GPS vs Range Finder: Choosing A Distance Measuring Device


Technology has come a long way in recent years and especially when we consider GPS tracking. You use it all the time in your car or walking about a new area following the robotic melody of a lady voicing directions and hopefully signing off with a “you have arrived at your destination” statement. Let us explore the technology available to hopefully navigate you around the course effectively and efficiently…

What you need to know

First and foremost, I need to ask a question which we hope you are able to answer straight off the bat. If you cannot answer the question then for goodness sakes, please go hit some shots to reach an answer. On a normal day, how far do you carry your seven iron on average? Breaking this question down is as follows:

  • How far does a ball you play with travel through the air when hit purely by your seven iron?
  • Not how far the ball ends in total, but how far it carries, and yes obviously you would have to swing the club and not someone else smart Allick!

Why is this question so important? Well it’s because you need to know your carry distances with each club or there is absolutely no use investing in a measuring device!

If you do not know your carry distances, then there is no point measuring your shot because you wouldn’t know which club to pull when a distance has been measured. Actually, you know what, just buy the GPS watch, at least it will tell you how long you have been out on the course… if after 4 hours you haven’t reached the 16th tee box then heads straight for the clubhouse so the rest of us behind you can finish…

Knowing your game

For all the other serious golfers out there who know their yardages and are aware of what temperature and altitude differences do to the flight of the golf ball, let’s get down to business and figure out if we are going for the GPS watch or the range finder.

Playing 9 holes with a friend the other week and I asked him for a distance on a par three. He looked at his watch and gave me 3 distances, front, middle and, back and then concluded a final distance to the pin (via selection). I was actually impressed at how the watch had picked up the flag position. This feature brings a lot of credibility to the GPS watch and would definitely trump having a range finder any day if you often play leisurely and don’t mind it strapped to your wrist. The watch is functional and takes all of two seconds to glance at your wrist and compute the distances it feeds back to you. The watch can also be way more accurate than the range finder on occasions. How is this so, well read on to the next paragraph to find out why….

All you steady Eddies and so called purists, let’s have a chat about the range finder and how it could be beneficial. Why are we calling you “Steady Eddies”?  You need to have a steady hand when shooting the flag with your range finder… This supports my ending statement in the paragraph above as a miss fire will read out false distances and could see your ball travel into the trees beyond the flag which you mistakenly shot. A range finder utilizes a laser and not GPS technology to feedback distances. Thus, you can opt to shoot any object you desire to calculate a distance.

When playing I find myself not only shooting flags but bunker lips, trees, mounds, water hazards, the group in front of me and my golf ball laying on the fairway because I hit it too damn far to be seen by the naked eye! In all seriousness, the range finder is more versatile than the GPS watch. However, does every golfer need this versatility? Certainly not as the main purpose of a distance measuring device is to accurately give you a distance without stepping it off from the nearest distance plate and calculating how much you should add or subtract to get a final number to the flag.


To conclude we have listed a few pros and cons pertained to the GPS watch and the range finder. Note these points and hopefully this will help you establish which device to settle on.

GPS Watch Pros

  • Easily accessible on your wrist.
  • Give front, middle, back and flag numbers.
  • Most models have hazard and bunker numbers.
  • A hole overview.
  • Has many other features like distance tracking, calorie counting, notifications and as you may have guessed… yes, it tells the time.
  • Can speed up play with a set it and go design.
  • Tend to be better priced than laser range finder

GPS Watch Cons

  • You may not like a watch on the wrist while playing.
  • Limited to the distances given.
  • Don’t forget to charge it…
  • GPS location may be out a couple yards, therefore not as exact as a range finder.  
  • Limited to the 35 40K pre-loaded courses.

Range Finder Pros

  • Can shoot any target you desire.
  • Gives exact yardages to your target.
  • Certain models have slope readings as well so distances are adjusted to suit the player.  

Range Finder Cons

  • Need a steady hand out there or you could shoot unintended targets, in the UK’s cold conditions, keeping your hand steady can be a challenge.
  • Slows down play, you have to fetch and replace it when needed from its pouch or your bag. Furthermore, you then laser the target a few times just to be sure of the yardage. This is a lot slower than just a glance at the watch.
  • Uses CR2 batteries which are a pain to find.
  • Tend to be more expensive than watches.

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