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Golf GPS vs. Golf Rangefinder: Which One to Buy?

Last Updated on February 9, 2021

golf man with smart phone gps device_Daxiao Productions_shutterstock

Whether you are golfing professionally or for fun, having distance measuring devices like a golf GPS and a rangefinder can significantly improve your game. You don’t have to depend on yardage books or markers around the course if you have a golf GPS or Rangefinder.

Golf GPS units will accurately tell you the distances to hazards, keep track of your score, and shot distance with each swing. Rangefinders are more accurate and easier to use, providing relevant data like yardage, speed measuring, and continuous range reading.

Every golfer has their preference when it comes to which devices they settle on. If you are having trouble choosing between a rangefinder and a golf GPS, here are some things you should know before you decide what to buy.


Overview of Golf GPS

golf man relaxing on buggy cart_Daxiao Productions_shutterstock

Credit: Daxiao Productions, Shutterstock

Golf GPS devices have become increasingly popular over the years, and we aren’t complaining. You can get a compact GPS unit or watch for different price points with reliable readings. Most major models include hazard information, accurate distance, and yardages.

Golf GPS units are handheld devices that pinpoint your specific location on the course. Amateurs can improve their game with proper course management, which they can get from using a quality golf GPS unit.

Using golf GPS is an effective way to increase the speed of the game. They are also handy for downloading and storing golf course maps, with most being able to hold over 10,000 pre-loaded courses. Many GPS devices offer an option to keep track of your statistics so that you can understand what to improve on. You can find out below how easy it is to use.

How It Works

If you have a smartphone, you are probably familiar with how GPS systems work and how helpful they are. Golf GPS devices use satellite receivers to determine how far you are from another point on the course. These devices are compact and lightweight to carry when golfing.

Golf GPS devices work by tracking your exact location using satellite networks and GPS technology on the device. The golf GPS gets your location by sending signals picked up by satellites to pinpoint your location on the golf course. By recalculating this information, you can get your distance from a specific point.

They will also give information on your swing speed. You can easily continue with your game and glance down to find your yardage on the golf GPS display. They provide you with information on the front, back, and center of the green and indicate hazards to shoot accordingly.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Golf GPS

To improve your golf game, you don’t just need a regular golf GPS unit. With additional features like green mapping, shot tracking, and pre-loaded golf courses, there is much more to consider than just the GPS unit’s price.

golf-gps-pixabay

Credit: Golfer, Pixabay

Accuracy

When choosing a golf GPS, this is the most crucial consideration because it is the main reason you bought it. You want a golf GPS that will provide the most accurate information regarding distance and yardages.

They have an accuracy of 3-4 yards, but this highly depends on the weather conditions and satellite coverage. Under normal conditions, they are very accurate.

Pre-loaded Courses

You don’t have to download golf courses anymore from the internet because most golf GPS units feature pre-loaded golf courses from different parts of the world. Depending on the brand you choose, some golf GPS devices like watches feature WIFI connectivity.

They will automatically update when connected to WIFI with additional golf courses from around the world. You can have close to 40,000 pre-loaded maps on your golf GPS so that you can enjoy golfing like usual anywhere in the world.

Battery Life

With all devices, you should consider how long the battery will last for a day of use. You should get a golf GPS that will last more than one round without the need to recharge it.

Golf GPS watches have batteries that can last between eight to 16 hours. This way, you can focus on the game without worrying about the low battery. It is better to get a golf GPS that lasts an entire round. 

Swing Analysis

GPS devices can track the ball speed, swing path, and speed when you are golfing. It can also calibrate other metrics like launch angle to better understand your techniques and faults. This feature makes it easier to adjust and improves your swing in a shorter amount of time.

Display

Like our smartphones, most displays today feature a touchscreen. When it comes to golf GPS units like watches, getting a touchscreen display is essential. It makes it easier to access different information by just swiping across the screen.

You don’t have to rely on buttons, and it is easier to navigate. With numerous helpful features, you will have to decide the kind of display you prefer that won’t distract you from the game.

Garmin Approach Golf GPS

How to Use a Golf GPS

Golf GPS units work by finding your exact location and the distance between you and the hole or the ball. They work by sending off signals that the GPS satellites pick up to pinpoint your exact location on the golf course. Some golf watches have auto-course recognition to detect which golf course you are playing automatically.

Golf GPS units are pre-loaded with more than 10,000 courses from different countries around the world. With the app compatibility of golf GPS watches, you can download golf courses using WIFI connectivity. You can also view available updates to get access to new courses and revisions of existing courses.

There is a network of satellites that orbits the Earth daily, and for a handheld GPS device to pinpoint your current location, it has to lock into a minimum of three different satellite signals.

Handheld GPS units are bulkier than GPS watches, but they have a larger display. They store more statistics to help with your game; some even come pre-loaded with more than 20,000 golf courses. With a simple touch on its screen, you will receive accurate distance readings.

Pros
  • Quicker to use
  • Maps are updated through WIFI connectivity
  • Accurate information
  • They increase your speed while playing
  • Some units include additional features like emails and texts
Cons
  • It can be uncomfortable to golf with
  • They are not as accurate as golf rangefinders
  • GPS units can’t give exact yardages to the flag

Overview of Golf Rangefinder

boy golfer watching into rangefinder_Olimpik_shutterstock

Credit: Olimpik, Shutterstock

Golfers use rangefinders to improve their game by estimating distances. Rangefinders give you the distance of one object to another. They are popular because they can be used globally and offer the highest accuracy when measuring distances on the golf course.

You do not have to rely on pre-loaded maps to play the game you want. With golf, getting a laser rangefinder can make the game more enjoyable. 

Whether you are playing for leisure or professionally, using a laser rangefinder is ideal for targeting. They are portable and offer quick results so that you don’t have to slow down the game.

How It Works

There are different types of rangefinders like GPS rangefinders that use satellite laser rangefinders that use laser beam technology and optical rangefinders, which are not as popular today.

GPS rangefinders connect to satellite networks to pinpoint your location on the golf course. You need to have pre-loaded courses to use GPS rangefinders quickly.

For laser rangefinders, you need to practice a couple of times before using them to get accurate results. When you learn how to aim it to the target, it becomes simpler to use it any time you need it.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Golf Rangefinder

Golf Rangefinders are popular today because of how accurate they are at estimating distances on the golf course. Rangefinders are portable and easy to use for amateurs and professional golfers.

golfer uses a measuring device_Ron Alvey_shutterstock

Credit: Ron Alvey, Shutterstock

Price

Rangefinders are more costly compared to other golf tools like golf GPS watches. The higher cost of rangefinders is because of their accurate distance measurements compared to other devices.

They come in different sizes with pricy features like quick results and simple function systems to use. You can save up to get one of the best rangefinders that will have the advanced features you need to improve your game.

Accuracy

Rangefinders are popular because of their accurate distance measurements. With this device, there are fewer chances of you missing your target because of the exact yardage and distance estimation. If you need a stable and reliable golf tool for accurate readings, you should get either a laser rangefinder or GPS rangefinder when golfing.

Portability

If you plan on using GPS devices or rangefinders for golfing, they need to be easy to carry and store without being a distraction. Getting a compact and portable rangefinder is beneficial if you want to golf anywhere in the world without needing pre-loaded courses.

Battery Life

Rangefinders today either come with regular batteries or rechargeable batteries. These devices do not consume a large amount of power when doing distance estimations, so you can use them for more than two rounds without having to recharge or replace the batteries.

Durability

The best quality rangefinders are long-lasting and not affected by adverse weather conditions. Higher priced rangefinders can withstand rainy weather and accidents on the golf course. 

Make sure you dry it regularly to avoid water getting into the rangefinder. You don’t have to worry about replacing it until you find the next model you want to buy.

golfer watching into rangefinder_Olimpik_shutterstock

Credit: Olimpik, Shutterstock

How to Use a Golf Rangefinder

Rangefinders are popular with golfers because of how easy they are to use on the golf course. First, start by finding your target, aiming the rangefinder at the target, and activating it to get your yardage.

Take out the laser rangefinder, turn it on, and adjust the modes to account for your situation and slope. When you see the target, press the button. You will get the exact distance to the flag with improved accuracy depending on the amount of beam reflected on the target.

For GPS rangefinders, you have to allow it to connect to the satellite, get your location, and select the target hole to give you the exact distance you need. GPs rangefinder accuracy depends on the strength of the signal and internet connection.

After getting an accurate reading, you can decide the appropriate kind of club for each shot. You can point it at other items like bunkers to get information on exact yardages.

Pros
  • More accurate than golf GPS
  • More straightforward to use and understand
  • Compact for easy storage
  • Easy targeting for players
  • Portable and durable
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Not weather-resistant
  • No aerial view of the course

Conclusion

If you are looking for the most accurate golfing device for measuring distances, go for a laser rangefinder. Although GPS rangefinders are good too, they are limited to the pre-loaded golf courses installed. 

Getting a Golf GPS unit will still provide you with accurate readings for those on a budget. It all comes down to your personal preference.

Whether you choose to get a Golf GPS or a Golf Rangefinder, they will help you play better and speed up the game. They are a significant boost to your confidence when playing because you will have all the information you need to take that perfect shot.


Featured image credit: Daxiao Productions, Shutterstock

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.