Monday, April 19, 2010

Rule on Artificial Devices

Since my last blog post on the use of the "artificial device" AimPoint Charts during competition, promoters of the charts have supplied me with a copy of a letter from USGA Equipment / Science Director Dick Rugge stating that the charts "conform to the Rules of Golf." Here in this link is a pdf copy of the letter. The letter does not otherwise analyze which Rule governs or why the Rules lead to the conclusion of conformity, but is issued pursuant to the manufacturer's procedure for submission of "artificial devices" and "equipment" per Rule 14-3. Basically, the letter is a standard form letter.

Is that the final word? I wouldn't think so or hope so, because the letter is a "form letter" approving use of an "artificial device" that offers to read putts in competition and under the existing Rules is clearly not correct unless the USGA has gone completely off the rails and opened the door to playing golf in a very lifeless, spiritless way, and has backed up on its brand new agreement with the Royal and Ancient not to allow use of "artificial devices" for such purposes in the game of golf. What really appears to underlie the issuance of this letter is a bit of inattention to the threat to the game from emerging technology, a bit of fat-finger typing in application of the Rules, a bit of USGA Administrative confusion, and a somewhat indigestible bigger bit of the PGA Tour's tolerance for edge-getting practices as the tail wagging the dog of golf in the USGA's Rules.

Misapplication of the Rules as Written

First, the approval of an artificial device for putt reading during competition (and for handicapping purposes) is clearly wrong under the Rules. Rule 14-3 bans use of any "artificial device" unless previously approved by the USGA as something whose use has been "traditionally accepted" in golf. A "yardage book" is an "artificial device" as stated in Decision 14-3/5 ("such a booklet is an artificial device."). The language was put in after the USGA yielded to the Tour's practice of using "yardage books" when playing for lots of cash. Amateurs wanted to follow the pros, courses started marking sprinkler heads and offering their own yardage books, and the USGA relented. The practice wasn't really "traditionally accepted", but was "expediently tolerated for the sake of the pros" and then crept in the back door of the Rules. Even so, the Rules carefully limit the informational assistance in the "artificial device" of yardage books and similar aids to readily available, shot-making neutral information about distance relations on the course.

An "artificial device" that suggests how to play a putt by processing information about slope direction and steepness, green speed, ball distance and position, and ball speed control with elaborate and abstruse physics calculations is barred by the plain meaning of language throughout the Rules. The offered information goes far beyond the distance measurements allowed in a yardage book to suggest the number of inches above the hole to aim the putter for the break, using calculations no human can perform on the course. While it's true that the suggested read is based upon assumptions and that general physics formulae don't exactly get all the details of reality accounted for and that other products may well offer better suggestions, the problem is in allowing ANYONE other than the player (his caddie or partner included) to make ANY suggestion about how a shot or stroke should be played during a round that counts for competition or handicapping. Golf is "you're away", not "y'all are away."

Such language bars handheld GPS devices that feature more than distance, and a device that is capable of measuring like a range finder or computing matters related to how to play a shot are strictly banned, whether a golfer uses them or not. Similarly, although the Rules have "sort of" tolerated laser range finders to the extent of permitting their use IF a local committee so decides, the Rules nonetheless explicitly disallow any local committee from approving use of any laser range finder that does more than offer distance. This means that Bushnell laser range finders currently on the market offering gradient / elevation change from ball to flagstick and a computation that the distance is X yards but "plays as X plus" yards cannot be approved by any local committee, is per se illegal even if distance-only range finders are allowed, and the player using one is disqualified whether he personally takes advantage of the slope feature or not. The Rules Decision reads: 
"14-3/0.5 Local Rule Permitting Use of Distance-Measuring Device 
Q. May a Committee, by Local Rule, permit the use of distance-measuring devices? 
A. Yes. A Committee may establish a Local Rule allowing players to use devices that measure or gauge distance only (see the Note to Rule 14-3). However, the use of a distance-measuring device that is designed to gauge or measure other conditions that might affect a player's play (e.g., gradient, wind speed, temperature, etc.) is not permitted regardless of whether such an additional function is used."
Period, end of ballgame, DQ.

I have quoted the numerous other express provisions of the Rules on my Flatstick Forum in this post barring more than shot-neutral distance information and precluding use of shot-playing assistance in the form of information about gradient, slope, elevation changes, break, grain, green speed, indications of the "line of play" or the "line of putt", target identification, club or putter aiming, and assistance to the player in handling the "elements" like wind and rain and blinding sunlight with towels and umbrellas and the like.

Contravention of Recent USGA Agreement with R&A on Artificial Devices

The USGA and the R&A have been quite energized of late to develop a unified approach to responding to emerging technologies affecting the playing of the game. The twin organizations want to be seeing eye-to-eye on these issues and to that effect issued an "R&A / USGA Joint Statement on Electronic Devices, Including Distance-Measuring Devices". A key passage is:
"The R&A and USGA  first allowed the use of distance-measuring devices [i.e., laser range finders] 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."
The stated REASON for the Rule is: 
"As with the equipment Rules, the purpose of these Rules is to protect golf's best traditions, to prevent an over-reliance upon technological advances rather than skill, and to ensure that skill is the dominant element of success throughout the game."
The Joint Statement then offers "A Clarification of the Rules":
 "The emergence of multi-functional devices that can provide additional information to golfers (that could, for example, further help the golfer to determine how to make his next stroke or could otherwise affect his playing of the game) is a relatively new development. For the avoidance of doubt, the governing bodies do not believe that it is necessary or appropriate for the Rules of Golf to allow such devices. The following points clarify how the Rules will be applied:
1. Distance-measuring devices (i.e. devices whose primary function is to measure distance) may continue to be used only if a Local Rule is in effect;
2. When the Local Rule is in effect, distance-measuring devices must be limited to measuring distance only. The use of a distance-measuring device would constitute a breach of the Rules if:
  • The device has the capability of gauging or measuring other conditions that might affect play (e.g. wind speed, gradient, temperature, etc.), or;
  • The device has some other non-conforming feature, including, but not limited to, recommendations that might assist the player in making a stroke or in his play, such as club selection, type of shot to be played (e.g. punch shot, pitch and run, etc.), or green reading (i.e. a recommended line of putt), or other advice-related matters. ...
  • The device has the capability to assist in calculating the effective distance between two points (i.e. distance after considering gradient, wind speed and/or direction, temperature or other environmental factors).
While the Joint Statement explicitly deals with "electronic" artificial devices, the reasoning applies with equal force to ALL "artificial devices", including booklets on paper offering recommendations about the line of a putt. Rule 14-3's procedure for submission of manufacturing sample for consideration by the USGA includes submission of "artificial devices" and "equipment" or "item" "that might assist him making a stroke or in his play" -- not only "electronic" devices. Any device / booklet / electronic gadget recommending how to play a stroke or the line of a putt is prohibited -- and rightly so.

PGA Tour "Tail" Wagging the USGA "Dog"

As in the past, the advantage-seeking practices tolerated by the PGA Tour all too readily exceed the traditions and spirit of the game in the pursuit of competitive victory and monetary rewards. The dollars are just HUGE every week, and so is the understandable willingness (even eagerness or desperation) of pros to take advantage of ANYTHING not expressly banned or ruled against by the USGA. Indeed, the pros aren't really required to adhere to USGA Rules if they don't choose to do so (and players in fact run the Tour), but they are sort of stuck since they are playing "golf", aren't they?

The advent of "yardage books" in the 1960s is a case in point. Just like the use of laser range finders prior to 2006, which then violated Rule 14-3, the use of yardage books on Tour was not really permissible until the USGA dealt with the issue and yielded to the flood-tide of amateurs mimicking the pros and golf course operators dotting the holes with marked sprinkler heads and selling their own course yardage books to satisfy market demands. So now we have the Decision 14-3/5 allowing "yardage books" but only limited to "distance" information and not "other conditions affecting play."

What does this say about the Tour practice of allowing use of "caddie books" crammed with information far beyond distance, specifically intended to assist the player in making shots and strokes on the greens? Today, "caddie books" come in essentially two forms: a "caddie book" published for specific courses prepared by a select few caddies and sold to other caddies and players at the event, and "caddie books" homemade personally by the individual caddie. The two issues are 1) "Is a commercially sold "caddie book" (the first sort above) an "artificial device" for purposes of Rule 14-3?", and 2) "If so, does the inclusion of information on course conditions beyond distance render such a "caddie book" illegal as recommending how to play a stroke or otherwise affecting play?" This is a problem for the USGA of the dog getting wagged by the tail.

Caddie books are a lucrative business on Tour and the two dominant makers and sellers of caddie books are George Lucas and Mark Long. Mark Long utilizes very expensive laserometry surveying equipment and hired helpers to measure and record not only a vast number of locations and distances of course features but also topographical slope and gradient and elevation differences of the 3-D contour of the course and especially the shape of the green surface. He states proudly that between caddying for pros and selling his caddie books to about 60% of the Tour for numerous event courses, he "makes more than a Boeing 747 pilot." Here is an image of a green in one of these caddie books sold on Tour:

This green graphic includes a grid, equal elevation contour lines, fall line slope directions, and fall line slope steepness information as gradient percentage (e.g., 3.3% slope at the arrow). Emerging technologies allow even more detail and graphic precision and computing power. 

For purposes of defining the game and its traditions, who cares what the Tour allows -- should the amateur golfer be allowed to use such information during play? No, not under the existing USGA Rules. So why is it legal on Tour? There is no answer to that, but if the issue were forced and the USGA had to decide whether to separate itself from Tour practices in order to preserve and protect the role of "SKILL" in golf against such assistance in an "artificial device" as allowed on Tour, one would not be too eager to bet the farm that the USGA "dog" would wag the Tour "tail" in ways that make it look like the Tour players are playing golf on "training wheels" or are effectively cheating in comparison to how amateurs are required to play, or even to make it "harder" for amateurs to play the game than it is for pros. Oh, brother, what a predicament!

It's understood that the Tour is trying to balance the traditions of the game against the commercial interests of pros, course owners and operators, and equipment and device manufacturers. And it's also understood that the health of the game depends somewhat on the ability of amateurs to acquire and perform with SKILL and to admire and hope to attain or surpass the level of SKILL apparently displayed by pros on television playing for $1 million first-prize pots of gold every week. But if the "skill" baby is thrown out with the "this game is too hard without help while I play" bath water, what's the point? Get all the help you want and can afford when practicing, but play the game by yourself.

As the bartender said in The Shining, "What can I get for you this evening, sir?" and "Your money's no good here, sir." 

Lloyd the bartender enables Jack to jump off the wagon, get thoroughly sloshed, and drown out his lingering misgivings about ax-murdering his wife and child.

Probably what is needed is three sets of USGA Rules: one for pros, one for amateurs wanting to emulate the pros, and one for people just wanting to play traditional golf. Sad, but true. The current challenges posed to the integrity of the game by GPS mapping and surface imaging and handheld smart phones and iPhone Apps and cell-phone video tips and computer-calculated physics for reading putts and laser range finders suggesting clubs for uphill par threes and on-course internet information on where the cut line in a tournament stands and how a hole has been playing -- it's all too much for the USGA.

Let me make a suggestion: get ahead of this now, or lose control entirely. Here's my "guiding principle" -- nothing used by the golfer that he or his caddie didn't personally generate with personal senses and knowledge, and no buying of information or services or electronic or other devices that offer any assistance from a third party about how to play the game and then bringing that onto the course during competition. Anyone can use anything to acquire knowledge and skill, of the game and of a course and how to play it, but no golfer should be allowed to consult any "outside agency" during competition for advice or suggestion or recommendation about how to play a stroke or other assistance in his play. Period. Please.

"You're away."

Geoff Mangum
Putting Coach and Theorist

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

AimPoint Charts Use Illegal?

Use of AimPoint Charts in USGA Round Illegal?

Folks promoting AimPoint charts appear to claim and tell users that "The charts conform to USGA Rules." I would think this advice can get a player penalized (2 strokes) for accepting advice, disqualified for using an illegal device, or render a round illegal for handicapping, for these reasons:


The AimPoint charts provide an end point to aim the putter and start the ball on line for a given green surface slope, speed, and distance. Here is a description of the Charts by one of the AimPoint teachers:

"This is a sample of one of the charts similar to what someone would receive at an AimPoint Green Reading Clinic. The AimChart’s should only be used for planar pin positions or pin positions that act like planar positions because of where you are. Here’s how they work. Each card will have a stimp number, %slope number, numbers of the clock and the aimpoints relative to the edge of the cup(the rings represent 5, 10, 15 and 20 feet). This particular card has a stimp number of 8 , %slope numbers 1.5% and 2.0%, the clock numbers and the aimpoints for 20 feet and in. Basically, here’s how they work. Assuming a green stimp of 8 on a 2.0% slope grade, aim 12 inches above the hole for a putt from 3 o’clock. The speed assumption here is based on a pace that would go past the hole from 8 to 12 inches."
The golfer needs skill or an artificial device to determine (assess / estimate) green slope, fall-line orientation, and green speed. AimPoint teachers recommend a lot of artificial devices, like the Exelys Green Reader for slope. (If you want to learn skills for seeing the fall line correctly, for assessing slope accurately, and for sensing green speed, visit this discussion of scores of techniques.) Then the Chart is consulted to read off the target location so many inches above the hole to aim the putter face at for the putt's start line:

"Reading the card for expected break is very simple. The AimCharts are split in half to reduce the need for carrying so many charts so as you look at the card above you will see 1.5% for the left half and 2% for the right half. 12 o’clock represents straight downhill and 6 o’clock is straight uphill. The 1.5% numbers for 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11 o’clock will match the corresponding positions on the clock for 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 o’clock. So 7 and 5 are the same, 8 and 4 are the same and so on. This way, if you are at 2 o’clock on a 1.5% slope you would use the same aimpoint as the 10 o’clock number that is on the chart. The newer cards will actually say 1 and 11, 2and 10 and so on at both positions to avoid any confusion."
These teachers advise golfers that use of the Charts is "USGA/PGA Tour legal", and many golfers consequently believe they can use the Charts during an official round under the Rules of Golf. Perhaps one should read the Rules first.


[Rules quotations are indicated in ITALICS.]

Rule 8-1 prohibits advice or indications of the line of play:

8-1. Advice
During a stipulated round, a player must not:

(a) give advice to anyone in the competition playing on the course other than his partner, or

(b) ask for advice from anyone other than his partner or either of their caddies.

8-2. Indicating Line of Play
a. Other Than on Putting Green

Except on the putting green, a player may have the line of play indicated to him by anyone, but no one may be positioned by the player on or close to the line or an extension of the line beyond the hole while the stroke is being made. Any mark placed by the player or with his knowledge to indicate the line must be removed before the stroke is made.

"Advice" is any counsel or suggestion that could influence a player in determining his play, the choice of a club or the method of making a stroke.

The "line of play" is the direction that the player wishes his ball to take after a stroke, plus a reasonable distance on either side of the intended direction. The line of play extends vertically upwards from the ground, but does not extend beyond the hole.

The "line of putt" is the line that the player wishes his ball to take after a stroke on the putting green. Except with respect to Rule 16-1e, the line of putt includes a reasonable distance on either side of the intended line. The line of putt does not extend beyond the hole.

Clearly, the AimPoint charts indicate the line of putt in an illegal manner prohibited by Rule 8-2a. The various devices for indicating "slope" alone are illegal as well, such as use of the Exelys GreenReader in a stipulated round.

Rule 14-3 by default prohibits use of artificial devices:

Except as provided in the Rules, during a stipulated round the player must not use any artificial device or unusual equipment, or use any equipment in an unusual manner:

a. That might assist him in making a stroke or in his play; or
b. For the purpose of gauging or measuring distance or conditions that might affect his play; or
c. That might assist him in gripping the club, except that:

(i) plain gloves may be worn;
(ii) resin, powder and drying or moisturizing agents may be used; and
(iii) a towel or handkerchief may be wrapped around the grip.

The penalty is disqualification.

The use of laser range finders is illegal unless specifically permitted by local rule, but even then the range finder cannot indicate anything other than distance, as such a device is per se barred even if the feature is not used by the player:

14-3/0.5 Local Rule Permitting Use of Distance-Measuring Device
Q. May a Committee, by Local Rule, permit the use of distance-measuring devices?

A. Yes. A Committee may establish a Local Rule allowing players to use devices that measure or gauge distance only (see the Note to Rule 14-3). However, the use of a distance-measuring device that is designed to gauge or measure other conditions that might affect a player's play (e.g., gradient, wind speed, temperature, etc.) is not permitted regardless of whether such an additional function is used.

In the absence of such a Local Rule, the use of a distance-measuring device would be contrary to Rule 14-3. (Revised)

It seems that under this rule range finders that have a feature to indicate elevation and effective yardage would be barred entirely.

Yardage books are strictly limited to giving distance between points on the course, and although electronic devices giving yardage are deemed acceptable, these devices cannot go beyond giving distance:

14-3/5 Booklet Providing Distances Between Various Points
Q. A booklet contains illustrations of the holes on a course, including isolated trees, bunkers, etc. Superimposed on each illustration is a yardage scale in increments of ten yards. Thus, a player using such a booklet can estimate how far his ball lies from a putting green or a tee. Is use of such a booklet during a round contrary to Rule 14-3?

A. No. Although such a booklet is an artificial device, its use has been traditionally accepted and Exception 2 to Rule 14-3 applies. (Revised)

14-3/5.5 Electronic Device Providing Distances Between Various Points
Q. With regard to Decision 14-3/5, may a player use an electronic device containing the same information?

A. Yes. Exception 2 to Rule 14-3 applies, but the player must not use a device with a measuring or distance calculating function. However, see also the Note to Rule 14-3. (Revised)

A pencil may be used to gauge distance as in trigonometry (holding the pencil at arm's length), BUT The pencil cannot have any marks to help gauge the distance. Such marks cross the line under the Rules.

14-3/2 Pencil or Score Card Used to Assist in Gauging Distance
Q. It is possible to gauge distance to a putting green by holding a score card or pencil at arm's length and comparing it with the height of the flagstick. Is such a practice permissible?

A. Yes. Provided the score card or pencil has not been specially marked, its use in this manner is traditionally accepted and Exception 2 to Rule 14-3 applies.

Use of anything specially marked to gauge distance is a breach of Rule 14-3. However, see also the Note to Rule 14-3. (Revised)

Plumb bobbing as an indicator of "slope" (not "line of putt") is allowed only with the putter, and not with any other device:

14-3/11 Plumb-Line
Q. Is a plumb-line, i.e., a weight suspended on a string, an artificial device within the meaning of the term in Rule 14-3?

A. Yes. If a player uses such a device to assist him in his play, he is in breach of Rule 14-3. (Revised)

14-3/12 Club Used as Plumb-Line
Q. May a player use his putter as a plumb-line to assist him in determining the slope on a putting green?

A. Yes. Use of a club in this manner is traditionally accepted and Exception 2 to Rule 14-3 applies. (Revised)

The player also cannot test the grain or the green surface except as limited:

Rule 16-1d. Testing Surface

During the stipulated round, a player must not test the surface of any putting green by rolling a ball or roughening or scraping the surface.

Exception: Between the play of two holes, a player may test the surface of any practice putting green and the putting green of the hole last played, unless the Committee has prohibited such action (see Note 2 to Rule 7-2).

Information about the conditions of play is pretty restricted. Pin sheets indicating the "location" [only] of the hole on the green is expressly allowed, and by implication OTHER indicators about the shape and contour and grain and slope and break and fall line of the greens is NOT allowed since not expressly permitted.

33/6 Map of Putting Green Indicating Hole Position Displayed at Tee
Q. At the teeing ground of each hole, a Committee has displayed a map of the putting green. The position of the hole on the green is indicated on each map. Is this proper?

A. Yes. Displaying such maps is not contrary to the Rules.


So, although the Rules have compromised to allow yardage books, the Rules explicitly bar giving or asking for advice about the line of the putt or conditions beyond distance such as grain, slope, break (with possible exceptions for spoken advice from caddies, partners, team captains). The Rules bar use of devices that give more than distance. Laser range finders are barred unless specifically allowed by local rule, and then cannot include features or conditions of play for more than distance. Even pencil and shafts cannot be specifically marked to aid determining how to play a stroke. While the line on a ball may be aimed along a start line, the start line is chosen by the player without influence by outside advice or artificial device. A booklet is specifically considered an "artificial device".

If the USGA has deemed the AimPoint Charts an exception to the Rules as a traditionally accepted artificial device on par with yardage books, I haven't seen it yet.

In general, only the unadorned golfer and his clubs and ball may be used to influence how a stroke should be played. No outside advice about the line of the putt or how to play the stroke, no artificial devices or specially marked equipment.

I would caution players and coaches to be wary of advice to use the AimPoint charts during a stipulated round. Big boo-boo, I think.


Geoff Mangum
Putting Coach and Theorist

Follow up: See this Blog Post for the Sad Update of this Continuing Saga!!!