Golf GPS vs. Laser Rangefinder Buyer’s Guide

Player and Caddie

Know Your Yardages

It used to be that only PGA Tour players, with their professional caddies and detailed yardage books, could expect to get precise numbers to the flag.  Regular golfers had to be content with yardages stamped on sprinkler heads and the occasional white stake.  Now, however, with GPS on every smart phone and plenty of companies making laser rangefinders, precise yardages are available to everyone.  The problem with so many choices is that it makes it difficult to pick the best option for you.  With that in mind, we bring you this simple guide to deciding between a golf GPS and a laser rangefinder.

SkyCaddie LINX (4)Izzo Swami Sport Golf GPS_0223

GPS

Pros

The biggest thing in favor of GPS is the cost.  There are dozens of golf GPS apps available for any smart phone, and many of them are free.  Standalone GPS units can cost as little as $100.  While there are certainly more expensive, full-featured options, the barrier to entry for GPS is practically nonexistent.

Another thing that makes GPS attractive is the wide array of forms that it takes.  You can get your yardages on your phone, on a watch, on a hat clip, or on a handheld unit.  This allows you to use whatever is fastest and most convenient for you.  For me, a GPS watch is easily the fastest way to play.

Finally, a full-featured GPS provides the most information.  The importance of this can’t be overstated, specially when you’re playing a course for the first time.  A GPS will not only give you the distance to bunkers and water, it will show you the hazards that you can’t see.  It also gives you information about the size and shape of the green which can be crucial for good course management.

Cons

The primary complaint against GPS units is accuracy.  While modern GPS units are a huge improvement over the originals, there are still times when the accuracy is not as good as a laser.  It’s also worth noting that, though many units display a movable flag, a GPS unit cannot give you a precise yardage to the flag.  This can be a good or bad thing, depending on your personality and course management style, but for players who want to fire at flags, a laser rangefinder is a must.

Another concern is that GPS units can only be used at courses that the company has mapped.  This isn’t the problem that it once was – almost every unit has tens of thousands of courses – but that won’t make you feel any better if the course you want to play isn’t available for your device.

Finally, GPS units can be difficult to use.  Again, they’ve come a long way in this regard, but there’s a natural tension between making a device easy to use and packing in more features.

Leupold GX-1i2 Laser Rangefinder_0058

Laser Rangefinders

Pros

The single biggest reason to prefer a laser rangefinder is accuracy.  Every major rangefinder on the market is accurate to within a yard, and some promise accuracy to the half or tenth of a yard.

Another plus for lasers is that they can be used anywhere.  You can use a laser rangefinder at every course on the planet without worrying about downloading it in advance.  Lasers are also great on the range – you can verify that the flag you’re knocking down is actually 150 yards away and not 142.

Cons

The biggest hurdle for laser rangefinders is cost.  Even the most inexpensive laser rangefinder costs around $200.  While a good laser should last for years, some people will have a problem with laying out that kind of cash up front.

Another issue that some people have with lasers is pace of play.  Where a GPS will give you the yardages as soon as you get to your ball, a rangefinder requires you to take it out and aim it at the flag to get your number.  This is an even bigger concern for players with shaky hands.  Personally, I feel that playing with a laser rangefinder is still much faster than playing without one, but others do prefer GPS for pace of play.

Finally, a laser rangefinder can only give you yardages to things that you can see and “hit” with the laser.  A laser is best for knowing the distance to the pin, but it can’t reliably tell you the distance to the front, back, or middle of the green.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the decision between a GPS unit and a laser rangefinder comes down to some personal preferences.  Is a laser’s dead-perfect accuracy worth the money?  Do you value the additional information a large screen GPS can provide?  Know that regardless of which option you choose, today’s golf technology will certainly help your course management.

The following two tabs change content below.

Matt Saternus

Co-Founder, Editor In Chief at PluggedInGolf.com
Matt is a golf instructor, club fitter, and writer living in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Matt's work has been published in Mulligan Magazine, Chicagoland Golf, South Florida Golf, and other golf media outlets. He's also been a featured speaker in the Online Golf Summit and is a member of Ultimate Golf Advantage's Faculty of Experts.

Latest posts by Matt Saternus (see all)

5 Comments

  1. I’ve been using Golfshot for a few years and it is a tremendous tool. I’ve recently bought and begun to use Arccos and it is even one more step in the right direction. Golf is a game of course management, not just “grip it and rip it” and then play whatever approach is left. Arccos allows me to know my club distances, and paired up with a GPS like Golfshot (or the new Arccos maps apparently in the works) makes course managemtn all the more relavent. Now I find myself being able to judge hazards and pick the right clubs to get me to my ideal lay up spots. Add to it being able to see green sizes and shapes it could make up to a 30Y difference on picking the right lay up position.
    I’ve always been intrigued by the lasers, but I couldn’t see myself giving up the information a GPS provides. Without a caddie I need all the help I can get to be able to manage the course effectively.

  2. Golf GPS and laser rangefinders allow to accurately determine your distance without relying on scattered markers, which unfortunately aren’t always visible or in good condition. They make life for golfers easier.

  3. Kenneth Fisher

    Another factor that I didn’t see mentioned in your comparison is the ability to hold the laser rangefinder steady to accurately “shoot” your target. As I’ve gotten older (in my early 60s now), I’ve given up using my Nikon rangefinder for distances over 150 yards — I just can’t hold the device steady enough to get an accurate shot on the flag stick. Fortunately, my Skycaddie GPS unit doesn’t depend on the steadiness of these old hands of mine! So similarly to golf clubs, the rangefinders are only going to be as good and accurate as the person operating it…!

  4. Pingback: Callaway Hybrid Laser/GPS Rangefinder Review - Plugged In Golf

  5. Pingback: TomTom Golfer GPS Watch Review - Plugged In Golf

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*