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How to Use a Rangefinder for Golf (Step-by-Step Guide)

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golfer using rangefinder

Using a rangefinder during your game of golf can drastically improve your skills and give you an edge on the course. If you’re not familiar with how a rangefinder is used, how one works, and want to know what using one can do for your game, keep reading this guide. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know so you can start navigating the greens like a pro golfer in no time!

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Types of Rangefinders

There are several rangefinders to choose from; however, laser and GPS rangefinders are the most widely used for playing golf. Laser rangefinders utilize an infrared laser beam to calculate the distance to a target, while the latter relies on signals from satellites in the Global Positioning System (GPS) constellation. In general, laser rangefinders are the most accurate option but can be problematic when you do not have a direct line of sight to your target.

On the other hand, GPS rangefinders can be quicker to use but are restricted to use on courses with satellite imaging data loaded to the device’s database. Both rangefinders are accurate and straightforward to use, so choosing the right rangefinder for you mainly depends on your personal preferences.

Laser Rangefinders

Laser rangefinders are a favorite amongst novices and seasoned veterans in the golf community due to their unparalleled accuracy. This category of rangefinders uses an infrared laser beam to calculate the exact distance between you and your target. The governing idea behind laser rangefinders is the “time-of-flight” principle. When the rangefinder shines a laser beam at a target, some portion of the light is reflected onto a sensor on the device. Using some math, the rangefinder can calculate the time it took for the laser beam to travel to the target and back. This information is then used to establish the yardage between the target and the rangefinder.

A laser rangefinder’s accuracy is highly dependent on the amount of light reflected to the sensor from the target. However, aiming your laser rangefinder at a reflective surface can increase the accuracy drastically. For this reason, golf courses often wrap their flagsticks, range poles, hazard markers, and yardage poles with highly reflective tape. This practice makes it far easier for the rangefinder to calculate the exact distance to the hole.

Although laser rangefinders are incredibly accurate, they can be incommodious when you don’t have a direct line of sight to your target. Trees and other obstacles can prevent the laser beam from reaching your desired target, resulting in the rangefinder defining an incorrect distance.

golf player using Rangefinder in the field
Image Credit: trattieritratti, Shutterstock

How to Use a Laser Rangefinder

Having valuable information like the exact yardage between you and the hole is essential to playing your best game of golf. Using a laser rangefinder can eliminate the guesswork and allow you to play with confidence. Operating a laser rangefinder is very intuitive and straightforward, involving very few steps. To use your laser rangefinder

  • Align yourself with your target and lift the rangefinder’s sight to your eye.
  • Aim the rangefinder’s crosshairs at the target object you want to calculate the distance from.
  • Holding the rangefinder as steady as possible, press the power button once to activate the laser.
  • Observe the display screen and read the calculated distance to your target option in various units.

As with anything else, operating a laser rangefinder takes practice, and you might have to try using one several times before getting the hang of it. To make the most of this technology, you should first practice using your laser rangefinder on targets at established distances to track your accuracy. After no time, you will have become proficient in acquiring accurate distances with your rangefinder and will be able to enjoy all its benefits.


GPS Rangefinders

Although GPS (Global Positioning System) rangefinders are faster than laser rangefinders, they are slightly less accurate. This family of rangefinders uses the Global Positioning System (GPS), a satellite-based radio navigation system operated by the United States Space Force, to establish the distance between you and your target.

GPS rangefinders act as receivers for signals containing location data from satellites in the GPS constellation. Your rangefinder can calculate your latitude, longitude, and altitude by having a direct line of sight with at least 3 of the 31 satellites in the GPS system. By comparing these values to satellite imaging data of the course stored in the rangefinder’s database, the exact distance from the target can be calculated.

Unlike a laser rangefinder, a GPS rangefinder allows you to obtain an accurate reading even with a group of obstacles in the way. However, the rangefinder can only store a finite amount of data, so you are restricted to using it on courses in the database compiled by the device manufacturers. If your rangefinder does not support your particular course, advanced models may allow you to download additional course maps from the internet.


How to Use a GPS Rangefinder

A GPS rangefinder can determine the exact yardage to a target and give you an overview of a course’s layout using satellite data. They are invaluable tools that can drastically improve your golfing experience. Using a GPS rangefinder is relatively simple, and the steps are consistent every time. After you have learned to navigate the menus in your rangefinder, you should have no problem executing the following steps to reap the benefits of this innovative technology.

  • Turn on the GPS rangefinder and select the golf course you are on in the menu.
  • Activate the GPS and allow the rangefinder to establish a connection with the satellite feed.
  • Wait for the rangefinder to calculate your position.
  • Select your target hole in the menu.
  • Observe the display screen and read the distance and slope between you and your target.

Rangefinders are invaluable tools and should be a staple item in any serious golf player’s bag. In addition to accurately measuring the distance between you and your target, there are a wide variety of other benefits a rangefinder provides.

Your Golf Skills Will Improve

Knowing the distance between you and the hole is vital for improving your golf skills. Not only can you use a rangefinder to determine how hard to hit the ball, but you can also use one to track how far the ball traveled with each shot. By keeping track of data like this, you can consistently gauge and improve your skills.

A rangefinder can also help you determine whether to pull out a wood, iron, wedge, putter, or hybrid club. Figuring out which club to use can be overwhelming and is a common problem amongst beginner players. To choose the best club for your shot, you must first know how far you are from your target. A rangefinder can provide you with this information and make you look like a seasoned golf player in no time.

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Your Game Will Be Shorter

Integrating precision into your game is a must and using a rangefinder is one of the easiest ways to do so. Instead of spending valuable time guessing how far you are from the hole and how the slope of the terrain will affect your shot, you can eliminate the guesswork and cut your game in half with a rangefinder. Not only does a rangefinder make your game shorter, but it also frees up time for you to focus on other skills like clubface control, grip, backstroke, stance, strategy, and more.

Rangefinders Eliminate Doubt

One of the most vital components of playing well is being confident about every shot you take. If you feel good about your swing, you will generally experience success in golf. However, if you have any doubts about the shots you are going to take, you can expect to rack up the strokes and play a mediocre round of golf. Using a rangefinder is one of the simplest ways to gain confidence in your swing and will alleviate any doubts about your strategy.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How Do I Hold My Rangefinder Steady?

It is important to keep your rangefinder as steady as possible for optimal accuracy. If the crosshairs are not perfectly aligned with your target, you are guaranteed to have some magnitude of error in the reading. To ensure your rangefinder’s accuracy, keep the following tips in mind next time you are on the course.

  • Hold your rangefinder in one hand and rest your elbow against your chest to prevent your arm from shaking while recording a measurement.
  • Use a tripod to ensure your rangefinder is as stable as possible.
  • Ensure you are relaxed before playing, taking deep breaths while concentrating on your aim. Although being a little nervous is natural, it can also lead to temporary blurred vision and can cause you to tremble.
golfer measuring distance using rangefinder
Image Credit By: trattieritratti, Shutterstock

How Do I Use My Rangefinder When There Is a Slope?

When playing golf, one must seriously consider how elevation changes can affect the reading from their rangefinder. Because the ball flies in an arc-shaped trajectory when it is hit, the true distance between you and the target may look different than if it were measured as a straight line.

Sloped terrain could affect the distance of your shot by as much as 50 yards, which is certainly significant. Clever golf course designers generally use this principle to trick golfers into thinking they need to hit the ball further or closer than necessary. Uphill, or positive slopes, will cause a golf ball to travel a shorter distance, while downhill, or negative slopes, cause it to travel further. Although practice may improve your understanding of ballistic physics and how elevation changes affect your shot, accurately determining these effects is impossible to do by eye.

Conveniently, many laser rangefinders are fitted with a slope function that can adjust for the effects of varied elevation. Although GPS rangefinders can determine your relative elevation, they are unable to calculate the magnitude of a slope and are less effective on mountainous courses. Once the rangefinder takes a reading with the slope function enabled, it will display two distances on the screen. The first reading is the actual distance between you and the hole, while the second is the adjusted distance with respect to the slope. The adjusted distance value gives you an idea of what to aim for when shooting and can save you dozens of strokes.

man playing golf
Image Credit By: Piqsels

How Much Does a Golf Rangefinder Cost?

Like any other item, the price of a rangefinder is affected by various factors. For instance, the brand, performance, features, and quality of the materials used may all affect the price of a rangefinder. Although there are a lot of budget rangefinders under $100, there are equally as many that go for upwards of $1,000. Most budget rangefinders have very basic features and can only measure distance. However, some professional rangefinders may have additional sensors, modes, screens, and features such as angle compensation. All these extra features increase the accuracy and efficiency of a rangefinder, but devices with these capabilities come at a steep price tag.

When purchasing a rangefinder, it is essential to research and choose a model with durability, long-term usage, quality of material, and functionality in mind. Most casual players can get by just fine with a basic rangefinder, but seasoned professionals may want to explore higher-end options for their games.

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Golf rangefinders are an invaluable tool that can allow a golfer to play with confidence, shorten their game, and improve their skills. Operating a rangefinder is intuitive and straightforward, regardless of whether you use one fitted with a laser or GPS. Laser rangefinders are the most accurate and the latest rage amongst golfers. On the other hand, GPS rangefinders are more efficient but use older technology. It is recommended that every serious golf player keeps a rangefinder in their bag to make their game more fun, relaxed, and enjoyable.

I moved this section to AFTER the steps because it seemed more relevant and the main reason why the reader is looking at the article is for the steps.

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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.