A warning: this is probably my most controversial item since I started blogging on the Rules of Golf nearly two years ago.
Most golfers who play in organised competitions, whether they are run by their national associations or by their Club or Society, will be aware that the use of distance measuring devices are not permitted on the course, unless the Committee has introduced a Local Rule specifically allowing them. A note to Rule 14-3 states;
“Note: The Committee may make a Local Rule allowing players to use devices that measure or gauge distance only.”You will see that I have highlighted the word “only”. A very important clarification to this change to the Rules by the R&A and USGA, that became effective in January 2006, is that the device must measure distance only; it must not be capable of measuring other conditions such as wind speed or direction, the slope of the ground or the temperature.
Now, it seems that there could be a problem with players taking an iPhone 3GS onto the course(*), apart from the obvious nuisance that can be caused by players making an receiving telephone calls, which I am sure most of us consider to be extremely bad manners and highly disrespectful to others on the course. My understanding is that all iPhone 3GSs, and presumably iPhone 4s, have a hardware feature that provides a compass reading to complement GPS data (a magnetometer) and that this cannot be deleted. Decision 14-3/4 states;
Q. A player uses a compass during a round to assist him in determining wind direction or the direction of the
grain in the greens or for some other similar reason. Is the player in breach of Rule 14-3?
A. Yes. A compass is considered to be an artificial device and must not be used for these purposes.(Edit 20th December 2013: Decision 14-3/4 is being reversed from 1st January 2014. The answer now reads. "No, a compass only provides directional information and does not gauge or measure variable conditions or assist the player in his play. (Revised))
Like many others I have spoken to, I am not sure how the use of a compass can be of much assistance to a player on the golf course, as it is obviously a matter of public information where North is and by studying a map of the course you can therefore tell in which direction you are playing, where the wind is coming from etc. However, it is clear that any device that may be used as a compass is not permitted on the course.
In a joint statement from the R&A and USGA, issued in November 2009, they list features that would render a device nonconforming and then, surprisingly affirm;
“There would be a breach of the Rules even if all of the above features can be switched off or disengaged, and in fact are switched off or disengaged.”It would be easy to deduce from the above that if any golfer takes an iPhone 3GS onto the course, whether or not it is switched on, and whether or not there is a Local Rule permitting the use of distance measuring devices, they should be disqualified from any competition under the Rules of Golf. That should cause a few disputes in monthly medal competitions around the world! However, Decision 14-3/16 seems to contradict this joint statement where it states;
The use of an electronic device such as a mobile phone, hand-held computer, calculator, television or radio is not of itself a breach of Rule 14-3.Paradoxically, the R&A have recently published, and are now promoting, their official ‘Rules App’ for the iPhone, iPad and iTouch. It allows users to quickly find information about all aspects of the laws of the game from etiquette, through a summary of the fundamental Rules, to the complete Rules of Golf (2008 – 2011).
“The Rules App is a fantastic reference tool that allows you to find any Rules information you might require, on the move,” said David Rickman, The R&A’s Director of Rules and Equipment Standards.Maybe you will find it as ironic as I do that, strictly speaking, if you take this officially approved R&A app onto the golf course on an iPhone 3GS, which has an inbuilt compass, you should be disqualified from any competition. Do I approve of this situation? Definitely not!
* Edit: Following correspondence with other Rules experts I now believe that the situation regarding the use of iPhones during competitions is at follows;
1. If there is a Local Rule permitting the use of distance measuring devices a player may not use an iPhone 3GS for measuring distances because it has a compass feature that cannot be removed. However, it may be used for any non-golfing purpose.
2. If there is not a Local Rule permitting distance measuring devices then a player may take an iPhone 3GS onto the course, providing they do not access any feature that might assist them in their play.
*Edit 2: In March 2012, the R&A further clarified the Rules regarding Distance Measuring Devices at this link.Good golfing,
Naturally, I have to take this opportunity to plug the iPhone app that I have been involved with. ‘Golf Rules Quiz’ has been developed by remote eLearning company, Ossidian Technologies, with multiple choice questions, answers, references and explanations provided by me.
Each quiz consists of 20 randomised situations experienced on the golf course, selected dynamically from a repository of several hundred. The questions are in a multiple choice format offering four alternate answers. Your challenge is to pick the correct one. An explanation of the correct ruling is delivered after each question has been answered, ensuring that the user will absorb and obtain a better understanding of the Rules of Golf while entertaining themselves testing their knowledge. As players advance within each quiz they can keep track of their scores. They can then see how they perform over a period of time, as they repeatedly assess their improving knowledge over a number of different quizzes and compare their results with their friends.
'Golf Rules Quiz' will definitely help you to understand and absorb the Rules of Golf in a most enjoyable and entertaining way, and at just €3.99 ($4.99) is a must for anyone who enjoys golf and who has access to an iPhone, or similar. It can be purchased direct from the iTunes store (search for ‘Golf Rules Quiz’) or at http://www.apptism.com/apps/golf-rules-quiz.