USGA Rule Clarification – GPS Devices Are Allowed On Golf Courses

GPS Allowed by Rules of Golf Since 2006

In 2006, The United States Golf Association (USGA) declared that electronic distance measuring devices, such as GPS and laser rangefinders, are acceptable and fall within the rules of golf.  They released a statement confirming this decision, which can be view here:  USGA Statement on Electronic Devices.

First, they clearly recognized GPS is part of the evolution of golf:

In an historical context, the game has seen progressive developments in the means by which distance information is available to golfers. From the days when selecting a club was a matter of human judgement, the use of yardage books and hole location sheets and reference to on-course markings has increased significantly. Most recently, the use of distance-measuring devices has become more widespread.

And they made it clear that GPS is an acceptable tool in the game of golf:

The USGA and The R&A first allowed the use of distance-measuring devices in January 2006. Prior to this, while the use of yardage books was allowed, the use of distance-measuring devices was prohibited by Rule 14-3. The change introduced in 2006 permitted the committee in charge of a competition or course to introduce a local rule allowing distance-measuring devices. A very important proviso of this permission is that the device must measure distance only; it must not measure other conditions such as wind speed or direction, the slope of the ground or the temperature.

Local Rules Can Override These Rules

Be mindful of your local course’s rules, as they can take precedence over these rules.  Just because the USGA says GPS Devices are allowed, your local club may disallow them for use during a tournament.  So it’s critical that you always know the full ruleset for any event, and prepare & practice accordingly.

The Device Must Measure Distance Only

This rule is essentially saying that if your device has the capability to measure & provide information in addition to distances, it is against the rules.  An iPhone running  a golf GPS app, for example, has the capability to give you weather information, data on the lay of the land (slopes, etc), and other information that falls outside the “distances only” clause.  Therefore, golf gps apps on phones are banned, right?  Well, there’s a special provision for this case:

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.

Worth noting is that a mobile phone can’t measure the slope of the land, the wind speed, or the temperature.  But most of them can access services online which can provide that information.  So it’s a bit of a grey area.

So again, pay attention to those local rules!  As more and more golfers are using golf GPS apps on their mobile phones, more and more courses are allowing them on the course.  Eventually, we believe all courses will allow mobile gps apps, since it’s ultimately what the golfers want.  The big players in the industry that sell the dedicated hardware will drag this process out as long as they can, so as to continue making profits on the sales of their units, but eventually the golfers will win and be able to use golf GPS apps on their smartphone for very low fees, and sometimes even free, such as the Birdie Apps Golf GPS App.


Apple Watch App now available.