golf gps buying guide

Golf GPS Watches vs. GPS Handhelds vs. Laser Rangefinders vs. Phone Apps

Today we are comparing GPS devices (watches, handhelds, rangefinders, and apps). We’ll analyze each of these four technologies golfers can use to get info, and their pros and cons. You’ll also learn about what to look for when buying a GPS device.

Time is what we want the most, but we use the worst. So, how can players appropriately manage their time in the golf course?

In this review guide, we are going to show you how to learn distances and information about a golf course with GPS devices, which will help you with time management.

If you want to buy one, you’ll learn the essence of choosing one golf GPS device over the other since you have so many options to choose from.

We’ll then answer a few questions that we believe will be a top of your mind after reading this guide.

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What to Look For When Buying a Golf GPS Device

Distance Measuring / Features

Apart from just measuring the yardage covered within the course, most GPS devices double up as fitness trackers. That’s an added incentive if your goal is more than just playing golf.

So you want to ensure that your device displays the correct distance information on its screen. But if you want more than just a distance tracker, some golf GPS devices come with additional features like scorecards, fitness tracking, and stopwatches.

Battery Life

Confirm that your device’s battery lasts for at least 10 hours before the next recharge. With the recent GPS technological advances, a good battery should last for up to 18 hours.

2018 was the peak of such GPS improvements, thanks to the new satellite installations. This saw advances in the features of golf GPS devices too. Note that the more features a machine has, the faster its battery drains- only install those features that you need the most.

Some golf distance devices use replaceable batteries like the CR2 type, which is quite expensive, though. But the good thing is that they will last for the entire season (30-40 rounds). There’ll be no more disturbances due to the battery running low, thus enabling you to track your yardages to the latter.


Would you rather settle for a low-priced golf distance tracking device with inadequate features, or dig deeper into your pocket and get an excellent value for your money?

Remember, price ratings of these golf GPS’s depend on their features. High-tech gadgets are more expensive since the manufacturers invest a lot in terms of data monitoring and tracking.

Some golf GPS devices also allow for up-to-the-minute updating of the features, but that’s only accessible through paid subscriptions. However, with some golf rangefinders, it’s free. But before you fall for this trap, remember that in an economic world, there’s no such thing as free.

Pre-Loaded Golf Courses / Storage

Certain golf GPS devices don’t have golf course maps pre-loaded. If you purchase such, it would be upon you to separately download, install, and update the golf courses through such features as the Garmin Connect App.

Luckily, most of the lately manufactured golf GPS watches and handhelds have pre-installed golf courses from around the world, which display depending on your GPS location. And upon subscription, you’ll enjoy automatic updating provided you have an internet connection.

Additional Apps the Device Connects with

The other factor to consider when buying a GPS watch, rangefinder, GPS handheld is the extra features provided.

What else can it offer other than reading and tracking the yardage? There are specific apps meant to enhance your life on the golf course by providing supplementary data, engagements, evaluations, etc.

The Garmin Connect App, for example, allows you to download additional golf courses, transfer and store data, performance analysis and evaluation, and so on. You can also interact with other golfers connected to the same apps, so you form a virtual network of professionals.

If you’re keen on scoring and tracking the rounds, such apps as GolfShake and Hole19 are extremely useful. You’ll know where to place the flag beforehand because you already have reliable distance information.

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Pros and Cons of GPS Golf Watch


  • Water-resistance – you don’t have to worry about the climate when you decide to get to the course. The waterproof feature will safeguard your GPS watch even if it falls in a bucket of water.
  • Longevity – constructed from sturdy and impact-resistant materials, accidental drops are not a scare anymore.
  • Lightweight – you’ll barely feel the watch’s weight on your wrist, no matter how much you run around the course.
  • Additional features – a GPS watch has an odometer that tracks essential details like the distance or steps covered in each round.
  • Golf GPS watches also come with pre-loaded golf courses that enable you to download additional course maps as and when you wish.


  • Frequent battery recharge or replacement required. The GPS chip drains lots of energy, thus the need to recharge after at least 10 hours.
  • Information accuracy depends on signal quality. So if the golf course location is susceptible to signal interference, expect an error of 5-10 yards.
  • GPS devices haven’t mapped all the golf courses. You may be surprised that your specific course is missing on the GPS.

Pros and Cons of Golf GPS Handhelds


  • Free auto-updates – most GPS handheld devices enjoy the latest updates of maps and databases without a subscription.
  • Extra information – technology has enabled the devices to give more information than just the directions. You can also determine the temperature, speed limits, weather, etc.
  • Battery life – they consume less power, thus enabling you to complete several rounds before the next recharge.
  • User-friendly – GPS handheld devices have a touch-screen feature that eases their functionality.
  • Sizes and shapes – these pocket-size devices are incredibly lightweight, making them ideal for stress-free course navigation.


  • For some devices, their operation depends on a stable internet connection. It may be challenging to find a good source of internet in remote areas.
  • Handheld devices aren’t so sturdy. Dropping them may cause breakage.
  • Orbital errors may lead to delayed signals, thus compromising the accuracy of the device.

Pros and Cons of Rangefinders


  • Easy to use – unlike the GPS systems which need either a preloaded or downloadable map to operate, laser rangefinders function more like a camera.
  • Accuracy – there’s no guesswork in measuring the distances as everything is scientific and calculated.
  • Confidence boost – since everything is accurately predetermined, a golfer is less worried about missing out on a shot. This is instrumental in developing a golfer into a pro.
  • Compact design – their sturdy and compact construction guarantees safekeeping since they can comfortably fit into the pocket.


  • Focusing the rangefinder onto a flagstick and accurately shooting it can be a bit tricky. Stabilizing the device requires commitment.
  • Unlike the GPS watch, which you can quickly read by the movement of your wrist, with the rangefinders, you have to remove them from your bag or pocket.
  • Rangefinders do not give an unobstructed aerial view of the course.
  • Laser rangefinders are very expensive. Premium models cost up to $500.

Pros and Cons of Phone Apps


  • Compatible with GPS watches – you can connect or download your phone apps in GPS devices like an Apple watch, thus instantly transferring all the features. So you do not have to carry the phone everywhere.
  • Pre-load golf courses – with the phone apps, you can download up to 40,000 golf courses so you can play in most places around the world.
  • Excellent trackers – phone apps give in-depth information and analysis of the yardages, fitness, scores, and every other post-game analysis.
  • Detailed course overview – golfing with the aid of phone apps is entirely safe and fun. Such information as hazard yardages, green views, bunker overviews, etc., wade off any safety concerns.


  • Phone apps consume a lot of energy. Expect to recharge your phone frequently due to the dramatic battery drainage.
  • Not all apps come freely. Regular subscriptions or purchases may be costly.

Resource: Golf Plan to Help You Break 80 for 18 Holes

Top Recommended Golf Distance Measuring Devices

In this section we will review some of the best golf distance measuring devices in the market and help point you in the right direction of where to start if you’re new to buying golf GPS devices.

  • Golf GPS Watches
  • Golf GPS Handhelds
  • Golf Laser Rangefinders
  • Golf Distance Apps for Phones

GPS Watches

Garmin Approach S20 GPS Golf Watch

If you’re a beginner or experienced golfer who values information related to the course, then Garmin S20 is the watch for you. Golfers love this device owing to its AutoShot feature, which automatically records every game-related statistic.

The data safely stores in a Garmin Connect account, so you can track your progress and see why you didn’t achieve your objectives. The screen surface area is wide enough to facilitate a quick read of the stats.

The S20’s wristband is very breathable and well-fitting. Ask any pro golfer, and they’ll tell you that Garmin Approach S20 is a go-for golf watch that would significantly improve your skills.

Learn more about Garmin S20 specs and price on Amazon

Garmin Approach X40 Golf GPS

Approach X40’s AutoShot feature is a game-changer that walks you through your journey to success as a professional golfer. Any distance you cover, any shot you make is well accounted for and analyzed for future referrals. Up-to-speed activity tracking is an invaluable reminder that you don’t want to miss.

The designers also invested in heart rate technology that gives your health a top priority all the time. To prevent annoying interruptions while on the action, the battery runs for up to 5 days in activity mode and 10 hours in GPS mode.

The only thing that we didn’t like about this device is its small screen, which may be challenging to read, especially in low lights.

Golf Buddy GB9 WTX+ Smartwatch Golf GPS

Compatible with most android smartphones, this simple golf GPS watch appears to have impressed many golfers world over. It also comes with over 38,000 pre-loaded golf courses that enjoy free updates. Once connected (via Bluetooth) to the smartphone, you can even receive notifications through its interchangeable screen.

The rechargeable lithium-ion battery stays active for up to 8 hours while in the GPS mode. The fact that there is no scorecard feature for this watch is a little turnoff but certainly not a deal-breaker.

Learn more about Golf Buddy GB9 specs and price on Amazon


Garmin Approach G30 Handheld Golf GPS

The compact device uses high-sensitivity GPS to locate the greens, doglegs, and hazards. It gives clear mapping views, which significantly improve accuracy. Furthermore, it is lightweight and can easily fit in the pocket when not in use.

When you have this device, be sure to play in almost any location worldwide because it has over 40,000 courses preloading. Approach G30 is a bit pricey, but it’s worth every penny.

Learn more about Garmin G30 specs and price on Amazon

Izzo Swami 6000

Taking the shape of a phone, this blue golf GPS will significantly improve your confidence in the course, thanks to its vibrant screen. You’ll accurately capture and store vital information across a whopping 38,000 courses.

Another impressive feature accredited to Izzo Swami 6000 is the long-lasting battery. It’ll power the GPS for 16 hours non-stop, plus it’s waterproof to ensure that you enjoy the game no matter the climate.

The four modes also enable you to know green distances from the back, center, and front, as well as hazard distances.

Learn more about Swami 6000 specs and price on Amazon

Golf Buddy GB3 VTX Talking Handheld GPS

Impressive features such as Bluetooth connectivity, over 38,000 preload golf courses, 15-hour battery life, smartphone compatibility, etc., lured us to this product. Its slim and lightweight design also proved decisive.

Golf Buddy’s voice audio is one of a kind. This innovative feature has options for both male and female voices. Acquire this handheld device at a retail price if around $90 and see your golfing skills improve significantly.

Learn more about Golf Buddy specs and price on Amazon

Laser Rangefinders

Izzo Golf Swami 5000 Golf GPS Rangefinder

The stylish device offers over 38,000 preload golf courses that don’t demand any annual subscriptions. Its improved battery stays active for at least 12 hours, giving you adequate continuous playtime in the course.

Other than hole-to-hole auto-recognition, the rangefinder’s overall green accuracy is also unmatched. Scorecard feature, water-resistance, magnetic charger, and shot distance measurement also factor in in this fantastic machine.

Learn more about Izzo Swami specs and price on Amazon

Bushnell Tour V4 JOLT Laser Rangefinder

Bushnell is a very common rangefinder among competitive golfers who mean business. With its top-notch accuracy, it is no surprise that the device barely stays on the shelves for long. It also boasts of Jolt technology that gives it the edge over competitive brands.

Jolt technology enables the rangefinder to lock off the flagstick accurately. The sturdy housing will keep the tool safe if it accidentally flips off your hands.

Learn more about specs and price on Amazon

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TecTecTec VPRO500 Golf Rangefinder

VPRO500 is the perfect rangefinder for golfers who operate under a limited budget but have a passion for improving their skills.

It has 3-sensor modes that can capture up to 540 yards. The advanced pin-sensor technology marks it a perfect measure for hazards, wooded areas, and flagsticks.

The lens display is very clear with every vital detail, such as the battery level and continuous distance measurements visible. Other attachments include a carrying pouch, microfiber cleaning cloth, wrist strap, and a start guide.

Learn more about TecTecTec VPro specs and price on Amazon

Phone Apps

Hole19 App

This app comes free and is compatible with android and iPhone devices. 

It provides information on the best courses to play in, tracks your scores, and measures the distances covered in each round. Hole19 has over 43,000 golf courses preloading across 200 countries.

18 Birdies Golf GPS App

The developers of the 18 Birdies app continually improve its features to match the latest trends of the game. It has options for a free purchase or premium membership.

The app features include a scorecard, handicap tracker, leaderboards, stats trackers, game bets, etc.

Golfshot App

Golfshot offers custom-made golf coaching and performance tracking. If you want to improve your on-course success, then you should take the earliest opportunity to download this app from Google Play or App Store.

It has voice assistants, a handicap index, GPS distance tracker, and digital scoreboards that combine effort for optimum results.

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Questions &Answers

Q: GPS Rangefinder vs. Laser Rangefinder: Which is the best?

A: As to which one is the best, totally depends on personal taste and preference. But most successful golfers prefer the laser rangefinders to GPS.

Laser rangefinders give more specific and precise measurements that are overly accurate. Furthermore, the device does not require pre-programming. They also cover long on-sight distances inside the golf course.

GPS rangefinders, on the other side, only cover distances that are devoid of obstacles- they don’t cover hazards. Unlike the former, these rangefinders provide general information. You can’t see specific ranges when using this device.

Q: Do I need a rangefinder with Slope?

A: Slope is a vital golfing enabler, but unfortunately, it’s not allowed in the Rules of Golf. In a serious golf competition, you’d get disqualified for using this feature. But if you play just for fun, the Slope is a distinctive element for sharpening your skills.

Q: What’s the essence course?

A: Invention of GPS devices is the best thing that happened to the golf sport. It allows golfers to store loads of helpful information that help in performance evaluation. With their ability to preload various golf courses, it assists players to know the right strategy for every shot in each course.

GPS devices also enable you to determine the distance obtained from every shot taken and how fast the ball speeds. It also provides information on the exact location of obstacles and hazards on the front, center, and back of the green.


Before you head out to buy your most preferred tool, make sure you have a broad knowledge of the four technologies that golfers use on the course. Settle for devices that promise durability, usability, water-resistance, preloaded golf courses, superb accuracy, and long battery life.

We hope that this buying guide will impact your golfing perspective going forward. In case something is still not clear, feel free to drop a question, and we’ll be more than willing to help.

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