Golf rangefinders and GPS units are excellent tools for measuring yardage to greens and hazards to help you choose the best club for your next swing. They use lasers, satellites, and other methods to determine proper yardage, and some can even be customized with your golf stats to make club and swing recommendations. Some even talk! While using rangefinders and GPS units is generally permissible for casual rounds of golf, it is a good idea to check with tournament organizers before using one for any kind of official game play. This is important to note mostly because there are several range finding units that factor in measurements like wind velocity, course slopes, altitude, temperature, and other non-distance measurements. Such devices cannot be used to make measurements in official tournaments nor for the purpose of posting handicap scores.
Golf GPS Units
Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers measure location and distance using information from satellites, just like the GPS in your car or on your smart phone might. But, Golf GPS receivers upload a variety of course specific information to help you plan your swings. They can be purchased as hand-held or wristwatch-style units. Most GPS receivers come with a compact display screen where course information is displayed. GPS units are able to assist you with measuring yardage from where you are to the center of the greens or to specific hazards with accuracy that is generally better than simply eyeballing a course. They are also convenient in cases where you cannot see the pin from your current location. Put another way, GPS units give you the big picture, so you can think a little more strategically about getting to the pin.
There are plenty of other handy capabilities in different models. For instance, some GPS units will keep score for you or provide you with photo-quality maps or feature touch screen displays. There are also GPS units on the market that do not have or need a screen to display but clip to your hat and speak the information you need at the touch of a button. Many GPS units also allow you download information about new courses as you travel. It is worth noting that membership fees can sometimes apply.
Using a laser rangefinder is as easy as putting a scope to your eye. Once you aim the rangefinder at a target (for instance, at a flag or at trees in the distance), it uses a laser to ping the feature you are looking at and give you a distance measurement that is even more accurate than that of a GPS receiver. There are limitations to using lasers, though. If you do not have direct line of site for your shot, or if there is fog or mist in the air, your reading will be not be helpful. The battery life for laser rangefinders is generally much longer than that of GPS units, since they usually have a simple digital number display—either on the lens of the scope or on the side of the device.
Some laser rangefinders are able to be calibrated to give you club recommendations, allowing you to get the best possible shot. It is important to pay attention when looking at these models, though, as they often make non-distant measurements (such as considering wind, weather, or elevation changes) that are illegal to use for official tournament.
Some new models of rangefinders incorporate laser technology and GPS technology in one ultra-convenient package. This gives you the pros of both types of range finders, including complete maps, accurate measurements whether you have visibility or not, and the confidence to make decisions about your clubs. This can be a pricier option, as you are essentially purchasing two devices, and it takes up more space and weight in a golf bag than either a GPS or laser rangefinder would on their own.