Range Finders vs. GPS Devices

Golf’s a game of shot-making, of course, but behind the shots there’s the decision-making. With the 2008 change to Rule 14-3b, distance-measuring devices are more and more common around the course. Making decisions is becoming easier.

Range finders and GPS devices are simple to use, accurate, light, durable — and helpful. But hold the similarities there. They are very different pieces of equipment and selecting one or the other can be complex and personal. Ease of use, accuracy, innovation, travel use, cost, annual fees, buzz factor – each device offers a mixed bag of pros and cons. Another decision for the golfer!

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This is an optical device, part binoculars, part State Trooper’s speed gun, part 5th grade arithmetic exercise. Select and lock onto an object. The range finder shoots a laser, and by measuring how fast it travels to the target and back again, it determines distance.

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Upside of the Range Finder

  • Hassle-free – pop out of box, pop in battery, go.
  • Works on every course everywhere. Great for travel.
  • Measures distance to anything in line of sight – tree, face of bunker.
  • Pinpoint accuracy to the hole location, not just to front, middle and back of green.
  • Higher end models adjust distances based on changes of elevation (slope), giving readings of both straight distance and adjusted distance. Don’t guess about taking an extra club to that elevated green.
  • Can be used on the practice range.

Downside of the Range Finder

  • Requires a direct line of sight.
  • Needs an object to target. Sometimes hard to measure edges of hazards or bunkers.

Simply put, GPS devices talk to satellites. They pinpoint your exact location on Earth and use previously recorded locations on the course to tell you the distance to important locations such as the front of green. You download maps of specific courses into the GPS.

Upside of the GPS Unit

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  • Easy to use on course – walk up to ball, look at your GPS, see where you are.
  • You don’t have to see the target to know where it is. On a dog-leg, or in the woods? No worries.
  • Most courses are mapped.
  • Gives measurements like how far to carry the bunker in front of the green.
  • Gives rough outline of the green – helpful if course is unfamiliar.
  • Some have cool features, like Callaway’s uPro, which offers hole fly overs.

Downside of the GPS Unit

  • Doesn’t measure exact pin placement. Measures only front, middle, back of green.
  • Course maps must be downloaded. Most GPS units typically hold only a limited number of courses.
  • Just one vendor, Sky Caddy, has its own GPS mapping team (those guys with backpacks). Others purchase satellite maps or images and may not be as accurate.
  • Some require yearly fees for subscriptions.

Every owner of a distance-measuring device should know when to hold it and when to fold it. The new rule states “The Committee may make a Local Rule allowing players to use devices that measure or gauge distance only”. Most GAM events allow distance measuring devices. However, the PGA and the USGA have not adopted the same policy. Any model that features the slope feature will not be allowed regardless of the local rule.

There’s lots to learn about range finders and GPS devices. At Miles of Golf you can compare models such as Bushnell Tour V2, Nikon Lr550, as well as Sky Caddy, Golf Buddy and Callaway uPro. Talk to the staff about the fine points of each.

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