Unless you are a true old school golfer (and in that case you better be playing hickory and wearing plus fours), you probably have at least considered either a range finder or a gps device. Making the choice between these two options can be a bit of a headache. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. In fact, some people choose to take both along to the course just to have all bases covered. I have a preference (and I will tell you what it is later on) but here is some information to help you make a better choice as well as a couple of recommendations for all budgets.
Regardless of what you choose I recommend you check the deals that are available right now
People get very caught in which of these two options offers the greatest precision. The answer is actually pretty obvious-a high quality laser range finder will be more precise than a gps, even a top of the range gps. This doesn’t mean that a satellite navigation system is inaccurate. In fact, they are usually pretty good within a couple of yards. However, laser should be spot on. Game over then?
Actually, no. I really don’t think that a yard or two should sway your judgement unless you hit you clubs an exact distance every time. As I have said many times before, most of us really don’t control distance that well. Certainly not to the point where two yards is essential. And even more so the further you are from the green.
You might be thinking in that case, why have a yardage device at all? I think most people (and certainly I am) are terrible judges of distance on the course. I am regularly 20 yards out when I guess and then check. This is a huge difference, maybe up to two clubs. It is the difference between hitting a green and being in the water on that all carry par three. Simply put, knowing the distance will help you to play better golf (even if that distance is three yards off). So we are still no closer to separating these two, are we?
The bottom line-if absolute precision is the most important thing you probably want a range finder
Ease of Use
This is maybe an area where we can see some real differences. Let’s think about what most of us want out on the course. The two questions I have most often are:
- How far is it to the flag?
- How far is it to carry…………………..?
If something can give me this information quickly, reasonably accurately and without getting me annoyed trying to make it work, I am happy! Both devices do this, but in different ways. Laser is simple, at least in theory. Point at the object, get the distance. It is usually pretty quick and shouldn’t be complicated. You can fix the pin, but also a hazard like trees or bunkers.
This, at least for me, can be a problem with range finders. I have used several, from cheap to very expensive and I have found sometimes that either I can’t get a fix on something (too far, a blind shot) or I’m not sure if i have the target or something next to it. Even something like mist can make it useless. Don’t believe me? See how Rick Shiels and Peter Finch got on in this video when trying a very nice range finder in foggy weather. Bear in mind this is a short course they are playing so they are struggling to fix targets that really aren’t that far away.
I have also seen this quite a bit when it is sunny. It can be difficult to fix on the flag and sometimes you just don’t know if you have got the flag, the front bunker or the trees behind. If you have to check the yardage markers as well, this not only slows things down, but also makes the range finder a bit redundant, doesn’t it?
So how does a golf gps compare here? This is going to depend on the model. One advantage is that you don’t need to see your target to get a distance. Even a basic watch model will give you the distance to front/middle/back regardless. If you choose a more advance hand held unit, you will get distance to hazards and things like lay up distances too.
Is there a down side here? Well once again, there are a couple of things that are worth bearing in mind. Some people simply don’t like wearing a bulky watch when they play. And a hand held unit doesn’t suit everyone.
Secondly, some of the more basic units can be limited in functionality and options. Knowing that you still have 400 yards to the green is really that useful for anyone outside Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy, is it? It seems to be more useful to know how far you need to hit it to get it past the fairway bunker or lay up short of the water.
Of course, most units beyond the most basic will tell you the distances to a hazard or two per hole. More advanced models will even let you move stuff around. This can be great if you know pin position, especially on a larger green where distance to the centre might be 25 yards from the distance you need.
I do have a couple of reserves about some of the screens used in touch screen GPS devices. Whilst I have seen my fair share of excellent, I have also been unfortunate enough to have some terrible, bug-ridden devices in my hands. There is nothing more frustrating than attempting to click on something only to find the screen changing to the next hole, the pin position moving or whatever else go wrong. I’ll admit to having been close to simple throwing one particular unit deep into the rough!
For ease of use, your best bet might be a gps
So does it just come down to laser or GPS? There is a third player in the market. This is the smart phone app. This is basically a gps unit and i do use one particular app (mobitee) quite often. It gives me decent information, generally quite accurate and, depending on the quality of your phone and it’s screen, it is usually pretty easy to manipulate.
There are some decent apps out there. Before diving in, make sure that the course you play most often are logged. If there is a free version, try it out first because it should give you an idea of how good the paid version is. Developers work pretty hard on free versions because a good free version encourages people to upgrade. Often you can get one course or at least a few holes on trial and this really gives you a good idea.
So why don’t we all just use phone apps, for me, there are two downsides. Firstly, battery use isn’t great. I have tried on both an iphone and android, and in both cases a round of golf will drain the battery. In fact, it is often a struggle to last the whole round.
Secondly, I am a bit clumsy! I prefer to keep my phone safely tucked away in my bag when I play. Taking it out several times a hole is asking for trouble and I am pretty sure I would end up dropping it or knocking it on something fairly quickly.
So What Do I Actually Use?
Ok, i have been beating around the bush for long enough. What do I take to the course? It depends. How’s that for a non-answer? Let me develop that a little. I do use an app (mobitee) when I head out for a few holes on my own. I will only measure yardages now and again so the risk to my phone is minimal, even from a clumsy oaf like me.
The interesting thing is, this just goes to highlight how useful the apps are. Quite often, I will eye up a distance at say a hundred yards, hit a lovely, flush wedge and see it finish yards short of the green. checking the app will tell me that it was perhaps 120 to the centre. So even for a hacker like me, getting accurate yardage really is worth a few shots a round at least.
So back to gps vs range finders. If I am playing a round that counts for anything at all, I think the best choice is……..a bit of both! I don’t mind a gps watch so the convenience of the distance on my wrist is awesome. This also helps double check the reading from the range finder if I am not sure if I really did get the flag or whatever.
I know someone is going to ask this, so what if I really had to choose? I think I would go for a quality hand help global positioning system unit with a decent sized, decent quality touch screen. I really think this is the easiest solution for most golfers most of the time. It is especially good if you think that you will have problems with the weather, either because of fog or even bright sunshine.
If your eyes are pretty good, you are comfortable with fixing a target and you know the conditions won’t cause problems, a laser on its own can makes sense too and is certainly more accurate if you really need to know to the nearest yard. Maybe the question to ask is, just how precise are you? For me, a couple of yards either way really isn’t that big a deal and certainly isn’t making a difference to my score. However, the difference between five yards short of the green by eye and the middle of the green by satellite is worth a few shots per round in anyone’s book.
Best Budget Options
So in an ideal world everyone will have a top of the range gps, range finder and app. For the rest of us, budget does play an important role in our choices. I strongly believe you can go too cheap here. Getting something that will only cause heartache and frustration on the course isn’t worth it. Really. far better to miss greens just using your eyes. That said, you don’t need to break the bank.
For a reasonably-priced gps, look no further than Garmin. If you want a watch, try the Garmin S2. It is easy to use, generally pretty accurate and does the job for most golfers.
If you decide that a range finder is more up your street, Bushnell offers quality products and something like the Bushnell Medalist can be had for a steal right now for such a quality unit.