Golf GPS vs Rangefinder – Which one is right for you?

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A golf GPS is a device that uses satellites to pinpoint your exact location on a golf course. Its most significant advantage is using this information to relay essential things to you, such as yardage, hazards, and more.

The top golf GPS currently on the market is the Garmin Approach S62.

A golf rangefinder is a device with a scope that you look through at your target. Once your target is acquired, you click the button on top, and it shoots a laser beam at your target to determine precisely how far away it is. Its most significant advantage is that it is convenient and allows for a faster golf game and decision-making while on the golf course.

The top golf rangefinder currently on the market is the Bushnell Pro X3.

Here’s a quick summary table comparing golf GPS vs rangefinders:

FeatureGolf GPSRangefinder
Ease of UseEasy to usePoint and click
AccessibilityCompact designSmall and magnetic
Precise YardageYesYes
Tournament LegalNot alwaysUsually
Slope FeatureNoSome models
Launch MonitorSome modelsNo
PriceLess expensiveMore expensive

Have questions about which device is better for you to buy? Keep reading!

What is a Golf GPS?

A golf GPS is a device that uses satellites to pinpoint your exact location on a golf course. Many GPS devices are available to purchase that all do the same thing.

Each device extends to the green’s front, middle, and back. Knowing the exact distance allows you to easily choose what club you want to hit without guessing how far away you are.

Types of Golf GPS Devices

There are many different golf GPS devices available, including:

It comes down to personal preference for which type of golf GPS is better for you. GPS watches are great because you don’t even know they are there. You can easily lift your wrist to see yardage on your shots, which usually has a higher battery life.

Handheld GPS units are usually smaller devices, with most golf bags having a specific slot. You can also keep it in your pocket during your round and bring it out when needed.

There are plenty of golf GPS apps available on all smartphones. These apps work the same as a GPS watch or handheld GPS. The app uses satellite imagery and relays to you in real time all the necessary information you require.

senior golfer checking his golf gps watch

Pros of Using a Golf GPS

One pro to using a golf GPS is that they only take up a little space, depending on the device you plan to use. Handheld GPS devices can be set inside your pocket or in an accessible pocket on your golf bag.

GPS watches are worn on the wrist, so you don’t even realize it is there half the time. The accessibility to this type of device can’t be beaten.

Another pro of using a golf GPS is that they provide precise yardage to the front, middle, and back of the green. You can be sure you are getting exact yardages from anywhere on the course to the pin location on the green.

Lastly, some handheld golf GPS devices come with a built-in launch monitor, which is great for practice at the driving range. You can set the device near where you are swinging, and it will watch your swing and provide all of the necessary statistics you need to know:

To have this kind of device in the palm of your hand is excellent.

Cons of Using a Golf GPS

One con to using a golf GPS device is the price. GPS devices are more expensive than an average rangefinder.

You will need to determine what your intended use is going to be because a golf GPS is costly. However, it may also have a lot more features than a rangefinder, such as a launch monitor.

Another con to using a golf GPS is that they need to be tournament-safe. You cannot use one in a professional golf tournament, making them useless.

If you are a recreational golfer, you won’t have to worry about this, but as an amateur competing in tournaments, this can be a big problem.

Here’s a summary of the pros and cons of a golf GPS:

Golf GPS ProsGolf GPS Cons
Compact and accessible designHigher price compared to average rangefinders
Provides precise yardage to the front, middle, and back of the greenMay not be allowed in professional tournaments
Some handheld devices come with a built-in launch monitor

How a Golf GPS Works

A golf GPS uses satellites in the sky to provide accurate yardages to everywhere on the golf course. GPS distances are accurate to three feet (one meter) or less.

Before your golf round, you find the course you are playing on the device and download the map. After you start your game, it will go through each hole, advise what par it is, pin locations, and more.

The yardage will change closer to the green as you move down the fairway. This ensures you know the exact distances to the green, so you are still determining which club to use. This also provides no blind shots are happening.

What Are The Most Popular Golf GPS Devices?

Garmin Approach S62 Golf GPS Watch

best golf watch garmin approach s62

Regarding golf GPS watches, the Garmin Approach S62 is right up there with the best. This watch is sleek and pre-loaded, with over 40,000 golf courses worldwide.

It has a 20-hour battery life and provides all the necessary information you will require when out on the golf course. It also has a built-in caddie function that advises what club to hit, which way the wind is blowing from, and more.

Bushnell Phantom 2

bushnell phantom 2 best golf gps vs rangefinder

The Bushnell Phantom 2 is at the top if you are looking for a GPS handheld unit. This device is straightforward to use and very simple. It features a large font showing the front, middle, and back distances and has a magnetic mount equipped to the back. It lacks the nice graphics but gets the job done cheaply.

Arccos Caddie Golf GPS App

arccos caddie golf gps vs rangerfinder comparison

One of the best golf GPS apps available is the Arccos Caddie app, available on all smartphones. This app works with Arccos Smart Sensors, which are small knobs that you screw into the bottom of each club.

These track everything with your swing and relay that information back onto the app for you to review after a range session or round of golf. The app provides complete GPS information, including yardage, wind direction, location of hazards, and more.

What is a Golf Rangefinder?

A golf rangefinder is a device that helps golfers estimate the distance and accuracy of their shots before hitting them. It has a scope where you place one eye through and aim at your target in the distance.

Once you have your target, you click the button on top, and it will buzz and then show you the actual distance to that target. This helps you not hit blind shots into the green and know what club to use.

Types of Golf Rangefinders

There are three specific types of golf rangefinders:

  • GPS Rangefinder

  • Laser Rangefinder

  • Hybrid Rangefinder

GPS Rangefinders

A GPS Rangefinder uses a series of satellites to establish the distance from your device to a specific target on the golf course. Your rangefinder will receive a signal once it establishes that distance and will advise through the screen.

A nice thing about a GPS-based rangefinder is that you don’t have to aim it at your target and hope you are locked on the correct item. You can trust that the satellite information is accurate.

You have to make sure your device is loaded with the courses you play because that is how it determines where you are. Most rangefinders come pre-loaded with thousands of systems.

Laser Rangefinders

Laser rangefinders use a laser beam aimed at the target to determine your distance from it. This is where you put your eye into the scope and aim wherever you want on the course. The laser will lock onto your target and shock you once it determines the distance.

The great thing about laser rangefinders is the flexibility, as you can aim it wherever you want and get a distance to anything. Some laser rangefinders also have a slope built in, which advises the fairway’s slope and adds or subtracts distance based on that. Most golfers use their laser rangefinder always to know their exact distance to the pin.

Hybrid Rangefinders

A hybrid rangefinder is a hybrid between laser beam technology and GPS technology. It provides you with GPS satellite course mapping along with laser beam technology.

Best Golf Rangefinder with Slope

Pros of Using a Golf Rangefinder

The pros of using a golf rangefinder is the ease of use. You point, click, and view your distance, simple as that. It is straightforward to grab a distance to anywhere on the golf course, and it gives you that peace of mind that you are using the correct club and not hitting blind shots.

Golf rangefinders are generally tiny and convenient to carry, with most golf bags nowadays having some magnetic holder for the rangefinder.

Another pro of using a rangefinder is that they are legal in some tournaments as opposed to GPS devices. This helps get the most accurate yardage without guessing. Some premium rangefinders also have a built-in slope feature that relays a fairway’s slope to you and adds distance to it.

Cons of Using a Golf Rangefinder

The biggest downside to using a golf rangefinder is that you must aim at your target and click a button, hoping you are on the correct target. It may not be easy to get right on your target, or it may catch something in the background, throwing off your yardage.

You also must have a clear view of your target in the first place, so blind shots will not allow you to use a rangefinder to get your distance.

If you are on a low part of the fairway and can’t see the green, you must run up the hill to get a view of the green and your target. This can be inconvenient to some and add extra time to your golf game.

Here is a summary of the pros and cons of a golf rangefinder:

Pros of Using a Golf RangefinderCons of Using a Golf Rangefinder
Easy to use: point, click, viewMust aim accurately at target
Small, convenient, magnetic holderDifficulty with blind shots
Legal in some tournamentsRequires clear view of target
Built-in slope featureInconvenience adds time to game

How a Golf Rangefinder Works

A golf rangefinder uses laser beam technology to lock onto a target and provide accurate distances from you to that specific target. By looking through the scope, you can scan around the golf course, and once you have your target, you click the button on the top of the rangefinder.

It will buzz to confirm that it is locked onto the target and then provide a distance.

Rangefinders are incredibly easy to use and take a few seconds to provide accurate yardage, so you are still determining what club to use.

What Are The Most Popular Golf Rangefinders?

Bushnell Pro X3 Laser Rangefinder

bushnell pro x3 best golf rangefinder

If you are looking for the top-of-the-line rangefinder on the market, look no further than the Bushnell Pro X3. It has a magnetic mount and features the most feedback once you lock onto your target.

A Slope Switch allows you to change the rangefinder from a slope or no slope included in your distances. This is a pricey option but worth the investment for your golf game.

Nikon Coolshot 50i Laser Rangefinder

Nikon Coolshot 50i best golf laser rangefinder

For the best optics out of a golf rangefinder, look no further than the Nikon Coolshot 50i. It shouldn’t surprise you that Nikon, one of the most popular camera brands on the market, provides some of the best optics for a golf rangefinder.

The graphics are crisp, and the rangefinder is incredibly lightweight. It also has all of the features you want out of a rangefinder.

MGI Sureshot Laser Pinloc 5000i

MGI Sureshot Laser Pinloc best golf rangefinder

If you are looking for a rangefinder and not wanting to break the bank, take a look at the MGI Sureshot Laser Pinloc 5000i rangefinder. For under $200, you can have all of the high-end brands’ features.

Once locked onto your target, it will provide a pulse, letting you know you will get accurate yardage. It also comes in two different color options.

Golf GPS vs Rangefinders: Detailed Comparison


Regarding pure accuracy on the golf course, a laser rangefinder gives you the most accurate distance out on the golf course.

GPS gives general distances to the green’s front, middle, and back instead of precise yardages. With a rangefinder, you can be confident that you are getting a specific distance if you lock in a particular target.

The difference between 126 yards and 119 yards may not be big, but it can be the difference between hitting the green and coming up just short on the golf course.

With a GPS, you also have to ensure that your golf course is downloaded onto it and then trust that the map you downloaded is accurate to real-life. You don’t have those questions with a rangefinder, because you are in control.

Winner: Rangefinders

Ease of Use

Regarding ease of use on the golf course, a GPS device is easier to use than a rangefinder. With a rangefinder, you must pull it out of your bag each time you want to use it. You must look through the scope, locate your target, and get the distance.

With a GPS device, you can clip or mount it to your bag and give a general glance occasionally. As it is powered by satellites, it follows you throughout the course, and the distances change based on that.

Winner: GPS

Battery Life

One of the most significant drawbacks to a golf GPS device is that you must charge it, usually after each round. The battery life could be better, and using satellites drains the battery life the entire time.

A rangefinder runs on batteries, so as long as you keep a few extra in your golf bag, you should always avoid this problem. You should always be with your GPS device by remembering to charge it.

Winner: Rangefinders

Extra Features

With a golf GPS device, it downloads a map of the golf course that you are playing on. This means that it will outline all of the hazards and show tee placements and all hole layouts. It is also nice knowing the general distances around the golf course.

Some GPS devices also have built-in launch monitors, an incredible feature. You can take these to the driving range, and the device will relay all of your swing information to see exactly how you hit the ball and what you can work on.

The amount of data a GPS device tracks over a rangefinder is exceptional.

With a golf rangefinder, some high-end ones come with Slope features built-in. If the Slope technology is on, it will consider if you are standing up or down on the fairway and calculate the slope in the distance of the actual shot.

This can be the difference between hitting the green and not, and it is something that a GPS device can’t offer.

Winner: Tie


Golf rangefinders are very expensive. You can purchase a golf GPS device for half the price of a rangefinder, and there is no way around this.

Our number one suggestion would be to wait for a sale to see if you can get one at less than full price.

Winner: GPS

Tournament Legality

Golf GPS devices are not allowed in professional golf tournaments, while rangefinders are permitted in some events, provided they do not have features like slope calculation.

Using a rangefinder can be a significant advantage for amateur golfers competing in tournaments.

Winner: Rangefinders

GPS vs Rangefinder Conclusion: Which Should You Buy?

In conclusion, it depends on your preferences and what you look for on the golf course.

A GPS device will suit you perfectly if you are a casual golfer looking for general distances. Even just knowing the available length of the different areas of the green is great. You can choose your club and go from there.

If you care about precise distances and are okay with the price, you should purchase a rangefinder that will suit you better. You will be sure to have the correct accuracy for your target.

Hopefully this guide helps you determine whether a golf GPS vs rangefinder is better for your game.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How accurate are golf rangefinders and GPS devices?

Rangefinders and GPS devices are highly accurate in providing distance to specific targets. Each uses different technology but does the same general thing.

Do I need a golf GPS or a rangefinder if I have a caddy?

Having it even for recreational golf play or practice is a good idea. In most cases, your caddy will use a rangefinder during your practice round to note down distances in your distance book for the actual round.

Can golf GPS and rangefinders improve your golf game?

Yes, golf GPS and rangefinders will dramatically improve your golf game. Knowing your distance so you aren’t hitting blind shots can be the difference between hitting a green and not.

Are golf GPS and rangefinders legal to use in tournaments?

Yes, golf GPS and rangefinders are legal to use in tournaments for PGA tour players and amateurs. You can’t have the Slope function enabled.

Can I use a golf GPS or rangefinder on any golf course?

Rangefinders can be used anywhere because you are the one controlling them. Golf GPS devices can also be used anywhere if you can download that specific golf course.

How much do cheap golf GPS and rangefinders cost?

Cheap golf GPS devices can be purchased for right around $100. Rangefinders are much more expensive but usually can be found on sale for $250+.

Denny Putsh
Denny Putsh

With over 25 years experience in the world of golf, I've dedicated a significant portion of my life to appreciating this sport. From my early days swinging a club at 12 years old to now, my passion has only grown. While I avidly follow the PGA Tour, what truly captivates me is the evolution of golf equipment and technology. Over the years, I've familiarized myself with the latest gadgets, training aids, and golf accessories that enhance the golfing experience. My mission is to share this knowledge and enthusiasm with fellow golf aficionados, ensuring they have access to the best insights and recommendations. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned pro, I'm here to guide you through the dynamic world of golf innovation.

Last update on 2024-04-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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