If you’ve been thinking about investing in a rangefinder to help your golf game, you might feel overwhelmed by all of the different models, each promising to be any golfer’s new best friend. Choosing the one that’s right for you doesn’t have to make you want to smash your clubs in frustration. Learning about the different types and how they work can make it much easier to find the right model to fit your needs.
The first, and original, type of rangefinder (besides a good caddy, of course) is the GPS variety. As you might guess from the name, GPS rangefinders use real-time satellite triangulation combined with preloaded course info to determine where you are right now relative to the next hole. Some models are even loaded with information about hazards, too. Older or lower-quality models can be ineffective in areas surrounded by too many trees or tall buildings, since such obstruction can get in the way of satellite signals. Newer, higher-quality models employ more advanced technology that virtually eliminates this problem. Since distances are calculated based on preloaded course info, GPS models do need to be updated to include new courses or courses that have undergone extensive renovation. Many models actually require a monthly or annual subscription fee to guarantee up-to-date information. There are plenty of quality GPS models available that do not require this recurring expense. When shopping for a GPS rangefinder, make sure you understand whether or not a subscription is required. One of the biggest advantages of GPS rangefinders is that they are available as wristwatches. A quick flick of your wrist, and you’ll get the information you need. Another plus for many golfers is that GPS models tend to be quite a bit cheaper than their laser counterpart. The biggest drawback to GPS models is that they tend to be less accurate than laser rangefinders.
The other type of golf rangefinder uses lasers to determine your distance from the next hole or hazard based on real-time conditions. Since a laser rangefinder “sees” the environment in real time, there’s no need to worry about whether your favorite course is preloaded. Some laser rangefinders are also able to accurately calculate slope, whereas the best GPS models can only give you a general idea of slope. Since laser rangefinders have to “see” the area to make calculations, they’re only effective when your next hazard or hole is clearly visible. In other words, GPS determines your physical location and compares that to what it knows about your course to calculate distance. Lasers don’t know anything about the course or your latitude and longitude; they only tell you how far you are from whatever you aim at. This can be a problem for some golfers on holes where there is not a clear line of sight between them and the flag. Laser rangefinders definitely offer more accuracy than GPS versions, which is why many choose them. What you gain in accuracy, though, you tend to lose in ease of use. GPS models can be worn on the wrist. Laser models have to be carried in a pocket or bag, taken out, aimed, and put away again. As mentioned above, laser rangefinders do generally cost considerably more than comparable-quality GPS units.
Whichever version appeals most to you, make sure that any model you buy is approved for use in any tournaments you plan to enter. While many places do allow basic distance rangefinders to be used, some do not. Few, if any, allow you to use models that calculate slope. If tournament play is part of your plan, be sure you’re not wasting hard-earned money on a model that you’ll have to leave in the car.
In the end, GPS versus laser becomes largely a matter preference for most golfers as each has it pros and cons. Laser models are newer technology, but many players don’t agree that newer means better. The lower price and ease of use of GPS rangefinders makes it unlikely that they’ll fade away anytime soon. If, on the other hand, you’re more interested in superior accuracy and slope calculation, a laser might be a better choice for you.