The Best Golf Range Finders

The best golf range finders

We golfers love our technical devices, and none is more popular than the golf rangefinder. If you have seen people out on the course pointing their rangefinder at the pin, you may be considering whether to get one yourself. Read on, and we will tell you which is the best golf range finders for you.

Golf Range Finders

There are two types on the market, which work in entirely different ways. The laser finder works by emitting a laser beam aimed at a target, the GPS system works by using a mapping system locked onto the same GPS satellite technology as you use in your car.

Let’s start by talking about what a golf rangefinder can do for your game. Progress here has been quick and has transformed the game. A few years ago it was just top PGA Tour players who had the sort of information and expertise which you can now get from a golf rangefinder. Gone are the days of relying on golf course markers, which let’s be honest was all most of us could do. The only alternative was an expert caddy, and they were not always available and expensive at that.

Speed and accuracy and making informed choices are the magic three things a rangefinder can do for you. Speed, because you no longer have to calculate the distance to the pin, or to an obstacle which you need to overcome, by using course markers, or by guessing. Accuracy, because how far that next shot needs to go can now be calculated to inches, not yards. Rangefinders also take into account undulations in the course, so a slope will be factored into the calculation the rangefinder makes, further improving your game. Finally, you can make an informed choice about which club to use, once you know the distance, you can pick a club with ease. We say so often that golf is as much a mental game as a physical game and anything which can add to your confidence will give you the edge.

If you play a lot of golf, you will be used to seeing people using these devices out on the course. You may be thinking, if so many people buy these gizmos, they may be worth having. I believe they are useful and this can be one of the most important, and fun, purchases you make as you work to improve your game.

What sort of device to choose

There are a whole bunch of distance finding devices on the market, and the technology has evolved fast over the past few years. There are two basic types. Laser rangefinders and GPS rangefinders.

Laser rangefinders: hunting and golfing

First, we are going to look at laser rangefinders. These are frequently used for hunting as well as for golf. If you shoot as well as play golf don’t make the mistake of thinking one device can do both jobs, it won’t. The reason is that hunting laser rangefinders and golf rangefinders work in different ways. The important thing is the position of the object on which the laser finder focuses.

With a golf laser finder, the default setting on the device is the nearest object, for example, a hazard on the course ahead of you or the flagstick on the green. With a hunting laser finder, it is the most distant object so you can focus on a deer behind a tree for example. Make sure you buy a device which is specifically for golf.

This means you will want to buy a laser rangefinder which is in ‘first priority mode. What this means is it reads the first object in its line of sight and ignores others. This is what you want for golf, where the important thing is the distance to the next obstacle or the flag. (second priority range finders which look past the first object and into the far distance, they are the tool for hunters.)

How far can a laser rangefinder ‘see’?

A frequent question golfers ask us is how far a laser should be able to ‘see’. This is often asked with a bit of disappointment. We know too many golfers who say their laser finder does not perform as well as they expected or as they were promised. When we ask about this, they point out that the promise was in the name, for example, 1,500-yard rangefinder, or that the commitment on the box said it would work over significant distances.

The truth is these all laser rangefinders are very sensitive to the conditions in which they are used. Perfect conditions, a cool day, light high clouds, so there is not too much glare, and low atmospheric pollution will give you this maximum distance. But, of course, most days are not like that. Any glare or mist will affect the performance of the laser finder. It is safer to say that you can expect between a third and a half of the best distance on most days.

How does the laser rangefinder work?

The crucial bit of the finder is the reticle. This is the aiming point or crosshair which you see when looking through the viewfinder; usually either black or LED lit. The black ones can make it hard to focus on the object if it is in shade or dark, for example, if there is a slope ahead of you or if the weather is very gloomy. You will not get this problem with a laser finder which has a reticle which is LED lit. There is a drawback though, the LED types are useful except in very bright light, when you may have difficulty seeing the crosshairs at all. There are several models now which try to have the best of both worlds, that is a black reticle with a backlight facility for gloomy days.

Another aid to seeing well is the dioptre, this adjusts the view to your eyesight, most good quality laser finders have these, and they are pretty much essential. The picture you see through the finder will depend on the materials the manufacturers used in its construction. Most golfers, as opposed to hunters, believe that you need a good sharp picture, but it does not have to be perfect. The weight and size of your laser rangefinder will also matter. Some are small enough to fit into your shirt pocket or clip onto your belt. However, if you use a golf cart, then you have more options. You can then choose to go for the extra stability which a big model golf rangefinder can give you.

Check your course

Before you buy a laser rangefinder, check out the golf course you want to use it on first. Laser rangefinders send a laser beam to a target, but they can only get the accuracy that you need if the target is reflective. The better the reflective surface, the more accurate a reading you will get. Clubs are beginning to install reflectors on the flagstaff but check before you buy.

Learning to use your laser rangefinder

Although the principle on which these devices work is straightforward, they can take a bit of getting used to. Set aside some time to practice with your new golf buddy before you even take it out to play a whole round with you. My advice would be to start away from the golf course, without even a golf club in your hand. Start in your own backyard, and aim at a fence about 50 yards away. Then proceed out into the street and point at a wall on the corner or a car down the road. At this stage aim at large objects. Once you are comfortable with this go back to the yard and aim at something smaller, say the post of the basketball hoop or a tree. Go out and target the rangefinder at something more modest in the street, for example, the lamppost on the corner. If you are using these familiar objects then you will have a rough idea of their distance, check this is right on your device (sometimes they are mis-calibrated and will need adjusting).

You will notice that you are holding the device more steadily and your accuracy at making readings will improve.Then do a test around the golf course. Measure your distances in the way you always have and then use your range finder to confirm this. After once around the course, you will be much more confident. You might also find it useful to watch this video on using a laser rangefinder.

GPS rangefinders

We are all familiar with the technology behind this type of golf rangefinders, we use it every day on our smartphones and in our cars. GPS golf rangefinder devices come as individual standalone items, or as apps which you can load onto your smartphone.

How GPS golf rangefinders work

They work using GPS (global positioning systems) and downloaded maps of the course you are playing. Until recently their accuracy was only to within a hundred yards or so, but that has all changed. Once out on the course, the device can work out where you are, and be using the maps stored in the system to calculate the distance to the hole or the nearest obstacle. Because you do not have to measure, that is done for you automatically, the devices are speedy, all you need to do is press the relevant button. One useful feature is that, because the information is pre-loaded into the device you are not dependent on weather conditions to get a reading. Once you are out on the course, the GPS will tell you what you need to know. Some GPS devices, work via voice, many golfers like this a lot. It means they do not have to keep looking at the GPS.

How to use a GPS rangefinder

Using the device is as simple as pressing a button once you have set it up. You will then need a bit of time to get familiar with how to get the information you need, for example on some devices if you want to know the distance from the pin you press once, to get the distance to the front of the green, or to a bunker, you press two or three times. It’s simple once you remember it, and a couple of times around the course should be enough to familiarize yourself.

Some modern GPS rangefinders have extra features, some will show the shape of the course and take account of your approach angle. Most devices will automatically move to the next hole as you play around the course. If you are just playing some holes, you can set the device manually.
Some record the distance between where you started and where your ball ends up. This can be very useful if you like to measure your performance and keep a record of how you are improving, and who doesn’t really?

Downloading information on courses

You will need to download the course you are playing on. GPS golf rangefinders come with up to 40,000 potential courses which you can download from their database. Sometimes you have to pay a subscription to download some courses or updates.

For the device to work correctly, it needs to have the best information. The GPS golf rangefinder needs the most up to date map of the golf courses you are going to be playing on, you need all the hazards and pin locations and obviously, if anything on that course changes you will need a new map.
The best rangefinders come loaded with tens of thousands of courses, and you can update the software with new versions. Remember golf courses are under no obligation to give their course maps to rangefinder manufacturers, so check the courses you play on or plan to play on are making their information available.

When can you use a golf rangefinder?

The fundamental rule here is 14-3, covering artificial devices and equipment. In 2006 the rule was changed to allow distance measuring devices and in 2016 to allow devices which had forbidden features as long as they were not accessed in a stipulated game. (There is also a supplementary local rule, which allows a committee at an event to permit conforming devices to be used in play). The USGA allows both specific golf devices, laser rangefinders and GPS range finders, and multifunctional devices, that is apps on smartphones or tablets. You are allowed to share your device among all the players you are with. You can measure distances to your target and record distances of your shot. It can have other features such as scorecard information and weather information. There are some things you are not allowed to do. These include calculating distances where there is a slope, to use weather information to gauge shots, to measure your swing.You must also check what local regulations are in force, as these vary from course to course.

Laser or GPS

The fundamental choice is between speed and ease of use (GPS) and pinpoint accuracy (laser). We would advise you try out both. We say this because most of the golfers we know have a strong preference for one or the other and the only way you will find out if you are a laser guy or a GPS guy is to try both. Or you can buy a hybrid which can give you the best of both worlds. Here is another take on the subject which you might find interesting.

We love our rangefinder and you will love yours too, however try not to become dependent on it. It can be a good idea to go out without it and see how you do. You will probably find that your accuracy has improved and you are much better at selecting the right club for the shot.

Our five best choices for golf rangefinders

Bushnell Hybrid Golf Laser Rangefinder GPS
  • First ever integrated Laser/GPS display
  • Dual battery source (CR2 for Laser and USB for GPS)
  • PinSeeker with JOLT Technology
  • Range to a flag: 400 yards
  • Accurate to 1 yard

This is new on the market and an excellent choice if you are still undecided as to whether to go for a laser or a GPS. To get an exact distance to the pin, you can use the hybrid’s laser function. This is an excellent laser finder in its own right, with ‘Pinseeker with Jolt’ technology which vibrates when the laser locks onto the pin. There is also GPS technology and advantages that can bring. You can use these GPS features if you want to find the distance when you are dealing with a dogleg or making a blind shot. The device has two batteries, one for the laser and one for the GPS. This is an excellent feature as the laser battery will outlast the GPS battery. The GPS and laser technologies ‘talk’ to each other, which means you can see the front and back distances of the green to the pin. And the accuracy of the laser measurement of the pin is within one yard.

Pros: This really does combine the accuracy of a laser with the extra features of GPS. A genuine advance in rangefinder technology

Cons: It does not adjust for slope. Large for carrying around the course and takes some practice to get used to it.

GolfBuddy LR5 Golf Laser Rangefinder, Light Gray/Blue
  • Easy-to-use laser rangefinder with a compact and ergonomic body design
  • 3 targeting modes (standard, scan, pin) help you hone in on your target
  • 6x magnification offers accurate and clear readings
  • Accuracy to within 1 yard
  • Water resistance feature provides extra protection

This is a simple to use quick laser finder which offers a lot for the price. It will scan a distant pin in about ten seconds and will lock onto the pin easily. It is accurate to within a yard.

If you like clean and simple design, this will appeal to you, with its contrasting colours and shape. It is also very light, at just eight ounces. Another useful feature is that it scans at the touch of only one button, making it super convenient.

It is comfortable to use as it fits nicely into the average sized hand. The buttons have an excellent resistant feel and are easy to use in all weathers, if you are wet or if it is hot and your palms are sweating.

To protect the battery, this rangefinder shuts off after 10 seconds, it also has a battery indicator so you will never be caught out.  It will default to its last used settings. This means minimum fuss as you move around the course. There is a visual adjustment feature as well so you can use with confidence, even if you do not have perfect eyesight.

Pros: a light, simple laser rangefinder with design usually found only on more expensive models.

Cons: slight shake so you will need very steady hands. A more robust carrying case would be nice. No slope option.

Bushnell Pro X2 Golf Laser Rangefinder
  • Ranges 5 1, 300 yards; 450+ yards to Flags
  • Pin Seeker with JOLT technology.Eye Relief:16 millimeter Exit Pupil:3.5 millimeter
  • IPX7 Fully Waterproof
  • Class 1 laser with less than 0.5 mW average power output

A top of the range laser finder. It is expensive, but you get a lot for your money. You will get the distance reading rapidly, it will pick up a distant pin in under a second and is accurate to within half a yard. It’s easy to read display overcomes one of the main problems with many laser finders, that is using the reticle in all conditions. This finder overcomes that, you can use it with confidence in all lighting conditions. It has a choice of black (for bright light) or red (for overcast or evening conditions) and is pin sharp on both displays. It has slope technology which is very easy to use. It has an on/off button. (which also means it is easy to turn off where it is banned in tournament conditions).

With a magnification of six times, you will get a beautiful picture of distant features, it has Bushnell’s Jolt technology, it will vibrate when you lock on the pin. This is a very robust little machine, and fully waterproof. At three inches by four inches and weighing less than a pound, it is easy to carry around the course.

Pros: accurate and reliable with a fast reading in all weather conditions.

Cons: This does not have a scan feature

Izzo Golf Swami 5000 Golf GPS Rangefinder
  • Distances: F/C/B to greens; layup/carry to hazards & doglegs
  • Preloaded 38,000+ global course maps; no annual or download fees
  • Auto course recognition & hole-advance
  • New slimmer profile & larger 2-inch color LCD
  • New improved 12+ hr battery life & scorecard feature (save & view scores)

This new improved version of the Izzo golf swami 4000 has some great new features, including a clearer and bigger screen. It will give you distances to the pin and to hazards, as well as to doglegs on the course. It also has a scorecard and a shot distance measurement.

It has 38,000 preloaded golf courses from around the world and charges no annual or download fees. Its twelve-hour battery life is good for a GPS and will take you around a whole course, (it uses forty per cent of its battery on an average eighteen-hole course). When you get home, its charging station is easy to use and reasonably speedy. It has a clear display which will give you all the information you need around the course at a glance. It is also water resistant and hard wearing with a belt loop which, with the excellent screen, means you can see all the information you want without having to pause your game.

Pros: excellent value with excellent hole recognition and will take you around the course.

Cons: its charging cable is proprietary so if it fails you can only replace it from the manufacturer.

Bushnell Neo ION Golf GPS Watch, White
  • Preloaded with 35,000+ courses in over 30 countries
  • Long battery life and comfortable dual injected silicone sports band
  • Auto course recognition and auto hole advance with easy-to-read front, back and center distances
  • Up to 4 hazard or layup distances per hole and a distance calculator and integrated step counter
  • Legal for Tournament play and comes with a One-year limited Warranty

This comes with over 35,000 courses worldwide. They load quickly, and the information is up to date. The setup is easy, even for those who are not very technologically savvy and takes just a few minutes. You will not need to sync it with a computer, once set up the watch will automatically detect the course once you are out there. It then takes two to five minutes to load up, and you are ready to go.  It is comfortable to wear and light so it will not interfere with your golf swing. Its long battery life will last several full rounds before it needs recharging. It automatically moves from hole to hole as you go around the course and will detect up to four hazards per hole. It has an easy to use interface. This allows you to go from looking at the distance from hazards back to the distance on the green. You can just press the button, and it will take you around the course without you having to reset endlessly.

Pros: a great value device which will increase your enjoyment of the game and help you improve your skills.

Cons: The screen is quite small if your eyesight is less than 20/20.

The Best Golf Range Finders – Our choice

If you have never owned a golf rangefinder, we would suggest the Bushnell Hybrid Golf Laser Rangefinder GPS.

Combining the accuracy of the laser golf finder with the features of the GPS, and with two separate batteries, it will give you all the most up to date technology to improve your game. It isn’t a bargain, but well worth every penny

A top of the range laser finder. It is expensive, but you get a lot for your money. You will get the distance reading rapidly, it will pick up a distant pin in under a second and is accurate to within half a yard. It’s easy to read display overcomes one of the main problems with many laser finders, that is using the reticle in all conditions. This finder overcomes that, you can use it with confidence in all lighting conditions. It has a choice of black (for bright light) or red (for overcast or evening conditions) and is pin sharp on both displays. It has slope technology which is very easy to use. It has an on/off button. (which also means it is easy to turn off where it is banned in tournament conditions).

With a magnification of six times, you will get a beautiful picture of distant features, it has Bushnell’s Jolt technology, it will vibrate when you lock on the pin. This is a very robust little machine, and fully waterproof. At three inches by four inches and weighing less than a pound, it is easy to carry around the course.

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