If you’re a player who gets giddy at the idea advanced analytics and leveraging this information during stipulated tournament rounds, the announcement made by the USGA this week is an early Christmas gift.

Specifically, the USGA provided some clarification regarding the use of Arccos’ Caddie feature which is an add-on, subscription-based service which augments the Arccos 360 platform.

So long as the player uses the “Arccos Restricted” app and a local rule is in place allowing the use of distance measuring devices, all is above board.

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The USGA rationale states because this app “is incapable of gauging or measuring any parameter other than distance, use of the Arccos Caddie application in conjunction with the Arccos 360 application, as submitted, has been evaluated and it has been determined that the use of the Arccos Caddie application is permitted under the Rules of Golf when a Committee establishes a Local Rule permitting the use of distance measuring devices (see Decision 14-3/0.5). ” 

There are, however, elements in this decision which are worth a closer look and will likely be the subject of ongoing conversation and debate.

Recommendations offered by the Arccos caddie currently apply only to the tee shot, and tell the player percentage likelihood of hitting the fairway, missing the fairway (right and left) as well as an expected score based on previous rounds. It also provides generic suggestions how the optimally play the remainder of the hole, which I wouldn’t guess is significantly different than something such as “a layup short and left of the water hazard gives the best approach to the heavily bunkered green.” That said, ruling bodies have been cautious to allow anything which takes decision-making and skill out of players’ hands, and one could argue this infringes on that unstated, yet often practiced belief.

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The restricted app does not produce new information based on shots played during that round (and therefore possibly breach rule 14-3), but as a player enters more rounds (where all the caddie features can be utilized), the suggestions become more accurate (statistically significant). Moreover, there’s going to be questions of how would a player in violation of this decision be noticed by competitors. The game is rooted in values such as integrity and honesty and players routinely call penalties on themselves, but it seems a rule-making body would also want to make sure decisions are clear, succinct and easily enforceable.

Also, as Arccos improves the platform and adds features (potentially opening the door to Arccos AI generated recommendations within the field of play), will this decision need to be revised or is artificial intelligence indicative of an entirely new conversation necessitating something more than a single USGA decision?

The USGA doesn’t exactly have a reputation as a forward-thinking entity, and because it often reacts, rather than anticipates, it’s reasonable to think companies like Arccos will stay at least several steps ahead, which makes one wonder who exactly is writing the rules?

So, what do you make of this decision? Like it? Loathe it? Tell us.