Golf GPS and Rangefinder Buyer’s Guide

Benefits of Using a Yardage Device

It’s fairly obvious that knowing detailed yardage information for every green, hazard or bunker on a golf course will improve your game. Professional golfers don’t pay caddies 10% just to carry the bag; the real value is all about the hours that the caddie spends mapping yardages on the course.

Golf GPS and rangefinders are designed to bring “caddie” knowledge to the average golfer. From the user reports I read online, almost everyone who has tried either type of yardage device has experienced at least a couple strokes improvement per round.

  Knowing the course

The primary benefit of GPS and rangefinders is to get insider knowledge of the course. Without these devices distance judgment is mostly guessing, “feel” and based on experience.

Knowing the exact yardage to the front, center and back of the green, not only helps you judge what club to hit and how hard to hit it, but also can help you make better decisions.

A lot of good players, not only decide where to aim their shot, but also the preferred spot to miss. A yardage tool can help make these choices and make you a smarter player.

  Knowing how far you hit your clubs

The less appreciated benefit of a yardage device is for the golfer to know exactly how far they hit each of their clubs.

For me, without a GPS or rangefinder, when I’m shooting over water, not only do I have to guess the carry distance, but also what the best club is for me to carry that yardage.

With a GPS or rangefinder, I can “map” all my clubs and know that I hit my 8 iron anywhere from 130 – 143 yards. This improves accuracy and more importantly improves confidence when making tough shots.

What’s Better, GPS or Rangefinder?

The short answer is neither a GPS nor rangefinder is better, they are similar, but different; so they have different strengths and weaknesses.

The best way to solve that problem is to have one of each J but that isn’t always realistic, so this section will provide the facts you need to decide which one is better for your needs.

  How a Golf GPS Unit Works

To keep it simple, a golf GPS is a satellite based mapping device. It communicates with overhead satellites to pinpoint your exact location on the Earth and then uses previously recorded locations on the golf course, to tell you the distance to any important locations near you (front of the green for the hole you are playing for example).

Important factors with Golf GPS units:

  1. The course must be mapped: you won’t get any useful information on a course the first time you use your GPS if the course hasn’t been previously mapped (by either you, another user or the GPS company) and stored on your GPS device.
  2. You must have satellite reception. More and more this is not an issue, but if your connection to the satellite is weak or not present; your device will be useless.
  3. Won’t work under a canopy of trees.
  4. Many GPS companies require an annual subscription to their mapping service. To be able to continue to download new courses (units will often only store 10 to 20 courses) you will need to pay an annual access fee to the course “maps” that contain all the fairway, green and hazard yardages.

  How a Rangefinder Works

A golf rangefinder is much different than a GPS. It is an optical device that is a cross between a pair of binoculars and a laser gun that is used to catch speeding drivers by a highway patrol officer.

The optical system (like a rifle scope) allows you to select and lock onto the target that you want to determine the distance for (a flag stick on a green for example).

Then the rangefinder shoots an “eye safe” laser at the target, and measures the time it takes for the laser to bounce off of the target and return to the rangefinder. From this time delay, the rangefinder can determine how far away the target is.

Important factors for a golf rangefinder:

  1. The object must be in view: a rangefinder can only target object that it can lock onto. High magnification optics can make it easier to spot flags, but can make it harder to hold the device steady enough to get a good reading. (The latest models have technologies, like Bushnell’s PinSeeker, which make locking on to distant pins much easier.)
  2. If you are shooting over a hill or over a bunch of trees, you won’t get any yardage information.

  Advantages of GPS

You don’t have to aim it at a target to get a yardage reading. This can be an advantage if your target is not in your line of site; an elevated green or you are behind a bush for example.

Also, you don’t have to have a steady hand or accurate eye to line up a GPS unit like you would with a range finder.

  Advantages of Rangefinders

The latest model Range finders have a powerful 7x magnification monocular. This can be very useful, not only for guiding the laser to get accurate yardage measurements to your target, but also for locating landing areas.

For example, it is impossible to locate a ridge on a green that could that should be avoided from 175 yards with the naked eye. With a range finder, you could spot it easily and play safely to the other side of the green, resulting in an easier birdie putt.

Another advantage is that a laser rangefinder can be used on the practice range to see how far you are hitting each club.

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