You walk up to your ball, take out your 8 iron, and hit the ball 20 yards short of making it over the drink. I’m sure you know the feeling, but guess what, having a GPS to give you the yardage can solve your problem.
These are the best golf GPS units on the market:
- Garmin Approach S40 (our favorite GPS watch)
- Arccos Caddie Smart Sensors (our favorite non-watch GPS)
- Garmin Approach G80 (most feature-packed GPS)
Before I actually decided on what GPS to get, I went out and tried 7 different models. Some people prefer watches over handheld and some people are looking for more features. These are the 3 units I’d consider based on what I was looking for.
Do You Actually Need A Golf GPS?
Every golfer who gets out more than once per month needs to have a yardage finder (GPS or laser rangefinder). Being able to pinpoint yardages to greens and hazards is one of the best ways to gain consistency and improve scores.
You might be thinking, “why would I need a GPS, the courses already have yardage markers.” I know I sure thought that, and throwing out even more money was a complete waste.
Guess what I also thought. “Why am I always ending up way short or way long?” Well, the reason is that I didn’t have the exact yardages.
Pretty much all courses will tell you where the 100, 150, and 200-yard markers are. That’s the distance to the middle of the green though. What if it’s a back or front pin?
Some courses will tell you the distance to water off the tee. Most won’t, and that’s a pretty important number to know.
Having something that’ll tell you the distance to clear all water hazards, all bunkers, and the distance to the actual pin is when my game really started improving.
Not only that, but some GPS units will actually record your club distances. No longer will you have to debate between two clubs or have a rough estimate for your distances.
There are a number of units that are super inexpensive as well, and that’s why it’s a no-brainer in my mind to go out and get something.
Golf GPS vs Laser Rangefinder
According to most golfers, having a GPS is more useful than a laser rangefinder. The ability to get instant yardages to different locations and the additional features are what make a GPS the clear winner.
I went back and forth between which one to get myself. Both have their pros and cons, but what I would say is that either of them is better than nothing.
Rangefinders are great because they’re the most accurate option (~1-2 yards) and they’re super easy to use (point and shoot). If you’re technically challenged, they might be the better choice.
GPS is useful because it’ll give you a snapshot of the entire hole. They’ll tell you how far you hit the ball and some of them will even track your distances and common misses.
If I just wanted something to tell me the distance to the green and hazards, either one of them would be fine with me.
The reason I went with a GPS is because of the club and game tracking features. I want to know how far I hit each club and being able to track fairways and greens in regulation are super helpful.
Golf Watch vs Handheld GPS
Golf watches are the most convenient of the two and are why it’s the most popular option. Handheld units are a good choice for golfers who don’t like wearing watches.
The good news is that watches and handhelds do pretty much the same thing. You can get super basic options or you can get ones that’ll do everything for you but hit the ball.
I was never really a watch person and was leaning towards a handheld GPS at first. I know people who are the same way and that’s completely fine. There are a lot of good options out there.
What I didn’t like about handhelds was that it’s another thing to carry around. I actually forgot it in the cart one time (I remembered in time, don’t worry).
That’s what made me suck it up and learn to deal with watches. It’s strapped to my wrist and can’t go anywhere. Not only that, but all I have to do is look down to get my numbers.
If you’re worried about losing your handheld, you can always attach it to your bag. That’s probably what I’d end up doing, but the choice is completely up to you.
What We Looked For While Testing
As I said before, we looked at 7 different models (all types), and there were a few different things we looked at. I wanted something that was solid in all these areas.
Obviously, one of the most important things is that the GPS has the courses you’re going to be playing. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really need a wrist ornament out on the course.
All of the devices on the market have tens of thousands of courses on them. All of the devices had full-sized courses in my area on them.
You probably noticed already that most of them were from Garmin. Garmin has the biggest database of courses and has over 42,000 courses from around the world.
If you want to double check if your course is one of them, you can head over to the Garmin website and have a look.
The biggest reason I didn’t like wearing watches was that they weren’t comfortable for me. Some were definitely better than others, but it just didn’t feel comfortable to swing the club.
If you’re in the same boat, you have two options. You can learn to deal with it and you’ll get used to it (like I did). Or, you can stick with a handheld GPS.
Ease Of Use
The next thing I looked at was how user-friendly the GPS was. I’d say I’m a pretty tech-friendly person, but some were a lot harder to use than others.
Not just navigating through the different features, but also glitches and freezing issues. Out of all the ones I tried, Garmin seemed to be the easiest to use.
There are some multi-sport watches out there that do more than golf. Those are great if you’re into other stuff, but they have a ton more features and it’s not going to be for everyone.
If the thing isn’t accurate, we’re pretty much back to square one. We’ll be back to blasting it over the green and getting wet. Not ideal.
For the most part, all of them were pretty solid when it came to accuracy. They aren’t quite as good as a laser rangefinder but they’re close enough.
The three we’ll talk about next were pretty much always within 4-5 yards, and that was good enough for me.
As long as the battery lasted a full round, that’s the main thing that matters. Most people don’t play two rounds back to back, and will be able to charge it back up.
The good news is that they all last somewhere between 2-3 rounds. I normally charge things up between rounds, but the longer it’ll last the better.
The amount of features really depends on the price of the GPS. More expensive units will come with more features. Kind of expected.
What we did though was compare devices in similar price ranges. If there are two watches that are 100 bucks and one of them has 12 different features while the other has 3, it’s a no-brainer.
Most of the entry-level units will give you the distance to the front, middle, and back of the green. They’ll also show you hazards, doglegs, and some layup spots.
Middle of the range units will come with a color display and will let you track stats such as club distances and fairways/greens in regulation.
The higher-end models will let you see the distance to any part of the hole and green. Some even take into account elevation levels to really dial things in.
Best Golf GPS Devices
If I was in the market for a new golf GPS, these are the ones I’d consider. They might not have the most features, but they’re some of the best options for different prices ranges.
I wanted to pick a couple of different price points because everyone doesn’t have the same budget. If you don’t want to spend much or you don’t get out much, there’s an option for you.
Garmin Approach S40 (What I Picked)
If you’re looking for a GPS that’ll give you 80% of what you’d want on the course, or you’re looking for a watch, this will be the one for you.
It’s the one I decided to go with because the price was reasonable, it came with a lot of features, and I didn’t have to worry about carrying a handheld unit around.
I was originally thinking about getting the cheaper Garmin S10 since it gives the distance to the green and hazards. The main reason I decided to spend a bit more money was because of the tracking features.
The first reason I got the S40 instead was that it automatically tracked my distances for all clubs. I pretty much always guessed my distances and I wondered why my distance control was inconsistent.
The second reason was that it tracks fairway and green stats and you can actually see where all your shots went (on the Garmin app). This just gives you a good idea of where you need to improve the most.
Other than that, the S40 has a color display and you can easily replace the straps. The 150 buck difference makes the S40 the no-brainer choice if you ask me.
Here are some of the most useful features:
- Shot distance.
- Distance to front, middle, and back of the green.
- Distance to hazards & doglegs.
- Exact pin location.
- Club distances.
- Common misses.
- Putt count.
- Round walkthrough.
Read review: Garmin Approach S40
- It has quick-release bands.
- Comes with more than just GPS info.
- Automatically records club distances.
- No stats for where you miss the green.
- Still, a little expensive.
Arccos Caddie Smart Sensors (Our #2 Pick)
If you’re someone who doesn’t like to wear a watch or you don’t want to carry another device around, this will be the one for you. What’s cool about it is that it’s also a game analyzer.
What’s different about this GPS is that you attach sensors to each of your clubs and it’ll send data to your phone. You’ll need to download the Garmin app on your phone to get the GPS feature.
It’s definitely one of the best golf products I’ve ever seen. The main reason I went with the S40 instead was because of convenience.
I didn’t want to have to take my phone out of my pocket every time I was shooting. It was a lot easier to just look down at my watch and get everything I needed.
The second reason I didn’t go with these sensors was that it requires an annual fee ($99) to get some of the features. The first year is included but you’ll have to pay to keep the game analyzing features.
Other than that, these sensors are just as good (if not better) than the S40. If you really want to dissect your game, these will probably be the best option.
Here are some of the key features:
- GPS data that takes into account elevation, temperature, and wind.
- Automatic shot tracking.
- Caddie advice (what club to hit and your optimal strategy).
Read review: Arccos Caddie Smart Sensors
- It has the cheapest initial cost.
- The best game analyzing data.
- Comes with advanced GPS data.
- It has an annual fee for the full features ($99 after the first year).
- You’ll have to carry your phone and you’ll need data.
Garmin Approach G80
If you’re looking for a GPS that comes with the most additional features, this will be the one for you. What’s different about this is that it also comes with a built-in launch monitor.
Out of all the GPS units on this list, the G80 has the most features. 80% of what you’d want on the course is on the S40, but there are a few key differences between the two.
The first difference is that the G80 comes with touch targeting. It’s pretty cool because it’ll give you the distance to any part of the course. All you have to do is touch a part on the map and you’ll get a distance.
The second difference is the PlaysLike feature. This takes into account elevation and will give you a more accurate distance. 150 yards uphill will be more like 140 yards.
The final key difference is Swing Tempo & Tempo Training. It’ll basically tell you how fast your downswing is compared to your backswing.
Those are great and all, but the main reason you’d get the G80 is because of the launch monitor.
This is what you can use at the range to get a lot of useful data. You’ll be able to see stats such as:
- Clubhead speed.
- Ball speed.
- Carry distance.
- Smash factor.
- Virtual round.
If it has all those features, why didn’t I get the G80?
The price. It’d be nice having all those features but I really didn’t want to throw out another 200 bucks. You might, but it wasn’t right for me.
Read review: Garmin Approach G80
- It has the most features.
- Can be used at the course and range.
- The price.
- A watch is more convenient to carry around.
Which GPS Is Best For You?
All three of these units are solid and you can’t really go wrong with any of them. What it’ll come down to is what features you’re after and what your budget is.
If you like wearing watches or you want the most convenient option that’ll give you 80% of what you’d want on the course, the Garmin S40 will be for you.
If you don’t like wearing watches or you want to analyze your game, the Arccos Caddie Sensors will be perfect for you.
If you want to get your shot data at the range and you don’t mind paying up for a GPS, the Garmin G80 will be perfect for you.