In a bit of a surprise announcement on Tuesday, the PGA of America will allow distance-measuring devices at its major championships beginning in May 2021 with the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. These devices will also be permitted at the Women’s PGA Championship and Senior PGA Championship.
“We’re always interested in methods that may help improve the flow of play during our Championships,” said PGA of America president Jim Richerson. “The use of distance-measuring devices is already common within the game and is now a part of the Rules of Golf. Players and caddies have long used them during practice rounds to gather relevant yardages.”
In layman’s terms, this means that players and their caddies will be allowed to use range finders to determine distance to the pin. What will not be allowed is devices that measure elevation change, which is something many modern range finders calculate automatically.
There will be some absolute takes about this news from all corners of the golf world, but ultimately, the PGA of America is trying to speed up play, which is a good thing for all of its championships. It’s rare for a player-caddie combo to get a number wrong when it comes to yardages, so this is just (for the most part) accelerating the inevitable.
Problems players face such as figuring out how to club for elevation changes or wind will still be problems. Those are not going away, and that should still be a skill. However, when everyone is already getting the exact same numbers, you are not disrupting or mitigating skill by handing everyone a range finder, although you could reasonably argue that finding a yardage quickly (and within the time limit) actually is a skill (and I would listen to that argument).
Humorously, the player this might help the most is also the best player in the world. Here’s Alan Shipnuck on Dustin Johnson and his brother (and caddie) Austin from a few years ago.
To put it politely, on Tour the Johnson brothers of Columbia, S.C., are not known for having a cerebral approach. “There are so many funny stories,” says Tour player Billy Horschel. “At Doral last year we get to 16, and for Dustin it’s a drivable par-4. They’re going through the yardage guide, and they can’t figure how far it is to the green.
After a long while Dustin says, ‘Bro, you wanna hit?’ I said sure, because I was laying up. So I hit, and it takes them a few more minutes to pull a club. Finally Dustin rips one onto the green. Walking off the tee, he’s like, ‘Bro, A.J. does not know how to add. He can’t do numbers.'” Of course Dustin couldn’t figure out the yardage, either.
As of now, distance-measuring devices will not be allowed at PGA Tour events, the Masters, the U.S. Open or the Open Championship, although with the PGA of America leading the way, that could certainly change in the months and years to come.