
  • We get rewarded later in the round for calling a penalty on ourselves (that no one else knew about let alone suspected) based on real self-confidence borne from integrity.
I would like it if the USGA would actually trust us. But, I have a sinking suspicion that the answer lies somewhere in the dirty underbelly of golf merchandising: the groups that benefit most from this inane ruling are the companies that specialize in the "legal" yardage devices. By quashing the low-priced app competition, the USGA has essentially ruled in favor of the handful of companies that create dedicated GPS units and laser rangefinders.

The other point is that common sense tells us that essentially banning smartphones in 2012 and beyond is just not practical in this day and age. Yes, I can recall the old and simpler days where I would leave my phone in the car, take my four hours out on the links and just tune out of life. But, we are simply not wired this way anymore. Our devices have become an extension of ourselves. For golf, it's simply not practical to ban my possession of a smartphone on the course. I track my stats for later analysis. I keep my scorecards on my phone to see how my game is progressing. Yes, there's is some wishy-washy part of the rule that states that you can have your phone in your pocket or something along those lines if it's not in use.

But, I don't like your chances with a hardline tournament director trying to argue, "I wasn't using it, it was just in my pocket, kind of off with no weather app and stuff."

At the end of the day, I would just like the USGA to trust and allow me as a golfer to do a few simple things in 2013:
  • Not cheat with my smartphone while using it during a competitive round.
  • Not slow play by device distraction.
  • Actually speed up play by knowing my yardage quickly without wandering around looking for sprinklers or yardage markers.
  • Save money in a tough economy by using affordable GPS apps on smartphones
  • Use mobile devices versus feeling obligated to purchase expensive "legal" yardage devices.
One final thought and a note to the USGA: what exactly am I supposed to do with my handy and convenient "Rules of Golf" app that you offer through the App store anyway?  I just want to be sure I know what to say when my competitor "finds" his ball in the woods a minute before I find it.


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#2 highergr0und

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Posted 09 November 2012 - 02:17 PM

Nice article.....  Essentially the smartphone has become the new graphing calculator.  Everyone has to have one, you use it all season, but when the exam comes they break out the solar calculators because there's a chance someone in the room will cheat, and heaven forbid the administrators actually focus on catching the cheaters over punishing everyone....

Now it could be problematic, but I wonder how you're going to use your phone to get exact wind speed at your location?  And can someone explain how knowing that it's 72* at the local airport will help me on the course?  And finally, I'm sorry, but if you need a device to tell you which club to hit given a distance, you shouldn't be playing golf.

The funniest thing is that the USGA allows pros (or I guess anyone with a ridiculous amount of time or a caddy) the ability to make yardage books so detailed that they know every distance on the course, use levels and messing around to get perfect maps of greens, and also provides them with pin sheets that give the EXACT location of every pin on every green.  If anything they should make a rule that all courses should give out the pin locations.  Maybe, just maybe the additional information would speed up the game.

#3 Troyefl

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Posted 09 November 2012 - 02:24 PM

great article, I rely on my iphone for GPS distance every round. Never once have I thought about pulling up the weather app to get wind speed. It is'nt that precise anyways.  Good thing a Bushnell Pro 1M is on my Christmas list.

#4 Rock Chalk Jayhawk

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Posted 09 November 2012 - 02:34 PM

If your phone can show you advanced weather conditions (temperature, wind direction, etc) when you open the phone, the phone is non-conforming. You may not use the phone for outside communications.  Violating these rules is disqualification (I personally think Phil withdrew from the Memorial to prevent a DQ for sending a text message to Fincham).

As Per the USGA:

http://www.usga.org/...ng-Devices-FAQ/

Q. What about multi-functional devices, such as a mobile phone, with a distance-measuring application?
A. On the course, subject to any club or course regulations, a multi-functional device may be used to phone, text, access the Internet or e-mail – provided the purpose is not a breach of the Rules, e.g. you are not asking for advice or accessing an application which gauges, measures or reports conditions that might affect a player’s play. Using the device for any prohibited function would result in disqualification.

When an application that measures distance has been downloaded to the device, the application must be restricted to providing only distance information in order to conform to the Local Rule. If there are any other features or applications on the phone that gauge or measure other conditions that might affect a player’s play, such as a temperature gauge, compass or anemometer, this would render the device non-conforming regardless of whether these features or applications are used or not. If such features or applications exist, use of the distance-measuring application would result in disqualification. The device could still be used for other permitted purposes as described above.

If the device contains applications specifically intended to access the Internet to gather information regarding conditions that might affect a player’s play such as the local wind speed or temperature, these applications must not be used, but the device may still be used for distance measurement or other permissible uses.

If the device contains general purpose applications which access the Internet such as a browser, the applications may be used so long as they are not used to access information regarding conditions that might affect a player’s play. The device may still be used for distance measurement.

If the device has a weather application that is active on the home page of the device and that shows the temperature or other weather information when the device is accessed for any reason, the player is in breach of Rule 14-3 and would be disqualified.

The flowchart provided also covers the use of multi-functional devices and should be of assistance in determining whether a particular device is permissible or not.

Edited by Rock Chalk Jayhawk, 09 November 2012 - 02:36 PM.


#5 Vindog

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Posted 09 November 2012 - 02:37 PM

They have faith that you'll follow the rules, and they have faith that you'll follow this one, too.

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#6 nichho

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Posted 09 November 2012 - 02:38 PM

I walk up to the ball, I pull out my Range Finder and determine the distance. I factor in the wind with which I have been contending all day, I mentally add or subtract 10 yards for slope and 15 seconds after I have stopped walking I have what I believe is the right club in my hands. What happens next has little or nothing to do with what went before if I don't execute the shot, all that happened before was I didn't spend a couple of minutes (36 over 18 holes) looking for yardage markers and pacing out the distance.
The point is I don't understand why anyone would object to the use of DMD, I thoroughly believe that they increase the speed of play, not only because of the  reduction in time taken to determine a given distance but because with the right distance and the correct club there is a better than even chance of getting the ball to the hole and taking less shots = less time.
As for the point of the article, a general weather forecast for the North East of England taken off my phone is not going to determine the allowance I'm making for the wind  while stood on the 8th tee; in fact in this part of the world the weather is so unpredictable that the professional weather people usually predict............. changeable.
If the device in question could actually measure the wind (or slope) and calculate how much extra or little club I needed for a given shot that would indeed be an artificial aid to far. As for as I am aware these don't exist.
I would really love to hear an explanation from the governing bodies as to why they would object to me knowing the current BBC weather forecast.
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#7 SheriffBooth

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Posted 09 November 2012 - 02:43 PM

USGA and R&A need to realize this is the 2012 not 1912.  The way these rulings are going I have to wonder if any of the "powers that be" are under 60 years of age.
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#8 mark m

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Posted 09 November 2012 - 02:52 PM

I think it a change will happen to allow the use of phones with weather apps.

(I voiced similiar concerns in the rules forum earlier this summer: http://www.golfwrx.c...ge#entry5481008)

The future will probably include very detailed green maps on larger devices. Similiar to the paper charts/maps you see the pros carry and use.

I don't see how a weather app could be of much use to lower scores. Knowing your wind speed and direction would provide a very limited benefit. You would need some kind of a wind "tower" right next to you and it would have to be instantly updated. Even then - that's going help you execute a shot in a significant way? I don't see it. Based on just playing in it often, wind speeds seem to be very different even at the various gradations of elevation that a golf ball travels through...I have never used my weather app for wind speed/direction even in practice. Maybe there is a study on this somewhere?

Smart phones are ubiquitous as well - so I agree with you on the cost issue.

The use of a weather app can be a big help for player safety however - I have suffered numerous times through terrible storms because the pro-shop/managers were too slow to sound the siren. For this reason alone, I am for allowing there use.
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#9 steedorf

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Posted 09 November 2012 - 04:46 PM

So on the pga tour are they allowed to use these rangefinders?

#10 Masterplan

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Posted 09 November 2012 - 06:24 PM

View Poststeedorf, on 09 November 2012 - 04:46 PM, said:

So on the pga tour are they allowed to use these rangefinders?

This a good question.  My understanding is that caddies can use whatever means they want to get yardages during the practice rounds/prior to the tournament.  They are given yardage books that have most of what they need right off the bat.  Then, many use laser rangefinders during the practice rounds and add notes to their books.  I'm guessing that some use GPS units and/or smartphones.  In any event, the thing is they can use any of these devices.

Now, this is only when gauging distances BEFORE the tournament starts.  Obviously, once the tournament is underway, the can use no DMD whatsoever and can only rely on their yardage books.

Edited by Masterplan, 09 November 2012 - 06:24 PM.


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#11 ATLRay

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Posted 09 November 2012 - 07:43 PM

I agree that smartphones should be allowed. I used one all day today but only for yardage and shot tracking. I had never thought of using it for wind. These apps could be programmed to turn off other functions while in use. FWIW, Seems like if its that big of a deal the programmers of these apps could write some additional code and make them compliant.

#12 Sean2

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Posted 09 November 2012 - 07:49 PM

I don't own a smart phone, but I think people should be allowed to use them. Just another reason I didn't renew my membership with the USGA.
Hey...be nice.

#13 Masterplan

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Posted 09 November 2012 - 10:34 PM

View Posthighergr0und, on 09 November 2012 - 02:17 PM, said:

Nice article.....  Essentially the smartphone has become the new graphing calculator.  Everyone has to have one, you use it all season, but when the exam comes they break out the solar calculators because there's a chance someone in the room will cheat, and heaven forbid the administrators actually focus on catching the cheaters over punishing everyone....

Now it could be problematic, but I wonder how you're going to use your phone to get exact wind speed at your location?  And can someone explain how knowing that it's 72* at the local airport will help me on the course?  And finally, I'm sorry, but if you need a device to tell you which club to hit given a distance, you shouldn't be playing golf.

The funniest thing is that the USGA allows pros (or I guess anyone with a ridiculous amount of time or a caddy) the ability to make yardage books so detailed that they know every distance on the course, use levels and messing around to get perfect maps of greens, and also provides them with pin sheets that give the EXACT location of every pin on every green.  If anything they should make a rule that all courses should give out the pin locations.  Maybe, just maybe the additional information would speed up the game.

As the author of the article, I have to say that I agree with every point you made.  Nicely said~

#14 wobgon

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Posted 10 November 2012 - 01:12 AM

I should be allowed to have 15 clubs in my bag as long as i promise to only use 14 of them. I would not cheat so why not let me carry as many as i want?

#15 JRS

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Posted 10 November 2012 - 02:44 AM

i don't think you should be any sort of distance measuring device. unless i'm on the wrong fairway i've already worked out the aproximate distance by the time i've reached my ball. i don't think this really affects pace of play.

just not golf to me. but if i start typing about my views on technology and golf i'll be going all night. so i'll leave it there.


#16 JaxBeachNole

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Posted 10 November 2012 - 10:17 AM

I need a ruling on whether I can use my iphone and ShoqBox on the course.

I like that point about pin sheets, higher ground. It speeds up play sooooo much to have that info provided.
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#17 8thehardway

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Posted 10 November 2012 - 10:19 AM

A new simulator is coming to town in 2020 and I'll be playing Augusta National. What a layout! (the simulator, not the course).

The tee box is an actual tee box with real grass; adjacent areas have patches of artificial fairway, rough and sand
Based on your date of play, giant fans duplicate the average wind speed for each hole while a sprinkler system and radiators dial in the rest of the weather.

All conditions affecting yardage are displayed on a virtual yardage marker.

For "walkers" there's a treadmill pre-programmed with appropriate elevation changes and a tilting barcalounger for riders. Timers mimic the average pace of play, so expect to wait between shots. For a totally immersive experience there's 360* imax and you can choose the characters you see on different holes (Hi, Tiger!) They can even be programmed to slice a ball into your group (don't worry, it's just sound effects).

On the green a computer calculates undulations to duplicate actual conditions, while a 3-D animation shows a virtual ball rolling into the hole to give you the break and speed.

I think I can shoot 87 if I override the default settings for wind.

#18 highergr0und

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Posted 10 November 2012 - 10:45 AM

View PostMasterplan, on 09 November 2012 - 06:24 PM, said:

View Poststeedorf, on 09 November 2012 - 04:46 PM, said:

So on the pga tour are they allowed to use these rangefinders?

This a good question.  My understanding is that caddies can use whatever means they want to get yardages during the practice rounds/prior to the tournament.  They are given yardage books that have most of what they need right off the bat.  Then, many use laser rangefinders during the practice rounds and add notes to their books.  I'm guessing that some use GPS units and/or smartphones.  In any event, the thing is they can use any of these devices.

Now, this is only when gauging distances BEFORE the tournament starts.  Obviously, once the tournament is underway, the can use no DMD whatsoever and can only rely on their yardage books.

Yeah, but the caddies use device with slope built in to get exact distance to certain points on the course, which is more accurate than using the legal, non-slope ones during a round.  I've seen caddies map holes at a few tourneys.  They put a bag on the front edge of the green and then spend a bunch of time all over the hole getting and recording distances.  Then they know exact measurements of the green, coupled with the pin location sheet, and they get dead on distance every time WITH slope included too!

#19 hibcam

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Posted 10 November 2012 - 03:57 PM

So I guess what I have to do is spend a few thousand dollars on an advance team to map the golf course a day ahead and then get exact measurements of every part of the course with the highest and most sophisticated equipment, then have that person carry my bag throughout the round and give me exact distances for every shot

or

I could use my smart phone with a $12 app and get a cart so I don't have to walk as much

Come on USGA

#20 Vindog

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Posted 10 November 2012 - 05:04 PM

Does anyone else feel that the current anchored putter situation is playing a part in these decisions?

As if to say "We'd rather not allow them, then allow them now, and let them 'get out of control' later"

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#21 mark m

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Posted 10 November 2012 - 05:34 PM

I think your 2nd sentence is closer to the truth.

There have been so many changes over the past 20 years. The anchoring issue is just the latest example on the table. Golf has been played for centuries and they are just doing the best they can to keep things inline with the rich history and traditions of the game. Technological change is happening at a rapid level and sometimes time is required to make a correct decision. After all, you don't want to be making changes and then quickly reversing them at the next revision.

It's not just the equipment. The field of play - the courses - have changed a lot as well. I think they will do what they need to do so that courses like St Andrews and other top courses around the world continue to be played in the highest level championships. (Too many top courses have already been made obsolete in this regard - which is a lesson learned.)

We need wisdom and patience.
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#22 drn92

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Posted 11 November 2012 - 12:17 PM

I was surprised and disappointed when DMD's were allowed in the first place. 99% of golfers are not precise enough to take advantage of them. At the end of the day, well marked sprinkler heads, yardage markers in the middle of the fairways, and front-middle-back pin markers should be more than enough to get a golfer through the day.

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#23 kevcarter

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Posted 11 November 2012 - 02:04 PM

View Postdrn92, on 11 November 2012 - 12:17 PM, said:

I was surprised and disappointed when DMD's were allowed in the first place. 99% of golfers are not precise enough to take advantage of them. At the end of the day, well marked sprinkler heads, yardage markers in the middle of the fairways, and front-middle-back pin markers should be more than enough to get a golfer through the day.

drn92

Sorry, but I couldn't disagree more. For shots to the green, a well marked course may be enough, but I think it's more important from the tee to understand yardages to hazards, or to the widest part of the fairway on par 4s and 5s. I believe it's an indespensinle tool when playing a course you aren't familiar with.

Point taken if you play one course all the time and you know where everything is...

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#24 KILLEDBYASHANKEDWEDGE

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Posted 11 November 2012 - 02:14 PM

Before a tournament, we try to make as thorough a yardage book as possible, as well as play a round the day before, if possible. The hard work involved is it's own reward, and it is my belief that you should have to work for the edge that information gives you.

#25 kevcarter

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Posted 11 November 2012 - 02:30 PM

View PostKILLEDBYASHANKEDWEDGE, on 11 November 2012 - 02:14 PM, said:

Before a tournament, we try to make as thorough a yardage book as possible, as well as play a round the day before, if possible. The hard work involved is it's own reward, and it is my belief that you should have to work for the edge that information gives you.

Great point. I just re-read the title of the thread. My apologies guys, I no longer play events and was looking at it from the perspective of the average club player who is not allowed to turn in rounds for handicap while using these...

Edited by kevcarter , 11 November 2012 - 02:30 PM.

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#26 PedronNiall

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Posted 11 November 2012 - 07:48 PM

Someone's out on the course, doesn't realize that dangerous weather is moving in, is injured, sues saying he would have been alerted had he been able to use his phone with built-in weather app. Realistically there aren't too many tournaments hosted where weather isn't being watched in the clubhouse and where officials wouldn't be able to get out and make sure everyone knows that play is being suspended, not to mention the horn being sounded, but all it takes is once.

#27 medlink

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Posted 12 November 2012 - 10:32 AM

Nice article...will never understand USGA. But its ok to glue your putter to your chin. Oh wait they are thinking about that maybe 2050.

#28 MileHighClub

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Posted 12 November 2012 - 12:57 PM

View PostTroyefl, on 09 November 2012 - 02:24 PM, said:

great article, I rely on my iphone for GPS distance every round. Never once have I thought about pulling up the weather app to get wind speed. It is'nt that precise anyways.  Good thing a Bushnell Pro 1M is on my Christmas list.

Good point.  The wind speed on my two weather apps (accuweather and yahoo weather) are notoriously inaccurate when it comes to current windspeed and direction.  Can't see where that ads any benefit.  Glad I have a laser and don't have to worry about it.
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#29 bushy007

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Posted 12 November 2012 - 03:35 PM

I may be wrong but aren't smartphones deemed illegal if the have a) a built in compass b) a gyroscope for measuring the slope on the green c) the ability to check wind speed and direction (aka weather)?


3. Multi-functional devices such as mobile phones, PDAs, etc (i.e. devices that are primarily communication devices, but which may have other potential uses) may be used as follows:

  • The device may be used for any non-golfing purpose (e.g. as a communication tool to phone, text or email), subject to any club / course regulations and the Rules on accessing advice-related matters – see Decision 14-3/16.
  • When the Local Rule is in effect, a distance-measuring application may be used, provided the specific application is restricted to “distance only” and the device does not have any other “non-conforming” features. This is the case even if these other features are not being used. As above, the Rules on advice-related communications (including the use of the internet) still apply.
Where this rule falls over in the idiotic department is that traditionally a player could have a generic, old school compass in his/her bag such as the ones you sometimes see on key rings and as long as it wasn't used during the course of play wasn't deemed illegal. So why would it be that a device that may or may not have access to illegal features be blanket banned because of such access? The ruling bodies still allow you to call and text and communicate with the phone, why isnt that deemed illegal now? It is a slippery slope on the road to ruin. I understand that it could be seen as easier to check the weather by just acting like your sending a text but as was brought up previously if a cheat is going to cheat, they will and invariably in a much snider fashion. To be honest, there are plenty of people I know that will still use the device in the manner it was intended no matter the legality because their views are, like the majority of people, it is an outdated and antiquated rule. I use a rangefinder now but continue to use Golfshot for the tracking of my stats, but in all seriousness though, how in the world are my playing partners to know if I'm using the app with the gps enabled or not??? They aren't. Unless they come and pull my phone out of my push cart and check, but then it's passcode protected....WHAT THEN???

Cheating is cheating but as Ive said and others will always say, the real cheats are going to cheat. The rest of us who would like to use a cheap, useful and effective app on our smartphones will simply have to suffer the pain of being lumped in with them.

Edited by bushy007, 12 November 2012 - 03:37 PM.


#30 5 O'Clock Charlie

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Posted 12 November 2012 - 08:50 PM

Nice article. Thanks for the good read. Your defense that by using a smartphone in "tough economic times" vs a pre-approved device doesn't hold water though. They have sprinkler heads with yardages on the ground that don't cost you anything.

Edited by 5 O'Clock Charlie, 12 November 2012 - 08:51 PM.

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