A Quick Guide to Golf Rangefinders and GPS Units

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PGA Tour star Jordan Spieth has caddie Michael Greller by his side to give him accurate yardages and other critical course information—not to mention a little psychological boost or kick in the pants as needed.

Meanwhile, ordinary golfers like you and me rarely have a caddie at our disposal. But affordable technology in the form of laser rangefinders and GPS units can be our new best friend on the golf course. These high-tech devices can instantly tell us precise yardages and alert us to various course features that can improve our play.

There’s no guessing on yardage anymore. Know if it’s a comfortable 7 or a hard 8. Then just pull the club and hit the shot.

Laser Rangefinders

As the name implies, a laser rangefinder bounces a laser beam off a target such as a flagstick and computes the exact distance. Simply point the rangefinder at flags, bunkers and other course features. Rangefinders can also measure things such as slope, wind and temperature, although only distance measurement is allowed during competition. (Other measurements must be disabled.) Be sure to check the local rules wherever you play.

Thanks to laser technology, rangefinders are more accurate than GPS units for measuring distance and can be used at any golf course. They are also handy at the driving range, making it easy to determine the exact distance to so-called yardage markers and directional flags.

There are limitations, though. You need a line-of-sight to your target. A rangefinder can’t help you measure distance around a dogleg or through a grove of trees. In addition, bright sunlight, fog and rain can affect performance.

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GolfDiscount.com offers many brands and models of laser rangefinders, with prices starting at around $150.

GPS Units

GPS units utilize satellite technology to determine your exact location and calculate distances to various objects and course features such as the front, center and back of greens, water hazards, layup areas and more. These smart units also will display topographical features you can’t see with the naked eye. No line-of-sight necessary.

In addition, GPS units can collect information during your rounds. This includes data such as scores, fairways hit, greens in regulation, shot distances, sand saves and the like—a goldmine if you enjoy tracking statistics that can help you analyze and improve your game.

GPS units work on courses that have been mapped, and the list keeps growing. You can have hundreds or even thousands of courses on a device. (Many manufacturers offer thousands of courses that can be downloaded from their websites.)

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Starting at about $80, GolfDiscount.com carries a wide selection of GPS watches and handheld and clip-on units.

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Neil Sagebiel

Neil Sagebiel is a golf writer and author of two golf books published by St. Martin's Press, THE LONGEST SHOT and DRAW IN THE DUNES. He lives in Floyd, Virginia.
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