Originally created 07/08/06

Open range: New rule aids amateurs



It will happen on about every hole in the Regions Cup's Goshen Golf Classic this weekend: A player will step out of his golf cart and appear to take a picture of the green.

That's not a camera he's holding, though. It's a range finder, a device that measures yardage.

Once the golfer zeros in on the flag and clicks a button, the exact yardage appears at the bottom of the range finder's screen.

No more trying to find a yardage marker and stepping off the yardage to the ball for the owners of these aids.

Regions Cup golfers have wasted little time in taking advantage of a U.S. Golf Association ruling that allowed range finders for most amateur tournament play. It went into effect Jan. 1, 2006.

"Every group I've played in this year, somebody's had one," said Jim Brisson, a senior golfer on the Regions Cup.

The new rule falls under Decision 14-3 in the USGA's Rules of Golf, which deals with artificial devices and unusual equipment. Under Rule 14-3/0.5, a tournament committee or golf course can establish a local rule permitting players to use range finders and SkyCaddies, which use Global Positioning Satellite technology.

The Georgia State Golf Association, South Carolina Golf Association and the Regions Cup are among the groups that have adopted the local rule for its events.

Range finders are not allowed during tournament play on the PGA Tour or in any of the USGA events.

Only range finders that measure distance are legal under the local rule. Golfers caught with range finders that measure elevation changes, gradient, wind velocity or wind direction in tournaments are disqualified.

It is legal to use another players' range finder during a round, or ask for a yardage.

In the past, range finders were allowed only in practice rounds for amateur events, not tournament rounds. The USGA waived the rule in hopes that range finders would speed up play.

"It's still a toss-up on whether it's going to save time," said North Augusta's Rusty Flanders, who uses a range finder in Regions Cup events.

The first time Brisson used a range finder in competition, he won the Persimmon Hill Classic in June. It was the 53-year-old Brisson's first career Regions Cup victory.

In the previous Regions Cup tournament, at North Augusta Country Club, Brisson watched Mike Jackson "knock down the pins," while using a range finder.

"I said, 'I've got to have one of those,'" said Brisson, who lost by a shot to Jackson in that tournament.

"I think it's an advantage. If you know your yardage, you're not guessing. A lot of times you look at it and say, 'Well, it doesn't look that far,' or 'Well, I guess this yardage marker is correct.' You're depending on that."

Brisson, the top senior through four tournaments this season, said range finders are vital at an unfamiliar course where "you might not trust those yardage markers as much."

Eric Ledford, the regular division Regions Cup points leader, also believes range finders give a player an advantage.

Not everyone is sold on the range finders. Jay Blackburn and Chuck Withers are among the holdouts.

"I can't see any advantage," said Blackburn, the Regions Cup's regular division player of the year in 2005.

"You step off the yardage and you're going to be pretty close. You're going to be within 2-to-3 yards anyway."

Blackburn, who likes to play by feel, said, "I don't think I'll ever use a range finder."

Withers, the senior player of the year last year, walks the Regions Cup courses in practice rounds and keeps a yardage book he refers to during the tournaments.

"I'd rather do it the old- fashioned way," said Withers, who notes that the range finders don't take elevation into consideration.

Withers has looked through range finders, and he isn't impressed.

"You have to hold that thing real steady," Withers said. "If you shake, it's not that accurate. It's not that accurate that everybody is going to rush out and get them."

Fellow senior golfer Bob Abernathy did just that, though.

"I didn't want one, but everybody else was playing with them," Abernathy said.

Because of their cost, not everyone can afford a range finder. At Pro Golf Discount in Augusta, range finders go from $199 to $399, and Skycaddies are $330, said store manager Pete Runyan.

"Mine cost a couple hundred bucks," Brisson said. "It's not a primo, but it's good enough to get the job done."

Considering the monetary value of the devices, golfers try to keep on eye on their range finders during their rounds.

Regions Cup senior golfer Frank Perry left his range finder on a tee early in the final round of the recent Camellia Classic at Belle Meade Country Club. He quickly rushed back and retrieved it when he found it missing on the next hole.

"I about had a nervous breakdown until I got it back," said Perry, who went to win the senior division title that day.

Reach David Westin at (706) 724-08551 or david.westin@augustachronicle.com.