As one wag put it, playing with a golf GPS is like playing with a caddie, except a GPS doesn’t question your club selection. Actually, where accurate distance information is concerned, a golf GPS is better than all but the most experienced and diligent caddies.
But a good golf GPS is about more than knowing distances. Most models now offer a color overview map of each hole, so you can preview trouble and target spots, and decide on your strategy before you tee off. One model even includes a video flyover of each hole. Some include satellite imagery of each hole. So in addition to accurate distances, a good golf GPS can help you with strategy and course management.
Bottom line: a golf GPS will cut strokes from your game, speed play, and help you start and play through each hole with an evolving target plan that you can implement with confidence.
Golf GPS has been legal under the United States Golf Association Rules of Golf since 2005. Local rules may preclude use of GPS, but I haven’t heard of this being implemented.
Global Positioning System (GPS) is made possible by a group of satellites in earth orbit that transmit precise signals, allowing GPS receivers to calculate and display accurate location, speed, and time information to the user. Modern GPS units are generally rated accurate to 3 yards. GPS generally works well and has no trouble getting a fix on multiple satellites (more satellites means more accuracy) when used on golf courses. The types of objects that stop satellite signals (cliffs, tall buildings, very steep valleys) are rare in a golf setting. Here’s more on GPS, if you’re interested in the details.
Here's how to use golf GPS to improve your game:
A golf GPS helps you understand the distances, sizes, and shapes of targets and hazards for every hole. This is true not only from the tee box, but more importantly, from every lie you reach on the course.
‘Blind’ Holes and Lies
On many hilly courses, you can see only a portion of the hole layout from the tee box. One look at the map overview, and distances-to-targets-and-hazards screens on your golf GPS, and you can choose your club and target more accurately. This is especially useful for holes that are still “blind” to the green on a second or third shot.
If you get in trouble in the rough, the problem is often compounded by a lack of line of sight to the green. Without a GPS, you also need to scramble (taking time) to find a yardage marker and to guesstimate your yardage. With a GPS, distances, sizes, and shapes of your potential targets are clear, right from where you stand.
As you close in on the green, most GPS units can give you valuable information, including the size and shape of the green, and the distance to the front, center, and back of the green. Some units give you the capability to touch and drag the pin position on the screen to fine-tune the distance readout.
In addition to providing accurate distance to the pin, golf GPS shows you distance to, and over bunkers and water hazards as you approach the green. A quick glance at the display can tell you, for example, that it’s 90 yards to the back of the bunker lying between you and the green; 110 yards to the start of the green; 130 yards to the pin, and 145 yards to the back of the green. All very valuable information.
Other golf GPS features may include:
Ball track: See and store a track of where your ball traveled during the entire round.
Shot distance calculator: Want to learn how far you really hit with each club under varying conditions? Measure any shot.
Digital scorecard and stats analysis: Most units include a digital scorecard for one to four players. Some include additional statistical analysis.
Negatives: I haven’t experienced a downside to using a golf GPS. They tend to improve your game and speed play, unless you try to use too many features, which can cause you to waste time and lose focus.
What's available: See Master the Course with Golf GPS for a complete overview of golf GPS prices, features, course databases, etc.