golf watch gps guide

GPS Golf Watches: The Beginner’s Guide

Golf GPS Watches: The Beginner’s Guide

One of the coolest technology gadgets to hit the market in the golf space is the Golf Watch with GPS capabilities. This wearable technology can make it super easy on golfers to find distances to the hole, bunkers, hazards, and other specific distance measurements needed.

One of the key benefits of using a Golf GPS watch is that it can help you make smarter club decisions as you’ll know roughly how far to the green thanks to the GPS technology which is quite accurate.

Gone are the days of guessing by using old fashion distance markers on the course and walking off yardages from the markers to your ball.

Below in this guide we will be reviewing everything you should consider when buying a Golf GPS watch. It will help make the buying process much easier and you’ll be aware of the types of features to look for.

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What Should a GPS Golf Watch Include?

When buying a golf GPS watch there are many features it could potentially come with depending on your budget. Higher priced watchers usually carry more advanced features as compared to the simple, low budget watches.

Most golf watch brands like Garmin or Bushnell have several different golf GPS watches in their series in order to appeal to a wide variety of golfers, so comparing each watch can be quite tedious.

Features to Look for in a GPS Golf Watch:

  • Long Battery Life
  • Basic Distance Information
  • Touch to Target
  • Individual Shot Tracking Distance
  • Pre-Loaded Golf Courses
  • Auto-Course Recognition
  • Green Mapping
  • Manual Pin Setting
  • Waterproof
  • Swing Analysis
  • Scorecard
  • Touch Screen
  • Ease of Use
  • Fitness Tracking

Battery Life

Just like with cell phones, battery life is super important on golf watches as you’ll be playing a 4-5 hour round of golf and need the device to power on the entire time. Luckily, most golf GPS watches are built with at least 10 hours of battery life when in golf mode and can last several days when in normal watch mode.

Distance Information

The golf GPS watches these days all contain basic distance information to the center of the green and most include yardages to the front and back of the green as well on each hole. More advanced watches may also contain yardages to specific hazards and bunkers.

Touch to Target

The touch to target feature is super helpful when you need to know the exact distance to a certain location on the golf hole. For example, if you’re trying to lay up before a water hazard or need to know how far to carry the bunker on your tee shot.

Individual Shot Tracking Distance

Being able to track individual golf shots is helpful when you’re learning your club distances and want to gather data over time to help you make smarter shot decisions. Most watches have a start shot button where it begins recording from your current location using GPS technology.

Once you get to your golf ball your press “Stop” and it calculates the total distance between the two points. Use this feature along with our club distance worksheet to track your club distances over time and calculate the averages!

Pre-Loaded Golf Courses

One of the common features you’ll see listed is “this watch comes with 30,000 pre-loaded courses”. In simple terms, it means that the watch already has the layout of thousands of golf courses installed to help you quickly find the golf course you’ll be playing.

This is beneficial because in the older days you’d have to get on a computer and connect the watch to it via a cord and download courses manually that are in your local area.

The pre-loaded course feature also auto-updates when connected to wi-fi, adding additional courses to your golf watch overtime.

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Auto-Course Recognition

Auto Golf Course Recognition software uses GPS technology to learn where you are at in the world and then finds that golf course and pulls it up automatically for you on the screen. This is useful when standing on the tee box of hole #1, so you don’t have to spend time searching the golf course archives to find your course.

Green Mapping

Green mapping is a more advanced feature that only certain golf gps watches will have, but it’s useful for showing you exactly what the green looks like ahead of you. This helps you better plan your approach shots seeing the outline and where to aim since some greens can have very different shapes and slopes.

Manual Pin Location

This feature allows you to manually set the location of the pin on the green and then the GPS watch will recalibrate the distances so that you have accurate information prior to hitting your approach shot.


Spending a lot of money on a golf watch only to get it wet and ruin it can be disheartening, so one feature to consider is waterproof. This is especially useful in rainy conditions or in case of accidental drops.

Swing Analysis

Since a golf watch is positioned on your wrist during the golf swing, some GPS golf watches have the capability of tracking swing speed and other golf swing statistics to give you feedback for improvement. This will likely be a more advanced feature you’d find on a higher priced golf watch.


Tracking your score on a scorecard is the norm still to this day, but also tracking it on your golf watch is useful because it can log it to the cloud for review later. Overtime, you can accumulate a large record of golf scores from your golf rounds and analyze them for trends, averages, and other statistical data to help you learn where to improve.

Touch Screen

Older watches and lower budget watches will have the buttons on the side that you press to navigate into different screens on the watch face. But newer technology has allowed for touch screen capability so you can tap into different pages or locations on the golf course map.

Ease of Use & Navigation

An often-overlooked feature when buying technology is the ease of use. Tech can get tricky, especially for people who aren’t very tech-savvy to begin with. We encourage you to play around with the watch, navigating in and out of different pages and features to ensure it’s easy for you to use during your round of golf to keep play fast and now slow you down.

Fitness Tracking

Like most smart watches, golf GPS watches have fitness tracking capabilities to also be used outside of golf like when at the gym or at home doing workouts. These features very by watch but most include basic calorie tracking and step tracking. A round of golf could rack up several thousand steps and burn 400-500 calories.

GPS Golf Watches & Smartphone Apps

We’ve already covered the best golf apps to download on your smart phone, but it’s also worth noting that golf watches can also be synced with different apps to add additional features and capabilities.

How it works is the golf watch tracks lots of data and then transfers it to the app where you can do additional things with that data.

For example, Garmin Connect is the app that comes with higher priced Garmin Golf Watches. On the app you’ll have access to golf swing data, scores and other statistics that can then be uploaded to their online community to compare to others or compete with the community leaderboards.

How Do GPS Golf Watches Work?

Right now, there are hundreds if not thousands of GPS satellites orbiting around earth and they communicate back and forth with GPS technology that is built into different electronic devices, like the golf watch.

This allows the watch to send signals back and forth and then translate the GPS coordinates of your current position to the GPS coordinates of the golf hole to calculate distance between the two points.

Since golf courses are built into the land, their positions are always stationary so as you move around the course, your coordinates change and the distances on your GPS watch quickly change to provide accurate yardage information.

Here are some recommended Golf GPS Watches:

  1. Garmin Approach S10
  2. Garmin Approach S20
  3. Garmin Approach S60

Are GPS Watches Legal in Golf?

GPS Watches are just one of several distance tracking devices. The others include rangefinders and handheld GPS devices. Collectively these are all categorized together as “rangefinder devices” which the USGA had outlawed in tournament play for many years.

Recently, they have gotten more lenient on the use of these devices in amateur competitions. It varies by tournament as the tournament committee is the governing body that gets to decide if they’ll allow rangefinder devices in their tournament or not.

You can always use it in regular, non-competitive play and usually in practice rounds prior to a tournament. But now high school golf tournaments and junior golf events are beginning to allow it as well.

One the PGA Tour they still are not allowed to use distance tracking devices. The caddie will usually use a rangefinder device and take notes during days leading up to the start of the tournament so that they can rely on those notes during tournament play in PGA events.

Golf distance tracking devices that get outlawed for competitive play usually have the following features:

  • Slope reading
  • Wind measurement
  • Club suggestions
  • Swing analysis
  • Ability to contact a coach/trainer
  • Weather conditions

Before buying a golf distance tracking device like a GPS watch or rangefinder, be sure to check it’s features and make sure it complies with the rules of the local tournament, USGA, AJGA, NCAA, or other ruling body.

Do PGA caddies use rangefinders?

The PGA still does not allow the use of rangefinders, golf GPS watches, or handheld GPS devices during competitive rounds of golf.

During practice rounds, caddies use these devices to learn distances from the tee to bunkers, hazards, etc. and take notes that they’ll be able to read later on during the live rounds of the tournament.

Where does it say these GPS devices are outlawed?

The USGA has Rule 14-3b which bans “artificial” devices used for “gauging or measuring distance” or other conditions of play, such as the course’s slope or the day’s weather. The penalty for violation of Rule 14-3b is disqualification.

Until this rule is changed, the PGA players and caddies will continue to play golf using the courses distance markers and any notes or studying they did of the course prior to tournament play.

Why Are Yardage Books Allowed on the PGA Tour?

If you’ve watched golf recently on TV or in person, you’ll notice the players and their caddies often pull out booklets that they flip open and study before playing their golf shot.

These are yardage books and are NOT considered “artificial” under the USGA rule 14-3b. The tournaments also usually give the golfers pin sheets with locations of where the holes are on the green as well as green reading books, sometimes.

So even though they can’t use an electronic “artificial” device like a golf GPS watch, they still have access to data and information in these booklets to help them decide shot selection and strategy.

How Much Do GPS Golf Watches Cost?

Prices will vary across the board as there are hundreds of different watches with a wide range of features from many different golf brands.

The most popular golf watch brands you’ll likely see in your search for golf watches on Amazon are Garmin, Bushnell, and SkyCaddie.

Entry level watches can run $40-$80 while more advanced watches can cost well above $300-$400.

Compare the golf watches across brands as many offer the same features but are priced differently because the big brands are more well-known and therefore try to charge more for “perceived value” or quality.

Here are some recommended Golf GPS Watches:

  1. Garmin Approach S10
  2. Garmin Approach S20
  3. Garmin Approach S60

Should You Buy a GPS Golf Watch?

At the end of reading this Golf GPS Watch Buying Guide I hope we’ve answered most of your questions and made you aware of important things to consider when shopping for a golf watch.

We believe buying a Golf GPS watch is a smart decision as it has many benefits to helping you play a golf course with strategy that can lower your golf score.

You’ll have access to better distance information than trying to calculate it on your own, which in turn can lead to more accurate golf shots and shorter putts to the hole.

There are also many game improvement features that come post-round to help you analyze your game and find areas to make improvement.

The more advanced GPS golf watches can even help you learn things about your swing you wouldn’t have known otherwise. This can be beneficial during your driving range practice sessions or when getting lessons from an instructor, sharing this info with them.

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