What Is A Slope?
Before we get into the story of how slope calculations work on rangefinders, let’s talk a bit about what a slope is. The slope I mean here, is not a big deal, you probably encounter it every day in your routine lives.
A slope is simply an alternation in elevation between two points on a plane.
Remember those times you walk to a store and realize you’re walking uphill or downhill? That is a slope. The elevation either increases or decreases.
A slope can either work to the advantage or the disadvantage to golfers and surveyors using rangefinders and that is what we are going to be discussing in this article because as we know, a golf course field is never on a leveled plane and the chances of a golfer hitting a shot that travels from one point to the next maintaining the same height is rare and uncommon.
Is Slope Important?
Unequivocally, the answer is a definite yes.
Like I mention before, you will almost never play on a level course as a golfer. The concept of golfing and how a slope can affect it is simple physics, really. When a golfer’s shot hits a peak, it starts to fall and as it falls it moves forward.
However, the forward distance it is able to cover is largely dependent on the slope of the course field. The slope of a course field could affect the distance of the shot by up to 20-50 yards. That is a lot of impact for just the elevation of a piece of land.
As you must know, golfers hit their balls at an arc and in a course that actually determines how far the ball travels. Then the forward movement covered after it reaches its peak is dependent on the slope of the land.
A slope can impact the shot of golfers, pros of the sport have become aware that the slight changes in the elevation of the field could impact them, and I’m saying ‘impact’ very loosely here because it could very well be a ‘trick’.
The slope could trick new golfers into thinking that their shot needs to be further or even shorter depending on the elevation.
Knowing the proper calculation of the slope can help golfers in picking out their golf clubs and also knowing what velocity to hit and spin the ball. These factors are very important in determining a good or a bad shot.
Now that we have established just how important slopes are in affecting distance, you should know that golf balls travel longer distances down a slope or downhill and shorter distances up a slope or uphill. Determining the changes in elevation from your ball pin to the hole is almost entirely impossible to eyeball.
How To Calculate Slope?
When calculating the uphill or downhill changes in the golf course field, it requires just simple arithmetics. A slope can be measured by dividing the Run by the Rise.
However, no one would be willing to wait for you to whip out a pen and a book every single time you hit a slope and you want to calculate it.
This is where the rangefinder becomes very much handy and important. It calculates all that geometry that you probably wouldn’t have gotten right anyway. To be frank, how accurate would you have been with a protractor standing in the middle of a field anyway?
No, you cannot do without calculating a slope. Don’t even think about it, because even if you can eyeball the height of the elevated slope in front of you, you cannot eyeball the distance from you to through the slope to the hole.
What the rangefinder does is measure and account for the extra or reduced distance caused by the slope and gives the adjusted distance output result to the golfer. This reading is used to aid the golfer in picking out a golf club and tells him or her how hard or soft the swing should be.
A rangefinder that has a scope would output two readings. One would be the actual distance to the target hole and the second one would be the calculated and adjusted slope distance to the hole. This is the distance calculation the golfer shoots his ball with.
How The Rangefinder Calculates Slope?
We know how handy and efficient the rangefinder can be in calculating and accounting for sloppy distances, now let’s take a look into how they calculate these distances for golfers.
Rangefinders like Laser rangefinders are primarily used for golfing and this rangefinder works by shooting off laser beams at the target object and in this case, the object is the hole or the flagstick.
The distance is determined by the time it takes for the beam to return to the device. This is pretty much the standard principle for all laser rangefinders, however, some are more efficient than others.
Another rangefinder model that can be used in the golf field is the GPS. The rangefinder accounts for slope-adjusted distance by calculating the angle of return, the bounced off or returning laser beam is usually off by some number of slight degrees.
The rangefinder uses this slight change to calculate for slope and the result is an adjusted slope distance.
This is also known as slope adjustment. Isn’t this easier than trying to calculate it on your own and almost certainly getting it wrong sometimes? All the golfer has to do is play the ball according to the reading of the adjusted slope distance provided by the rangefinder.
Can A GPS Calculate Slope?
A GPS rangefinder can measure the distance of the observer from the target hole or any other target object but it will not be able to calculate the slope.
GPS rangefinders can account for or give some form of indication for an elevated observer’s position when needed but they cannot calculate for slope the way a laser rangefinder can.
However, this is not to say that the GPS is completely useless, after all the GPS works by using satellites to identify the exact location of the golfer in the field, and then it uses this location to measure against some pre-programmed statistical set.
But the effectiveness of the GPS is significantly reduced when the course field has a lot of altering height and slopes. For better efficiency and effectiveness, it is advisable to use a laser rangefinder.
Is Slope Rangefinder Legal?
Oftentimes than not, when people ask this, what they really mean to ask is if they can use a slope rangefinder in competitions.
I would like to tell you a definite yes, after all, I have been raving about how great they are but let’s take a step back and see what the regulatory body has to say about it. The United States Golf Association, USGA, has clear guidelines when it comes to golfing, especially the use of measuring devices.
The USGA Rule 14-3 states that it is illegal for golfers to utilize any electronic measuring devices or rangefinders in a round of game.
This rule provides that players are not allowed to use unusual or artificial devices or equipment with the intention of determining or calculating factors or distance that may affect their shot.
However, this rule should not make you lose hope because there’s an exceptional clause to this rule. The exception is called the Local Rule exception, it simply states that golfers are allowed to use or share measuring devices like rangefinders. The local rule exception essentially means that local golf clubs or local golf courses can lift the restrictions placed by the USGA rule 14-3.
The local exception rule allows players to use and even share measuring devices during golf tournaments to measure distances but they may not use features on the devices that would breach the USGA rule 14-3.
A common is when a range finding device provides you with the measured distance to a target object and also provides you with an actual playing distance to improve your best shot probability.
You are allowed to use the output of the measured distance to a target but you may not use the actual playing distance otherwise it would be considered a breach of the USGA rule 14-3. These rules also apply to caddies.
What Is Slope Mode?
Because of the restrictions placed on measuring devices in tournaments, many range finding devices now come with the option to turn the slope function off or on. The slope mode feature allows for compensation to the USGA rule 14-3.
Some range finding models even make it very obvious to notice if the slope mode is activated or not. Please note that not all range finding models offer this optional feature, popular rangefinder brand that offers this slope mode feature are Nikon and Bushnell.
Even when your slope mode is turned off, some players have been known to receive the side-eye from other golfers and this brings me to the last topic for this article.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Do Pro Golfers Use Rangefinders?
Answer: Rangefinders were officially banned from tournament plays in the 2012 season. The answer is No. They are not allowed to use rangefinders in tournaments. However, they can be used during their practice sessions and their Pro arm rounds before the tournament starts.
Players use this opportunity to utilize rangefinders to measure specific spots around the course where they expect their shots to hit.
Question: Does Using Slope During Practice Make Me Better?
Answer: Yes, it does. Even though players are not allowed to use the slope feature in tournaments. It helps to hone the capacity of the player during practice sessions.