What you need to know before buying a golf rangefinder

Michael Madrid/USA TODAY Sports

What you need to know before buying a golf rangefinder

Equipment

What you need to know before buying a golf rangefinder

By

With all due respect, the 15th hole at Quail Brook Golf Course in Somerset, N.J., is never going to be mistaken for the 12th hole at Augusta National or the seventh at Pebble Beach. They may all be par 3s, but that’s where the similarity ends.

However, for David Alonzo, a 5-handicapper from Colorado who had come east to visit family and play some golf last spring, that 154-yard uphill hole had always been a nemesis.

“I’m telling you, I come up short on this one every time,” he said strolling onto the tee box.

This time, technology – in the form of a laser rangefinder equipped with a slope function – saved the day. The device’s measurement showed that the scorecard yardage was accurate, but its slope function revealed that because the tee shot was uphill, it actually played 9 yards longer. Instead of playing 154 yards, the ideal tee shot would be 163. Alonzo’s 8-iron went back into his bag. Opting for his 7-iron instead, his shot landed on the green 20 feet from the hole.

Today’s laser rangefinders and GPS devices provide better performance and more game-enhancing features than ever. For any player who hasn’t invested in a device, now is the time.

Lasers: supremely accurate

When groups play a par 3, faces turn to golfers who carry a laser rangefinder because the hand-held devices can tell exactly how far it is to the flag. Most laser rangefinders accurately measure distances to at least 400 yards, and because it is not necessary to find marked sprinkler heads to pace off yardages, lasers can help speed up play.

The yardage books on which PGA Tour pros rely are extremely accurate, but Tour caddies routinely use laser rangefinders during practice rounds to obtain precise distances between points in the fairway and lay-up areas as well as to confirm distances marked in the yardage book.

“When I go to a course where I haven’t been before, the first thing I do with a laser is check for elevation changes (during practice rounds),” said Gareth Lord, who caddied for Henrik Stenson for years before working with Justin Rose for a few weeks this year while Rose’s normal caddie, Mark “Fooch” Fulcher, recovered from heart surgery.

Caddie Joe Skovron (above) and Rickie Fowler don’t always use the same number their rangefinder may provide. (David Dusek/Golfweek) .

Rickie Fowler’s caddie, Joe Skovron, does the same thing. He and Fowler take advantage of their rangefinder’s slope-measuring feature and its ability to provide playing yardages on uphill and downhill shots during practice rounds. However, they don’t always go with the exact number that the device reveals.

“Eighteen at Augusta shoots up 14 (yards), for example, but we never play up 14,” Skovron said, meaning the device shows the finishing hole as playing an additional 14 yards longer because of the upslope to the green from the fairway. “We play up 5 to 8. It’s a variance that we do.”

During Tuesday’s practice round before this year’s Masters, Skovron also used a laser rangefinder to get precise measurements to areas that were not in the yardage book.

“Augusta has some weird lay-up numbers,” he said. “Sam Pinfold (Cameron Smith’s caddie) and I were lasering each other at the two lay-up sprinkler heads up the right side of the 13th fairway. Because of the angles, you can’t just subtract (the lay-up sprinkler number from the tee shot landing-area number). We also got cover numbers (the distance over Rae’s Creek) from there because the green angle is different than what you see in the book.”

How does a laser rangefinder work?

Today’s laser rangefinders offer various technologies, but for the most part they go about determining yardages the same way.

William Flood, Bushnell’s product manager for golf, said that when a player presses the button on a laser rangefinder, it emits pulses of light in a wide beam. When that light hits an object, it is reflected back to the device. By measuring the time it takes the light to travel that distance, the computer processor in the rangefinder can determine the distance.

It happens at the speed of light, so the whole process is exceptionally quick. The more powerful the processor inside the rangefinder, the faster it can calculate the distance and show it to the golfer.

GPS: accurate and versatile

Golf devices that use the global positioning system fall into two categories: wearables and handheld units. Wearables include watches and small devices that clip to a belt or hat, and hand-held units that often resemble smartphones, complete with color displays that are easy to read in sunlight.

While lasers are exceptionally accurate at determining the distance to a target, they require a line-of-sight, so if a player is in the trees or has a blind shot, they might be out of luck in obtaining an exact yardage without walking and a little guessing. Those types of situations are where GPS devices shine because they display critical information even when a player can’t see the flag or a hazard. Many of the handheld units also show a map of the hole.

The simplest GPS devices can display the yardage to the front, middle and back of a green, but as screen technologies have improved and components have miniaturized, many devices can show things such as the distance to a bunker and the yardage required to clear it.

Many GPS devices have touchscreens that provide yardages from the player’s location to any area on the hole being played, as well as the distance from that spot to the middle of the green. That can make it much easier to find an ideal lay-up spot on a three-shot par 5. Some even let players adjust the hole location on the screen for better accuracy.

What GPS normally does not do is provide an exact yardage to the flag, which is moved every day, but for most players GPS devices give a close-enough approximation.

How to choose?

When trying to choose between a laser or GPS device, players should think about what is really needed to take their game to the next level.

Getting a reliable number within a few feet of the hole is critical for PGA Tour players and elite golfers, but for the vast majority – people who just want to break 100 or 90 – a GPS device could be a smart solution. For golfers who lack the consistency and accuracy, knowing they need to hit a shot 130 yards to clear a greenside bunker might be more helpful than seeing that the flag is exactly 143 yards away.  Gwk

8 of the best rangefinders you can buy

(Note: This story appear in the May 2019 issue of Golfweek.)

Latest

More Golfweek
Home