There was a time when caddies were ubiquitous in the game of golf, especially among the country club set. Those days are long gone.
Many of today’s golfers have never played with a caddie. Only the toniest of clubs today have caddies. Of course, pro tour players use caddies. The service caddies provide is crucial to any pro’s success. Among the many functions a caddy provides is precise distances, both to the flag or to other targets. For the large majority of golfers, that duty fell to the golfers themselves.
If you are fortunate, you would play a course with yardage markers. These markers were often placed at 50-yard intervals, beginning at 100 yards. Of course, these were merely yardage to the center of the green. If you played on a course with large greens, that still left you with plenty of guesswork. And most of us have experienced a course with incorrect yardages.
All of that is in the past thanks to a technological advancement.
The Global Positioning System is a series of satellites in space that allows us to closely locate where you are at virtually any place on earth. GPS has allowed for all of us to find our way due to maps that offer tremendous detail and accuracy. It is less important in the grand scheme, but GPS has also been a boon for golfers.
At A Glance: Our Top 3 Golf GPS Devices
GPS devices allow us to know down to the yard how far we need to know. This has made the game both easier and more enjoyable for golfers of all abilities. These devices come in two main categories: watches and handheld. They both perform the same functions, in large part. Which one you choose comes down to personal choice. Here are some of the best golf GPS devices from each category.
Top Product Overview
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Best Handheld Device
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Best Golf GPS Options
This is a great looking, lightweight, and highly functional watch.
Aesthetics is more of a concern for the watches, since it is worn on your wrist and not kept in your bag or pocket. And this one has the look, with a combination of stainless steel on the bezel and silicone for the band.
It is also light enough that you might forget you are wearing it, coming in at just 1.8 ounces or about 50 grams.
The S60, one of several offerings from industry leader Garmin, comes with two charging options, either from your car or any outlet. The screen is plenty big enough for viewing and is protected from damage by film.
The watch is also water resistant, meaning it can withstand almost any rain storm that you can play through.
The menus are easy to navigate, and comes with a touchscreen, a feature that makes the S60 stand out among watches, even others made by Garmin.
The watch comes loaded with more than 40,000 courses. Chances are good your course is among them.
The S60 shows elevation with a compass included for blind shots. The green view mode is more accurate on approach shots, but still a nice addition.
It has a long-lasting battery, meaning you should never be left in the dark in the middle of a round.
Also works as a fitness watch with cycling and running adaptations included. In short, this Garmin S60 has everything you need in a GPS.
While the Garmin S4 is not quite as powerful as its sister watch, the S60, it still packs a wallop in a small package. And it comes with a much more affordable and competitive price.
The display is not in color, but it is a touchscreen and has resolution high enough to be seen easily in even the sunniest days. A long battery life of 10 hours means you will never go dark in the course of a round.
One clever usage is the ability to place the pin on the green manually, thus improving the one glaring weakness of GPS devices, compared to laser-pointed devices.
The S4 comes preloaded with more than 40,000 courses worldwide and counting. Any course updates are free for life.
The Golf Buddy Aim W10 is another fine GPS watch that easily could have made one of our best of lists. The watch has a 1.3-inch display that is full color and a touchscreen.
The W10 allows for zoom and manual pin placement. That’s a feature that makes the watch even more accurate. The preloaded 40,000 courses have back, front, and center pin placements.
You also have distances to on-course targets and hazards. The watch is able to connect via Bluetooth to the company’s app for automatic course updates.
In golf mode, the battery lasts an impressive 13 hours. In addition to the golf features, the device tells time like a normal watch and also includes a pedometer.
Callaway has made its name with its golf clubs and balls. But unlike many of its competitors, the company has delved into the GPS market with the GSPy.
The Callaway GPS watch is pre-loaded with more than 30,000 courses. Once golf mode is activated, the watch automatically locates your course. In fact, it automatically advances from hole to hole.
Not only do you get distances to the front, center, and back of the green, you also can locate targets such as doglegs, sand traps, and water hazards.
The GPSy tracks plenty of statistics, including driving distance, greens in regulation, total putts, and, of course, score.
Another bundle with USB cable and charger included, the Ion2 from Bushnell is a good choice for those looking to spend a little less money.
Bushnell promises that the battery will last you for three rounds, which is comparable to more expensive watches.
The Ion2 is loaded with 36,000-plus courses. Although some devices support more courses, that is still a good number. A Bluetooth connection allows users to download any course updates through Bushnell’s app.
A 3D flyover feature gives you a unique view of the hole. That can be an added bonus as you plan your attack.
And now we come to the handheld devices, starting with the best of the bunch, in our opinion.
If you are concerned with the price, consider that this is a bundle, with a USB charging cable, protective hard case, and portable charger included with the device itself.
That protective case is an additional layer to what is already a hardy device. The SX500 is water-resistant and has a hard shell that protects it from falls.
Of course, a big advantage for handheld devices over watches is a larger display. The SX500 has a five-inch HD color touchscreen. Hard to believe any GPS device could top the crisp and clear display screen here.
There are a large number of courses available, so there is a good chance your favorite is already included.
With a color display that is 1.5 inches wide by 2.6 inches tall, you should not have any issues seeing exactly what you are facing.
The Garmin G8 connects directly to your iPhone, allowing the ability to receive texts, emails, and alerts directly on the device.
One of its best features is advice on club selection. The G8 stores and remembers how far you hit each club, then uses that information to suggest a club for the shot you are facing. That may not be as handy as having a real-life caddy offering advice, but is still a neat feature.
Another feature you don’t always see in GPS devices is the ability for the user to change the font size. No need to squint if you have poor eyesight. Even in handheld devices, the screens are small. Being able to see the numbers clearly is a nice and often overlooked touch.
All you need is a Wi-Fi connection to automatically download new courses as they become available.
The digital scorecard, with options for stroke play, Stableford, skins, and match play may not be used often but is nice to have.
The defining feature of this handheld GPS device is a magnet that allows it to be attached to your golf cart during play.
The Phantom is small compared to others on this list, so you can carry it comfortably in your pocket if you are untrusting of the magnet. That is not an unreasonable concern, as the magnet giving way for whatever reason could cause you to lose the device.
This is a no-nonsense GPS device, but it does come with 35,000-plus courses preloaded. It also includes auto course recognition, auto hole advance, shot distance tracker, and a round odometer. So it is still plenty powerful enough to get the job done.
Relatively speaking, the Swami 6000 is an inexpensive choice for the budget-minded. It is still enough of an investment that you expect it to operate as advertised.
You get the same features you would expect in other GPS devices, including almost 40,000 courses loaded, auto course recognition and hole advance, and a digital scorecard.
Like the Phantom, a magnet is attached for you to secure this to any metal surface, especially a golf cart. Also like the Phantom, that could be a reckless move.
If the previous device is too expensive, maybe you will find the VoiceX to your liking.
It is a bare-boned GPS, with just enough features to make it worthwhile. There are 38,000 courses loaded onto the device. The VoiceX can also connect with your phone with Bluetooth.
Its claim to fame is that it has an audio feature that tells you distances.
Now that you have some idea of what to choose from, let’s take a look at key features you are likely to find in any GPS device.
The main function is, of course, letting the golfer know how far he is from his target. The watches are stored with information from golf courses around the world, many thousands of them. That information includes distances from every spot on the course.
The watch then picks up signals from several different satellites. That allows for a precise location on the course through triangulation.
Hand-held devices work the same way, although some of them include rangefinders in hybrid package, which are even more precise. Rangefinders are more precise as they use a laser pointed at a target to measure distance. Of course, you need a clean line of sight for the laser to work.
While rangefinders are more accurate, GPS devices are a big step up from the old days. And the GPS devices are plenty accurate enough.
Professional golfers are proficient enough to need exact yardages. A tour pro can definitely dial in a shot within a yard or so, especially on shorter shots. Knowing that you have precisely 127 yards instead of about 125 is of great importance on the pro tours.
However, for an everyday golfer, the GPS devices are a godsend. It allows golfers to pull the right club for that distance. It will not, of course, help you hit that shot correctly.
Having tons of info at the ready is useless if you cannot access it.
That’s why the way these devices deliver that information is so important. Some have color screens while other do not. A touchscreen is common but also not universal.
Regardless, one of the most important things to look for is contrast. You need to be able to see the information provided in a variety of weather conditions. Bright sunlight is great for golfing but can make it more difficult to see a screen clearly.
Three GPS Devices We Like
Your decision about whether to choose a watch or handheld GPS device depends largely on what is most important to you.
For us, the ease of use of watches is too much to overcome, especially combined with the fact they are easier to keep track of. Having something strapped to your wrist means never leaving it behind on a cart.
The strong features of the Garmin Approach S60 has us putting that watch at the top of our list as best overall. It is multi-functional and looks good enough to wear off the course. And, most importantly, it does the job beautifully.
If you are looking for something a little less expensive, the Garmin Approach S4 has many of the same abilities as the S60. That combination of price and performance makes the S4 our pick as best value.
And for best handheld, we chose the SkyCaddie SX500 from SkyGolf. This may seem like an unusual choice since this is not a company that is as well known as Garmin. Still, it has everything you could possibly want or need in a GPS unit.
Most GPS devices have many of the same features. But that doesn’t mean they are all created equally. On Amazon, it is disturbingly common to see complaints about some GPS devices giving way after a handful of uses.
Since these are typically not inexpensive devices, you are likely better off spending a bit more money upfront to get a quality constructed device.
As for which is better, a handheld or watch GPS, we tend to favor the watches. The reason is simple. Watches are more convenient, being strapped to your wrist. They are also smaller in size and less likely to get lost.
It is true you may find more robust features in a handheld. If so, no need to worry, as both will get the job done.