Without an expert caddie along, there's a lot of guesswork involved in determining distance to the hole, and various course targets, such as bunker or stream carries. The latest generation of golf GPS units give you quick and accurate guidance from anywhere on the course. Beyond basic distance-to-the-hole data, many devices tell you the length of your last shot (and store the info for future reference); distance to, and location of targets and hazards; distance to the front, middle, and back of the green, and more. Here are the latest and greatest golf GPS units. (Click on photos to enlarge).
I'm impressed with the compact size (about 2 x 4 inches), long battery life (15 hours), and on-the-course and scoring features of the new-for-2012 Garmin Approach G6. For example, the course maps, which come from an included free and updatable database of 26,500 courses, now include shot layup arcs, which show at-a-glance arc lines on the maps for 100, 150, and 200-yard layups.
Other features include a nice digital scorecard for a foursome, including stroke play, stableford, skins and match play with adjustable handicaps. You may also track your stats, determine average distances for the clubs you hit, and course customization.
Despite its smaller overall form, the screen of the G6 is nearly the same size as that of the Garmin G5 (shown below).
Callaway's latest golf GPS handheld, the uPro MX, is slimmed down to 2 inches by 4 inches, with a thickness of just 0.7 inch. This gives it a noticeably lighter feel, and it fits into a pocket. It has a high-resolution, multi-gesture touchscreen that remains visible in full sunlight. There are no annual fees, and the 25,000-course database is free to download and update. Callaway's "AnyPoint" lets you measure to any point, anywhere on the hole. "GreenView" gives you distances to the front, center, and back of every green. "HazardView" shows you distances to hazards, as well as the type and shape of the hazard. The uPro MX scoring and stats features work with Callaway's uxplore website to record and analyze your rounds in detail.
The Garmin Approach G5 is rugged, waterproof, and features a large, bright, color touchscreen. All of the G5's features are driven by easy-to-follow menus on the touchscreen. In a move that has shaken up the golf GPS market, Garmin preloads a database of 14,000+ courses for free, and adds courses and updates for free via its Web site. I was able to find most, but not all of my local courses, so check the course database. I really like the G5's ability to show distances to and from anywhere on the course just by touching and dragging. Touch your target for a distance, or touch and move the flag for precision distance. The G5 also has a good score-keeping utility. See the link to my review below.
The SGX is SkyCaddie's newest, top-of-the-line model. It has a slimmer, more rectangular shape than previous models, and a bulbous, thumbstick navigation device below the 3-inch (diagonal) TFT screen. Like other SkyCaddie models, the SGX accesses a 26,000-plus course database that is verified by on-the-ground course walkers. SkyCaddie pre-loads basic information for all of the courses, and membership plans (for full-featured course database access) range in price from $29.95 per year (for a single state) to $59.95 per year (global). Other SGX features include:
- Distances to hazards, carries, and layups.
- Hole view with zoom.
- IntelliGreen Pro, showing major green contours.
- Shot distance.
- Digital scorecard.
See the SkyCaddie course database.
This year, Garmin introduced a whole new take on golf GPS with its Approach S1 watch. While golf handhelds continue to add ever-more features, the Approach S1 distills golf GPS down to basic simplicity, displaying distances to the front, back, and middle of the green, in simple black-and-white. The Approach S1 will also measure your shot distances from anywhere on the course, and an odometer will tell you how far you walked. Like other Garmin golf products, the Approach S1 comes pre-loaded with 16,500+ courses, and access to the master course database for updates is free. The watch is very sturdy and waterproof. It detects course proximity automatically, so courses are easy to initiate. Having distances on your wrist is very handy!
If you compare the Garmin Approach G5 (above) with the G3 feature-for-feature, you'll see few differences. Most importantly, the G5's "little brother" G3 has a smaller screen (2.6 inches diagonally, vs. the G5's 3 inches) and smaller size and weight overall (about an inch less height and width). Lots of the goodies remain the same, including:
- Free pre-loaded (and free update) golf course maps of U.S. and Canada.
- Touchscreen operation and touch-targeting.
- Hole preview.
- Digital scorecard (but no stats pack).
- High-sensitivity receiver.
I prefer the larger G5 screen, but the G3 works well, costs $100+ less, and fits more easily into a pocket. See the link to my on-course G3 review below.
The SG3.5 is SkyGolf's lowest-cost model, with most of the features of the higher-end models, but the SG3.5 has a 2.2 screen, as opposed to the 3-inch display found on the SGX. Another difference: the SG3.5 is powered by three AAA batteries, as opposed to the rechargeable lithium batteries used in the SGX and SG5. Beyond those specs, however, the SG3.5 has much of what golfers look for from SkyCaddie, including:
- Color screen.
- IntelliGreen overhead green view.
- Course databases confirmed by course walkers.
- Distances to greens and hazards.
- Digital scorecard (but no stats package).
See the SkyCaddie course database.
The Golf Buddy Pro features a dynamic green view that changes the displayed image of the green depending on your angle of approach. Target information is pre-loaded into the Golf Buddy Pro and you may add up to 11 of your own personal targets per hole. The Golf Buddy Pro comes preloaded with all available North American courses, and international courses may be added. The Golf Buddy Pro automatically loads the correct course and hole depending on your location. The Golf Buddy pro has a hi-res black-and-white screen, score-tracking module, driving distance mode, and multilingual capability. A lithium-ion rechargeable battery and backup AAA batteries power the unit.
The Bushnell Yardage Pro features three modes: a "play" mode that shows distance to the front, center, and back of the green; a "score card" screen including hole in play, par, handicap, and yardage from a pre-selected tee box; and a "drive distance" screen that also shows distance to the pin. The Bushnell Yardage Pro golf GPS uses the same database and course download membership program ($34.99 per year) as the iGolf units in this review. The Yardage Pro's screen includes a backlight for play in low-light conditions. It uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery and comes with charger and a bag/belt clip.
iGolf's Neo is the most compact and lowest-priced unit among this group. It weighs only 2.5 ounces and fits in a pocket. No fancy on-screen maps for the iGolf Neo, just yardage information, including distance to the front, center, and back of the green; distance to the pin, and last shot distance. The Neo golf GPS holds 10 course files at a time, accepts up to four custom points per hole, and uses an internal rechargeable lithium-ion battery. The iGolf website includes downloadable files for more than 33,500 courses world-wide. An annual $34.99 membership entitles users to unlimited course GPS downloads and additional course information.