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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:
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:
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.