Golf Rangefinder vs GPS

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Golf Rangefinder vs GPS Comparison

Technology greatly can improve your golf game through better-designed clubs, balls and tools to get accurate distances and better know the situation before you while playing a round of golf. The golf rangefinder has become a nearly indispensable tool for serious golfers who truly want to lower their scores and become more competitive in tournaments. And the more recent emergence of useable and even wearable GPS technology

You can get a Golf GPS unit in one of two general configurations. You either carry one that generally resembles a cellular phone or small tablet device or wear one that also doubles as a wristwatch. Either type generally does the same thing, which is to give you a quick overview of the hole you are playing and help you to make better club and swing choices.
golf rangefinder vs gps

Golf Rangefinder Overview

golf rangefinder with slope compensation has become relatively standardized in its general design and construction. Virtually all laser rangefinders have an over-under design that is similar to a double-barrel shotgun. The lower tube contains the laser device while the upper tube contains the viewing device with a viewing diopter facing the user.

One or two buttons on top control the unit, which often measures about 4 to 6 inches in length, about 4 inches high and less than 2 inches wide. Most weigh about 6 ounces with some minor variance in weight and design.


  • Accuracy to within a yard or better.
  • Lightning-fast readings.
  • Slope-compensation improves club selection.
  • Useful for non-golfing applications.


  • Requires multiple readings to locate distances to varying objects.
  • Slope function is banned in tournament play.

The laser rangefinder generally includes functions for scanning the hole and locking onto the flag to provide exact distance information. Many also include a slope-compensation feature that assess the terrain and its effects on the layup and carry of the ball at your target.

When the green or other chosen target is at a higher elevation, slope compensation adjusts the practical distance that you need to shoot for to clear the rising terrain. When the target is at a lower elevation, the compensation reduces the practical distance to that the ball will not carry past your target.

The slope compensation is so effective that the R&A and USGA do not permit its use during sanctioned tournaments. Golf tournaments that ban the slope function usually allow you to use the same rangefinder with the slope compensation disabled.
golf rangefinder vs GPS

Golf GPS Overview

The Golf GPS unit is a great innovation that can help you to track your club use and make better club and swing selections while on the golf course. The GPS unit requires and includes maps of entire golf courses and will start at whichever hole you do on each one. When you are at a particular hole, the GPS unit locates your position and provides a map with the distances to various targets indicated by distance arcs.

The distance arcs typically tell you how far it is to the front, middle and back of a hazard, the fairway, the green and other pertinent locations. Color coding can tell you the high and low spots on the green fairway and other relevant locations. You get a lot of accurate data at a glance that would require multiple readings with a rangefinder while relying on your memory to keep it all organized. Instead, you just look at the GPS screen for a wide range of data, which helps to speed up your playing pace.


  • Provides a bird’s eye view of each hole.
  • Distances marked in concentric arcs.
  • GPS tracking of shots.
  • Electronic scorecard.
  • Caddie-like capability.


  • Must have golf course map loaded or will not work.
  • Only useful on a golf course.

A good golf GPS unit will update your location as you move from shot to shot, which makes it possible to track the distance the ball carries on each club that you use. Many automatically zoom in on the ball location and give you the necessary view of what lays between the ball and your preferred target. The best GPS units will track every hole you play on particular golf courses and let you review the results.
golf rangefinder vs gps

Golf Watch Overview

One of the more recent innovations is the golf watch GPS unit, which functions like the larger tablet-style unit but while worn on your wrist. That makes it imminently portable and virtually impossible to leave behind after a round of golf.


  • Wearable lightweight golfing technology.
  • Tens of thousands of included golf courses.
  • Auto-updates course location as you play your round.
  • Electronic scorecard included.


  • Small viewing screen.
  • Less room to toggle and view.

Because the GPS tech works the same as the tablet devices, the golf rangefinder vs watch argument often just comes down to comfort, convenience and the cool factor. You can have a Dick Tracy-style unit on the golf course that will improve your game and spark conversations.

Which Should You Choose?

The golf rangefinder vs GPS comparison leads to the natural question of which one is best to use on the golf course. Ultimately, that largely depends on the type of golf courses that you play and potential other uses.

A rangefinder mostly is not needed at a driving range where all of the distances are indicated by signs and range markings. Likewise, a GPS unit will not work at a driving range or a non-regulation golf course for which the unit does not have a course map.

The rangefinder offers two distinct advantages over a GPS unit. The first is that you can use it on non-regulation golf courses that likely are not included in a GPS unit. The second is that you can use it for other purposes, including hunting, track and field, and construction.

The GPS unit is a great option if you play a lot of regulation-length courses that are include among the typically 30,000 to 40,000 golf courses located around the globe. Larger tablet- or phone-sized units let you share data with your playing partners.

But really, it boils down to personal preference.  What do you want?

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