Rangefinders not the answer to slow play

Martin Kaymer, rangefinders

The R&A and USGA have been roundly praised in the last few weeks for allowing distance measuring devices – like GPS watches and laser rangefinders – to be used in some of their events.

This, according to some, will help speed up play.

Really? Prove it.

I play a lot of golf. It’s an occupational hazard, you could say. I’ve played in groups where people having used rangefinders and groups where they’ve not and, honestly, I haven’t noticed any quickening of the pace because someone is using one of these admittedly genius contraptions.

I’ve got one myself and, believe me, it takes me just as long to get round when I’m using it as when I’m not.

Some people seem to confuse the fact that you get exact yardages quicker and easier with rangefinders with playing faster. That’s garbage.

Their logic doesn’t allow for the time spent rifling through your bag to find your device, nor the time spent double, triple, and quadruple checking the number it gives you.

Not kidding, if I had a pound for every time I’ve seen someone use a rangefinder or GPS watch, only to then compare it against their strokesaver or fairway marker, I’d be a rich man.

It’s just nothing – absolutely nothing – to do with GPS devices or rangefinders. To suggest it is, is to dodge the real issues.

The most unfortunate thing about all of this is that people mistakenly believing that rangefinders speed up a round is detracting from the real facts of the matter – that the crux of the slow play debate is all about etiquette. Nothing more, nothing less.

Slow play is caused by people either playing slow deliberately or playing slow unintentionally. Both can be remedied with a quiet word in their ear. If that fails, then you discipline them. Simple.

The same applies to slow players on tour. They need to be told they’re taking too long to get round and, if they continue, be hit with shot penalties. See how long it takes them to play when they have the threat of two shots being added to their score in the scorer’s hut after their round – and the loss of earnings that goes with that. Define the rules and apply them where needed.

It’s not rocket science. It’s just nothing – absolutely nothing – to do with GPS devices or rangefinders. To suggest it is, is to dodge the real issues.

By all means, laud these devices for what they are: cool gadgets which give you accurate distance readings. But, please, let’s not pretend they’re something they’re not.

Do rangefinders speed up play? 

Is Michael McEwan right – do GPS devices and laser rangefinders make no difference to the pace of play? Share your thoughts and experiences in our ‘Comments’ section below.

Michael McEwan

Michael McEwan

Assistant Editor at bunkered golf magazine
Michael McEwan is the assistant editor of bunkered and its sister publications Scottish Club Golfer and English Club Golfer. He is also a frequent contributor to www.bunkered.co.uk.
Michael McEwan

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  1. Philip Russell

    February 10, 2014 at 10:20 am

    Haha!!Craig Bird Adam Logan Richard Cunningham

  2. Adam Logan

    February 10, 2014 at 10:38 am

    Surely more to do with taking 8 practice swings???

  3. GMGolfAcademy

    February 10, 2014 at 10:43 am

    Have to say I disagree with that! No pacing out how far away the nearest bunker or tree is with a bushnell!

  4. Craig Bird

    February 10, 2014 at 11:53 am

    I had to wait for an old boy to play yesterday…GPS oot…gets his yardage fairly quickly then went with the 4 practice swings…got himself in the saddle…eyed up the flag… eyed it up again…waggle…sets himself…then knifed it 50yds through the back into a bush

  5. David Goldie

    February 10, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    Totally agree Michael. The issue is more to do with weekend golfers taking an age to play a shot. Guys of my ability can’t honestly say that they know on any given day (temperature, wind, humidity etc) if they should hit 5 or 6 iron. GPS watches are a little different as they can be used as you approach the shot and don’t waste quite as much time. My usual partners are pretty quick, however when playing with others a medal can take 4.5hrs. That is an age, and is likely to make some people stay away from competitive golf. One issue is the lack of discipline on the tours. People watch the see the TV coverage and think it’s fine to wait 5 minutes on every shot. Pros taking minutes to discuss mid iron approach shots with caddies translates into amateurs taking extra time to play every shot. Don’t even get me started on putting. Looking from both sides at a two footer, taking 30 seconds or more extra every putt. 2 stroke penalty is very very rarely applied. Penalise the pros and it will filter down to club level.

  6. Doug Patterson

    February 11, 2014 at 7:53 am

    Slow play can be annoying but who defines slow play? Who decides that it skittle take x hours to get around a particular course? There is no such thing as the average golfer, we all have differing levels of fitness which means that we all walk at different speeds. 4 ball games are generally going to take longer than 2 ball games. I agree that slow pro play will have a subconscious effect on us mere mortals but perhaps the root cause of how long a round is expected to take. Is it that much slower than 20/30 years ago. I have a pet theory that clubs setting matches off at 8 minute intervals is a contributory factor and that 10 minutes in on most tracks more realistic. That should ensure no bottlenecks. I know the etiquette says “just behind” but realistically 4 average club golfers (middle-aged and middle to high handicaps) are generally not going to keep up with younger golfers with lower handicaps.

    • Avatar of Daveboy67


      March 1, 2014 at 1:10 am

      “but realistically 4 average club golfers (middle-aged and middle to high handicaps) are generally not going to keep up with younger golfers with lower handicaps”

      In my experience, its the middle aged mid to high handicappers that are standing waiting impatiently behind the younger players with lower handicaps, because they have never been taught the etiquette of the game properly.
      And that has been going on for years, so the problem gets worse.
      Get your yardages quick, be prepared to hit your shot when it is your turn, walk at a decent pace, leave your bag in the proper location to exit the green to get to the next tee, if you hit a bad shot into trouble, play a provisional ball, mark your cards when you have a moment to spare, don’t take an age playing your shot, and if you can’t do that? Let the group waiting behind through, as they obviously can! :)

  7. Chris meek

    February 20, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    I changed from the handheld to the watch last year and I now have a quick look and go. Less information on the watch so I would say that’s a good point. It won’t speed up the wagglers but I think it should keep you out the rough more often since you have the yardage. This must therefore speed up play.

  8. MrSIQ

    February 20, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    tour pros play slow because money is to important. Wack with 1 stroke penalty, no warnings and no maximum # of strokes.

  9. Peter Morrison

    February 20, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    Whilst DMD’s cannot cure the biggest contributors to slow play such as not being ready to play when your partner has played, countless unnecessary practice shots and greenreading from every conceivable angle and distance, Michael is missing a couple of important points. More accurate yardages mean less clubbing which means fewer shots which means less time. PROPER use of a rangefinder or GPS (not using it AND checking yardages manually) will certainly reduce round times. I own both a GPS watch and a rangefinder. The watch in particular means I get round quicker when I play on my own. In a foursomes, the gain is largely negated by my partners lack of such devices.

    • daniel

      March 1, 2014 at 10:34 am


  10. Neal Stewart

    February 20, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    In isolation in a Club Medal you may not notice much difference when some people use these and some don’t but as there is no need to pace off yardage from a fixed point in the fairway or select the appropriate mark in a strokesaver and then pace off to that mark there should be a reduction in time faffing about.

    My Club runs a 72 hole SGU Order of Merit event. Once the SGU decided to allow the use of these devices the time taken for the various 3 balls, where almost all the field uses these devices, reduced by 45 minutes.

    The increasingly slow play in Medals does not however have GPS devices as the main cause. We all know members who do not play provisional balls when there is a possibility that there ball is in trouble/may not be found, we all know members who do not wave the group behind through when they are searching for a “lost” ball, we know people who mark their scorecards on the green while players are waiting to play to that green, we know people who leave their trolleys on say the right hand side of a green when the next tee is off to the left, we all know people who are not ready to play when the group ahead has moved out of range, we all know people who go as a group to the first ball then to the second ball etc etc.

    A lot of the slow play issues come to nothing more than showing good etiquette and courtesy to all the other players in the field. As golfers we all need to do these things and if we did the time taken to play a round would reduce.

  11. Avatar of Daveboy67


    March 1, 2014 at 1:18 am

    “Not kidding, if I had a pound for every time I’ve seen someone use a rangefinder or GPS watch, only to then compare it against their strokesaver or fairway marker, I’d be a rich man”

    I use a rangefinder (kindly won through bunkered! :) ) and I sometimes revert to the strokesaver when I can’t focus on the flag to get the distance, either through poor visibility, the flag hanging as there is no wind, or if I’m still a little shaky from the night before ……
    I also use the strokesaver before I hit as I like to see what is up there ahead of me and determine the strategy for the hole. I find it much quicker and more accurate than finding a marker and working out how far I have to go. Last thing I want is to hit a good shot only to find I’ve got the distance wrong. I’ve caddied professionally and worked as a surveyor and also measured golf courses for alterations for standard scratch, and for hole alterations, and for drawing up caddy notes,, so I know how to use the things properly and in a timely fashion, and I know how to do it in a way as to not slow the pace of play. How do I know?
    I was taught etiquette!
    Learn that – learn the “secret” of an enjoyable round of golf for all (apart from the quality of the golf!) :)

  12. daniel

    March 1, 2014 at 10:32 am

    Of course rangefinder helps relatively good players….stupid to thing it does not help. I have one ans my golfing buddy’s have one…. We are about 15 min. faster and that’s a fact.

  13. Jay Gentry

    July 20, 2015 at 10:11 am

    I totally agree that rangefinder is very useful for player, but it is not fot unprofessional player

  14. Rachael Hicks

    July 30, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    I agree with you that thank to rangefinder we can play golf quick and exactly

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