I'm a big believer in using a rangefinder on the the golf course. On my YouTube channel you will see me and other people I play with using a golf rangefinder on every round to navigate our way around the course.
But are golf rangefinders worth the money?
Yes a golf rangefinder is worth it, and in this article I'm going to explain why they will have impact on your golf game and make playing golf that little more enjoyable.
In this article I'm primarily focusing on hand held laser golf rangefinders, not GPS golf watches or a standalone GPS unit.
If you don't know what a rangefinder is and how they work, check out my article here.
Golf rangefinder pros and cons
Here are some of the things to consider when you're thinking about if a golf rangefinder is going to help your golf game.
- Fast, accurate yardages to the flagstick, hazards and drinks station
- They're convenient to have, carry around, and to use
- You can take them with you anywhere on the course
- They speed up game play
- You don't have to consult a yardage book or depend heavily on yardage markers
- Cheaper models can be inaccurate
Why are rangefinders so expensive?
A quality rangefinder is a piece of precision equipment. A laser rangefinder sends a laser out to your chosen target and captures the reflection back to the unit. The time it takes for this laser to be registered b the rangefinder is used to calculate the distance that the target sits at.
This technology doesn't come cheap and if you want an exact yardage from your golf rangefinder, then it's worth the money to get yourself a quality model from a reputable brand.
Are cheap golf rangefinders any good?
If we can agree that a quality golf rangefinder is going to cost us a decent amount of money, should we avoid cheap golf rangefinders? In my experience, cheap rangefinders are really hit and miss with their quality and performance.
Trust me on this one. I have tried nearly every basic laser rangefinder out there and getting accurate distances with these just doesn't happen as consistently as you would need.
When I say cheap, I'm talking about the rangefinders you see on Amazon or Wish for $50. Yeah they may look the part and appear to be very similar to models from Bushnell, Nikon, Voice Caddy, and Precision Pro, but do not be deceived.
The biggest differences between a cheap rangefinder and a high end model are;
Time to acquire target
A cheap golf rangefinder will take considerably longer to get a lock onto your chosen target. This might not seem like an issue taken in isolation, but say you take 2 readings per hole (average) and each one take 10 seconds instead of 3, that's 4.2 minutes extra per round just getting a yardage! And if that yardage isn't accurate...
This can be potentially disastrous. I have seen cheap rangefinders be as much as 15 yards out with a reading compared to a Bushnell Pro XE. I always double check my readings against my GPS golf watch and on course yardage markers, and I was really surprised by this. The cheaper technology in super budget golf rangefinders just doesn't seem to stack up and I think it's because they might be using hunting range finder tech rather than laser rangefinders designed specifically for golf.
Maximum total range
A high end golf rangefinder will be able to acquire targets on the golf course up to 600 yards (sometimes more) away. Now, I've never needed to get a reading that's over 350 yards, but this max number is a reflection of how powerful and consistent the laser in the unit is. Budget models will top out at 400 yards and this means that it will struggle with targets over 250 yards away.
Cheap rangefinders with slope modes can be very inaccurate. Slope is a great feature on the best golf rangefinders, and a piece of golf technology worth taking advantage of on the golf course. BUT, if the readings are inaccurate you're going to end up pulling the wrong club for the shot in front of you. You also need to be able to switch off slope readings for tournament play so check your model has that feature.
This is obvious, but a cheap golf rangefinder is going to be made with cheaper materials. A Bushnell or Nikon feels really solid in your hands. My Precision Pro NX7 Pro gets used a lot and still looks brand new. Some of the cheap rangefinders I've tested start to fall to pieces after a few rounds in the heat. The rubber goes brittle and comes off on your gloves and makes a real mess. I've also had experiences of the viewfinders steaming up with condensation which has never happened with any of my more expensive models.
Golf laser rangefinders use a fair amount of juice to run, and you want to make sure that you get a decent amount of battery life from your unit. Most golfers would expect to get a full season of use from one battery. The last thing you want is for your range finder to dies on the golf course and most golf courses don't stock the CR2 batteries in their pro shops. If you get a cheap hybrid golf rangefinder with built in golf gps, expect it to drain even more battery.
Rangefinder slope vs no slope feature
Golf rangefinders with a slope feature are often more expensive than simple point and shoot models. Be very wary of a cheap rangefinder with slope as it's going to most likely be pretty crappy to use and give you some bizarre number. Accurate rangefinders worth the money to make sure you pull the right club at the right time and give you confidence in your course management.
Golf rangefinder vs golf gps watch
If you're going to use one type of golf rangefinder, choose a laser rangefinder first. A laser rangefinder is multi functional and flexible, and it my experience more accurate than a gps watch or unit.
BUT, if you're a casual golfer who doesn't really know how far you hit all of your clubs, a GPS watch will work just fine. You can get gps apps for smart watches like the Apple Watch or buy a dedicated model like the Garmin S40. Many golfers will benefit from just knowing the front middle and back yardages to the green, and exact yardages will be a bonus.
Beware though, GPS watches can come with a hefty price tag, and if you're not playing that much golf, are getting the same amount of value over a laser rangefinder?
If you're going to add a golf rangefinder to your golf bag, you need it to help you play golf, not get in the way. I've always found that if I majorly cheap out on golf equipment, I get caught short when I least expect it. Would you buy super cheap golf clubs and expect them to perform like the big brands?
Most amateur golfers will benefit from using a golf rangefinder. Sure it's not going to get you on the PGA tour any time soon, but it will let you navigate your way around golf courses, especially new golf courses without relying on guess work.