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Tight Lies Tour to allow use of rangefinders

The Tight Lies Tour is one of several regional circuits for players with aspirations of making the big leagues. One of its alumni is Ryan Palmer, who held off Vijay Singh last month at Disney for his first PGA Tour victory.

Now, the Texas-based tour believes it has the future of golf.

Only it's not a player.

Starting next year, the Tight Lies Tour will become what is believed to be the first professional golf tour to allow players to use an electronic device to get yardages during competition.

The tour has become partners with SkyGolf GPS and its SG2 rangefinder, which uses satellite-based technologies to measure the distance to the green, to carry a bunker or to lay up short of a water hazard.

Tight Lies Tour president Gary DeSerrano said the primary reason is to help the pace of play.

"We started analyzing some of the slow play that goes along with the professional golf ranks," DeSerrano said. "The majority was finding yardages and going through the routine. This new technology is the future of golf, and we have no doubt that SkyGolf will be an asset for our tour and our professionals."

There's just one problem -- it's against the Rules of Golf.

According to the Rule 14-3, a player cannot use an artificial device "to gauge or measure distance or conditions that might affect his play."

The solution?

"We've made a local rule that allows our players to use the device in competition," DeSerrano said. "We'll monitor the pace and see how this affects it."

That means the Tight Lies Tour can no longer rely on the U.S. Golf Association -- which governs golf in the United States and Mexico -- for any other decision related to the rules.

But the USGA is hardly frowning on the use of rangefinders.

"I don't think it's any secret that the USGA favors allowing them to be used under the rules," USGA executive director David Fay said. "My personal view is that it enables guys like me to get the type of yardage assistance that (caddie) Steve Williams is providing Tiger Woods."

The USGA allows players to use rangefinders when posting a score for handicap purposes, although they are illegal in competition.

What keeps the USGA from pushing harder for rangefinders is its harmonious relationship with the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, which sets the rules everywhere else in the world. The next time the rules can be changed is 2008, but the R&A is in no hurry to adopt an electronic yardage book.

"I think many people in the UK are opposed to these devices," R&A secretary Peter Dawson said. "These items are much more prevalent in the U.S., despite the fact they are against the Rules of Golf. It's remarkable they are allowed for handicapping purposes."

Told that the Tight Lies Tour was going to use the SkyGolf GPS rangefinder next year, Dawson replied, "That staggers me. I suppose they're not going to have stroke-and-distance for going out of bounds?"

Rangefinders have been around for years in various shapes and sizes.

Some of them are hand-held lasers, which shoot a beam at the flagstick. PGA Tour caddies use this type during practice rounds to double-check yardages. One company, Laser Link Golf, earlier this year got the endorsement of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer for use at their home courses, The Bear's Club and Bay Hill.

The newest models use GPS, in which the device instantly flashes the yardage to the center of the green and other points on the golf course. Some of the high-end golf courses have installed the GPS version on golf carts.

The SkyGolf GPS model is about the size of a cell phone that players can attach to their belt or their bag. Players don't have to point them, only read the yardage and go about selecting a club. It claims to save an average of five shots per round and up to 25 minutes every nine holes.

Richard Edmonson, chief executive of SkyGolf GPS, believes it will level the playing field on the Tight Lies Tour.

"The PGA Tour has caddies and extensive yardage books. They never hit a shot without knowing the exact distance," Edmonson said. "On the Tight Lies Tour, all of them don't have caddies. They don't have all the detailed information that enables a player to play the way the course was designed to be played."

The Tight Lies Tour will not supply its players with the SkyGolf GPS rangefinder; players can buy them for $350. DeSerrano said the cost is about the same as a player would pay for detailed yardage books at the 21 tournaments on his circuit.

And therein lies the heart of the debate.

DeSerrano and Edmonson -- and even Fay -- have a hard time justifying why rangefinders are illegal when similar technology is used to measure yardages found on sprinkler heads, and to create yardage books used in competition.

"It's a natural extension of getting a yardage on the sprinkler head," Fay said. "I don't think it affects the skill required to play the shot."

They believe it does affect pace of play, which is why DeSerrano kept thinking about SkyGolf when he first saw its product three years ago at the PGA Merchandise Show.

DeSerrano noticed rounds on the Tight Lies Tour were getting longer, especially on the weekend when players -- who pay $1,000 to join the tour and $1,000 for every event -- were in contention. He believes the alliance with SkyGolf GPS will reduce rounds to four hours.

"Everything else, we abide by USGA rules," DeSerrano said. "We're not trying to buck the system. We just think it will better our product."

It might look a little different, although Edmonson says it's all a matter of perception. Any player (or caddie) at a PGA Tour event will get to his ball, pull the yardage book from his back pocket and figure out the distance to the front of the green, plus however many paces to the flag.

He believes golf and its 500 years of tradition can be slow to embrace technology.

"I suppose the R&A could perceive someone walking down the fairway with some projector screen," Edmonson said. "But the way we designed our product, it's palm-sized. I can carry it in my back pocket. I can pull it out and look at the palm of my hand like I was looking at a yardage book."

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