Golf GPS Systems vs Laser Rangefinders

There is no rea­son for ama­teur golfers to con­tin­ue to rely on on-course yardage mark­ers in today’s world. Mark­ing off the actu­al yardage from your ball to a yardage mark­er is inac­cu­rate and time con­sum­ing. There are two dis­tinct­ly dif­fer­ent devices avail­able on the mar­ket to help you deter­mine yardage on the course; the golf GPS sys­tem and the laser rangefind­er.

Which one is right for the begin­ner or high hand­i­cap golfer?

First, let’s take a detailed look at each.

Golf GPS sys­tems uti­lize the same GPS satel­lite sys­tem that a car nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem does. GPS coor­di­nates must be mapped for each course that the man­u­fac­tur­er offers on the device. This is pri­mar­i­ly done through the use of satel­lite images but Sky Golf, mak­er of Sky Cad­die sys­tems, prides itself on walk­ing every course. The accu­ra­cy of a golf GPS sys­tem is usu­al­ly with­in a few yards with the Sky Cad­die sys­tems claim­ing even bet­ter accu­ra­cy. Using these GPS coor­di­nates, the device can tell you the dis­tance from your ball to var­i­ous points on the hole. The most basic of sys­tems tell you the dis­tance to the cen­ter of the green. Most tell you at least the dis­tance to the front, cen­ter, and back of the green while some offer more includ­ing the dis­tance need­ed to car­ry haz­ards. An over­head view of the hole is anoth­er fea­ture on some sys­tems. Most of the touch­screen mod­els offer the abil­i­ty to drag to any point on the hole and see the dis­tance to it.

A laser rangefind­er shoots a laser off an object to deter­mine the dis­tance to it. By far the biggest ben­e­fit of a laser rangefind­er is its accu­ra­cy in mea­sur­ing the dis­tance to the flag. Sev­er­al rangefind­ers boast of accu­ra­cy with­in one yard or less. A sec­ondary advan­tage of some rangefind­ers is the abil­i­ty to deter­mine the slope from your ball to the tar­get and fac­tor it into the dis­tance. So if the actu­al dis­tance is 150 yards but the tar­get is uphill, the device would also give a longer “play-as” yardage. Rangefind­ers are also able to lock onto tar­gets oth­er than the flag, although this can some­times be trick­i­er and take more time. The major draw­back of a laser rangefind­er is the fact that it can­not mea­sure the dis­tance to a tar­get that it can­not see. So any blind shots are not mea­sur­able.

So which device is bet­ter for the high hand­i­cap or begin­ner golfer?

A golf GPS sys­tem is the best choice for the begin­ner or high hand­i­cap golfer. There are sev­er­al rea­sons why.

  • The goal of a high hand­i­cap golfer is to hit greens in reg­u­la­tion – not to go for every flag. Many times holes are guard­ed by haz­ards and the safe play is an area of the green away from the hole. A golf GPS sys­tem that tells you the dis­tance to the front, cen­ter, and back of the green will help you think of the dis­tance remain­ing to the green as a yardage range instead of a spe­cif­ic yardage, help­ing you hit more greens.


  • Many golf GPS sys­tems show an over­head view of the hole. Visu­al­iza­tion is a cru­cial com­po­nent of being a suc­cess­ful golfer. An over­head view of the hole is high­ly ben­e­fi­cial in uti­liz­ing course man­age­ment to plan out your shots on each hole.


  • A golf GPS sys­tem is quick­er than a laser rangefind­er. Slow play is becom­ing an increas­ing­ly larg­er prob­lem in golf. It takes time to zero in on a tar­get with a laser rangefind­er. A GPS will instant­ly tell you the remain­ing yardage to the green.


  • You can keep score and track stats on many golf GPS sys­tems. In addi­tion to deter­min­ing yardage left to the green and haz­ards, many golf GPS sys­tems allow you to keep score and track stats.


While hope­ful­ly some­day your golf game will progress to a lev­el that requires the accu­ra­cy of a laser rangefind­er, it is sim­ply not nec­es­sary at the high hand­i­cap lev­el. The added ben­e­fits of a golf GPS sys­tem make it the easy choice for the begin­ner or high hand­i­cap golfer.

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  1. Great post! I am a fair­ly low hand­i­cap golfer and although there are some nice advan­tages to hav­ing a golf GPS sys­tem i pre­fer using a rangefind­er as i gen­er­al­ly find them much more accu­rate.

    • Thanks for the com­ment, Jack! I agree with you. A low hand­i­cap golfer has the skills to be more aggres­sive at the pins. The bet­ter accu­ra­cy of a laser rangefind­er may be the best choice for a low hand­i­cap.

  2. I am think­ing of get­ting a rangefind­er instead of a GPS b/c I feel like most GPS don’t have the cours­es I play, most­ly city park cours­es. Do you think it is ben­e­fi­cial for a high hand­i­cap to get a rangefind­er instead of a GPS in this sit­u­a­tion?

    • Hi J D. Thanks for the com­ment.

      I would do the research and be sure there is not a GPS you like that offers the cours­es. I firm­ly believe a GPS is the way to go for a high hand­i­cap.

      If there isn’t a GPS that offers your cours­es, I would buy a rangefind­er. A rangefind­er is a bet­ter solu­tion than noth­ing at all.

  3. Great post. I have encoun­tered hole has been moved on the green. how accu­rate will GPS in this case? Does GPS unit update the new loca­tion?

    • Hi KC,

      Golf GPS sys­tems only tell you the dis­tance to the front, cen­ter and back of the greens, not the dis­tance to the hole. I feel this is actu­al­ly a good thing for high hand­i­cap golfers as it pro­motes hit­ting the cen­ter of the green and not aim­ing for the flag which can eas­i­ly get you in trou­ble.

  4. i recent­ly upgrad­ed to a smart phone and the first thing I did was to down­load a free ver­sion of a golf app (GolfLogx). I would rec­om­mend to any­one who is con­sid­er­ing buy­ing a Garmin and has a smart phone (and a bit of data to spare) to try this for free. It was easy to use, gave me the yardage to doglegs, sand­traps and the front, cen­ter and back of the hole as described above. I wouldn’t wor­ry about your course not being avail­able. If they’ve mapped the cours­es I play, they prob­a­bly have yours.

    Ear­li­er in the sea­son I played with a gen­tle­man who had a stand-alone gps (Garmin?) that he sim­ply attached to the golf cart. I think I would go with that device as opposed to using the phone if I could afford it.

    • I agree Jon. I have used some of the smart­phone apps, such as GolfLogix and TOUR Cad­die, and they are phe­nom­e­nal.

      My prob­lem is I always end up wor­ry­ing about my phone dur­ing the round.

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