Knowing your distances out on the course is incredibly important. If you’ve ever played a round on a course which doesn’t provide a whole lot of distance markers, and in the absence of a good GPS, you’ll understand why. It’s an extremely frustrating feeling when you analyze your shot into the green, select your club, and flush it right at the flag, only to see the ball fly over the back or end up 20 yards short because you didn’t have your distances right. A GPS will help to eliminate this problem, but with so many options on the market it can sometimes be difficult to find the best golf GPS for your needs. In this article, we’ll help you to do just that by reviewing some of the most popular GPS’s going around.
Do I really need one?
To an extent, the answer to this question depends where you play. At some courses, the number of distance markers is so minimal that unless your ball ends up right next to one, you’re virtually guessing how far your next shot will be. We all know the kind of course; the one with no markers on the sprinkler head, and with a simple post at 150m and 100m from the green. Not a whole lot of help.
Conversely, some courses are very generous with the amount of on-course information there is about distances. The best courses generally have distances to the middle or the front of the green on every sprinkler head along the fairway, and generally you’ll be close enough to one of these to at least make a relatively accurate estimate about how far you’ll hit your shot.
That is certainly useful, but it doesn’t mimic the benefits of having a good GPS in your golf bag. Your shots into the green aren’t the only times that you need to know distances. Is a sprinkler head telling you that the front of the green is 260 yards away going to help you if you want to lay up short of a bunker on a par 5? Not exactly.
Of course, some courses are generous enough to even provide you with a detailed on-course guide, highlighting distances from the tee to various landmarks. This is certainly far more helpful than having to deal exclusively with sprinkler heads, but it still doesn’t help you like a GPS would. Often, using these on-course distance guides can force you to really put your mathematic skills to the test, and can be more confusing than they’re worth. Maybe the guide will tell you that a bunker on the fairway is 200 yards short of the green, and that there’s water 50 yards short of the green; then you have to factor in that you’re around 20-30 yards short of the bunker, combine that with the slope and the wind, and it all becomes a bit confusing.
A golf GPS won’t usually eliminate the issue of having to deal with slopes and gusty breezes, but it will help to provide you with an exact distance that you need to hit. This takes much of the guesswork out of the shot, and makes it far more likely that if you strike the ball like you plan to, it’ll end up where you intended.
How do I differentiate between different GPS’s?
There are a number of reasons why these products are so useful, and the best of them have features that aren’t present in the lower quality GPS’s. The basic intention of a GPS is, of course, to tell you the distance from point A to point B, but the way this is done differs significantly across different products.
For example, some of the lower quality ones will act much like a distance guide, simply telling you the distance between major landmarks on the course, and forcing you to do the rest of the calculations by yourself. In contrast, the best GPS options allow you to pinpoint virtually exactly where you want the ball to finish, and determine how far that is from where your ball is. They also tell you how far certain hazards and landmarks are, so you understand exactly how much margin for error you have in your shot.
The way in which GPS’s find the distance to a target can also vary fairly significantly. Some use a laser type feature which zeroes in on your target before giving you a distance, while others use a pre-downloaded map to provide you with this information. Both are highly useful, but if you often play on a course where your target is out of sight - one with a lot of doglegs, for example - then the laser option might not be as beneficial. This video provides some handy insight into the differences between these two options.
The best GPS’s don’t just provide you with distances, either. Some of them can also act as a scorecard, keeping count of your shots, while the best of the best will allow you to record your detailed stats so you know where you need to improve. Going even deeper, there are some GPS’s which will count your steps on the course - whether this is necessary depends on the person, but it certainly demonstrates the level of sophistication of some of these products!
What are the major drawbacks of a GPS?
With such advanced technology, inevitably the major concern with GPS’s is their propensity to function improperly. You certainly don’t want to get to the stage where you are reliant on your GPS, only to have it break down on the front 9 and wreak havoc on your round. Sometimes, these problems can relate to the GPS simply failing to function like it’s meant to, and not giving you the distances you seek.
Other times, it may be something more simple, like a lack of battery. Some of these products tend to run out of charge relatively quickly, so it’s important to ensure that the one you buy is going to last a full 18 holes, and of course, to charge it fully before your round.
This isn’t to say, however, that GPS’s should be approached with caution. If you buy a high quality one, the likelihood is that it will last a very long time functioning as it is supposed to, and you won’t encounter any major problems along the way.
1. Garmin Approach S20 Golf Watch
The Garmin S20 Golf Watch incorporates a lot of the best features of golf GPS’s, and has very few drawbacks. Aside from giving you pinpoint accuracy with its distances, this golf watch also provides you with a wide range of extras which aren’t evident in many similar products. You can keep track of your stats, including fairways hit and greens in regulation, as well as keep a track of how many steps you’ve taken and calories you’ve burnt. On top of that, it automatically records the distances of each of your shot, so that you can do an in-depth analysis of your round after you finish. It’s also comfortable, light, and comes in at a pretty decent price.
It isn’t necessarily the most straightforward product to use, something which is inevitable considering the level of extras available with the watch. For example, if you ignore the prompts asking you to enter your putts total, the watch won’t record your score for the hole. The process of taking stats is very efficient, but if you don’t want to do it this can be a cause for annoyance.
- Accurate - Obviously this is something which is necessary in order for a GPS to perform it’s role, and this one certainly fulfils this need.
- Tracks stats - Enables you to keep a record of what you’re doing well and what you need to improve on out on the course.
- Compatible with TruSwing - TruSwing is a swing sensor, which provides you with details about your swing that allow you to become more consistent in your movements.
- Reasonable price - Considering all of the extras offered by the S20 Golf Watch, many of which aren’t present with similar products, it’s price is relatively low.
- Can be complicated to use - Given the level of detail which this watch offers, it isn’t always the most straightforward GPS to get your head around.
2. GolfBuddy Voice GPS
The GolfBuddy Voice GPS is a handheld device, rather than a watch, which rests relatively comfortably in the palm of your hand. It tells you the distances to various landmarks on the course, both on the screen and through an audio feature which is available in eight different languages. There’s a good chance that your local course will already be loaded onto this GPS; over 35,000 courses from around the world are pre-loaded onto it before you make your purchase. It also measures the distances of your shots, which will help you to know how far your 7-iron is travelling on any given day. Once fully charged, it has over 14 hours of battery life, so you won’t need to worry about it running out of battery while you’re in the middle of your round.
Sometimes, however, this length of charge can reduce significantly after a fairly short period of use. Some users complained that the charging mechanism was defective and that it was difficult to replace, but in most cases the GolfBuddy Voice GPS works very effectively.
• Huge range of courses available - Over 35,000 pre-loaded courses is a huge number, so there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to simply turn up to the course you’re playing at and select it from the list of courses already on the device.
• Audio feature - It probably isn’t a major hassle for most people to look at their GPS to check the distance, but the audio feature is a nice addition, and the fact that it’s available in eight different languages makes it suitable for golfers around the globe.
• Measures your shot distance - Rather than just telling you how far to the green, the GolfBuddy will tell you how far your shots have gone.
• Potential for defects - Though this device will perform exactly as intended in a vast majority of cases, it can occasionally break down. This is generally related to the battery life, which appears to be prone to reducing significantly.
3. Bushnell Phantom Golf GPS
Bushnell are better known for their huge assortment of range finders, but they make a pretty decent GPS too. Like the GolfBuddy Voice GPS, this one is a handheld device, but it can be easily clipped onto a number of different things, including pull carts, belts and bags. The magnet which keeps it clipped onto these things, however, can sometimes be a little temperamental, so make sure you keep an eye on it to avoid losing it.
Like the Bushnell range finders, this GPS is very accurate, and provides distances to the front, middle, and back of the green, as well as up to four different hazards on each hole. It also has nearly 40,000 courses loaded on to it, so you’ll most likely be able to find your local on it. The battery lasts for up to ten hours, a little less than some other products but still more than long enough to get you through a round.
• Accuracy - This GPS is renowned for its accuracy, and will give you confidence that you know exactly how far you need to carry your ball to pull off a good shot.
• Provides distances to a range of locations - With distances provided for the front, middle and back of the green, as well as up to four hazards per hole, you’ll be able to develop a comprehensive understanding of the hole.
• Cheap - This is a lot cheaper than many of the other devices on this list, and still functions very well, so if you’re after a bargain buy then this could be a great choice.
• Clip-on magnet not very strong - The magnet which holds this GPS to your belt, bag or whatever you choose to attach it to doesn’t always hold for the entire 18 holes, so you’ll need to keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t come off.
4. Bushnell NEO XS Golf GPS Rangefinder Watch
This is another GPS which comes in the form of a watch, and is another great Bushnell product. It’s particularly easy to use, and provides accurate distance information for 25,000 different courses. These courses are limited to the U.S, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the U.K, Ireland and Sweden, so if you’re going to be playing significantly outside of these countries, then it probably won’t be appropriate. If you’re located within these places though, it’s a great choice. It’s very easy to use, shows distances to greens and hazards, and records the distances of your shots. It is also very durable, and will likely continue to function to a high level for many years.
The charger can at times be faulty, but Bushnell are generally good at providing replacements for defective product pieces, so this is easily resolved.
• Simple to use - Using this product is as easy as it gets, with comprehensive distance information available for all of the pre-loaded courses. The watch also automatically changes to the next hole after you finish, which can help to reduce confusion which is sometimes present when GPS’s don’t do this.
• Comprehensive info - This watch provides distances to all of the features of a hole which you need to know about. It covers the green, as well as every hazard that you need to be wary of.
• Durable - Often, GPS’s can become faulty after significant use, but this one will give you many years of high performance.
• Pre-loaded courses only in seven countries - If you don’t live in any of the relevant countries, or travel a lot to play elsewhere, you won’t be able to find the courses on this watch.
5. Garmin Approach G8 Golf Course GPS
The Garmin Approach G8 GPS is a little bulkier than most others, but aside from that this is a relatively flawless GPS. It’s very simple to use, and provides accurate distance measurements to a number of markers on the course. This device has a Wi-Fi connection, which allows it to automatically update courses. It has a number of other great features which aren’t found on many other GPS’s too. Aside from offering measurements, it is also able to adjust for incline and decline to give you better advice on which club you need. On top of this, it remembers how far you’ve hit each club in the past, and provides recommendations as to which club you should use for your upcoming shot.
• Extra features - There are a number of features which come with this GPS which you won’t find on other, similar devices. This includes the incline/decline adjustment, connection to an online community which allows you to share details of your round, and a Club Advice memory feature.
• Easy to use - Though it is a little big, the Garmin G8 rests easily in your hand and is extremely easy to navigate through.
• Updates courses automatically - Thanks to the Wi-Fi connection which comes with this device for no additional charge, courses are automatically updated on the GPS.
• Size - You’ll need to have somewhere to keep this during your round, because it’s probably a little bulky to be carrying around in your pocket. It won’t clip onto your bag or belt like some other hand held devices, so you will likely need to find some space in your golf bag to keep it stored.
All of the above GPS’s are great options, and will certainly help you to improve your golf game. The best of them, however, has to be the Garmin Approach G8 Golf Course GPS. This is the device which will enable you to most accurately determine just how far you need to hit the ball, eliminating the issue of guesswork which is so often involved in the game of golf.
An ability to adjust distance measurements for incline and decline is a great feature which isn’t present in most other GPS’s. Other similar products might tell you that you need to hit the ball 150 yards, but if it’s significantly uphill, it’s tough to know if you should be using your 160 yard club or your 170 yard club. The Garmin Approach G8 will eliminate that problem entirely. Making your club choices even easier is the Club Advice memory feature, which will be able to tell you exactly which club you should be using for each and every shot.
With a Wi-Fi connection also included, you don’t need to worry about the course you’re playing on not being available. Likewise, if there are changes to your local course, the GPS will automatically update to reflect these, meaning the technological issues which so often accompany products like these won’t be a problem.
It might not be as easy to carry around than some other GPS’s, but at the end of the day, an accurate GPS full of extra features which needs to be stowed in your golf bag is better than a lower quality one which clips on to your belt.
All of the above GPS’s are fantastic products, and will certainly fulfil your expectations. The best of the best of them, however, is the Garmin G8, excelling as a result of it’s pinpoint accuracy and array of great features.