Golf GPS

Golf GPS Watch vs Handheld

Best Golf GPS units

So let’s say you want a golf GPS device, whether a watch, rangefinder, phone, or tablet app, that can help you determine distances and improve your golf game. How do you decide whether to invest in a watch or handheld device?

The pros and cons of each are extensive, so let’s spend a little time examining the argument for each.

First, which device—a GPS watch or a handheld golf GPS rangefinder—is more convenient? As smartwatches continue to improve, the truth is that the tech in a good golf GPS watch is often not much different from a handheld device, as each offers many of the same features. Both can help you become better golfers as a result, especially as they can help train you to better naturally gauge distance.

The bigger question might be how you feel about the extra weight of a watch on your wrist as you swing. Many golfers don’t mind, but some do. Ultimately, though, when it comes to the convenience it’s far easier to forget a rangefinder in the car than a smartwatch that you might well already be wearing.

Battery life is also a consideration. While many smartwatches need to be charged after every four to eight hours of heavy use, especially if you’re using more battery-intensive features, many handheld devices may offer a battery life of us to several months (or longer if you don’t use them as frequently).

Price is also likely a consideration. Smartwatches designed for golf can easily run hundreds of dollars. Handheld devices can start at under a hundred, even though some of the best can still run a few hundred dollars. (A big part of that is the smaller size of the golf GPS watch; you pay more as a result.)

Memory or storage space may be a consideration if you play more than a few courses or travel extensively. While most devices can store thousands of courses, not all devices are created equally when it comes to downloading maps for overseas courses, for instance, if you travel widely. This problem extends to both handheld golf GPS devices and smartwatches, however.

Similarly, service fees for both types of rangefinders (as well as the cost to download more courses) are often comparable.

Extra features likewise vary, and whether you prefer a handheld device or a golf GPS watch may well come down to those extra features. Some handheld devices include slope and far better laser technology than any watch, but some of those extra features may also make them illegal for tournament play. GPS watches, however, may include other fitness tracking features that you can use for more than just golf, and Bluetooth accessibility means you can get texts and calls and calendar updates, too.

So whether to go with the handheld device or a golf GPS watch can be a question that comes down to the individual user. If you just want golf applications, you may be better off with a handheld device, but if you want to be able to use your watch for tracking fitness measurements, you may prefer a watch.

For serious golfers, handheld rangefinders are often a better purchase, but for golfers who simply see golf as part of the rest of their life, watches may be a better choice.


Best Handheld Golf GPS 2023

So what if you decide that a handheld golf GPS device is the way you’re going to best improve your game? With as many options as there are on the market today, how do you know what the best choice is?

We’re here to present some of our favorite options, so you can best determine what fits your needs and budget.

Check out our 5 best golf GPS devices.

Top 5 Golf GPS Devices

1. Garmin Approach G8 Golf Course GPS. A full-color handheld portable GPS device, the roughly four-inch-by-two-inch Garmen Approach G8 Golf Course GPS does everything you need to do without overly complicating its use. In fact, despite the beauty of its maps and functions, it only needs two buttons! Automatic updates, game memory (it saves your previous games), smartphone notifications, and more make this our top choice.


2. Arccos 360 Golf Performance Tracking System might be our favorite golf GPS app, using a combination of a small sensor you plug into the top of your club and GPS information about where you are playing to help you track your shots. Though it does require a one-year subscription, the ability to share brags and shots with other users—as well as a memory of 40,000 golf courses and every shot you take with it—makes it a great teaching and training tool.


3. Garmin Approach S60: Our favorite golf GPS watch, the S60 offers a high-quality touchscreen, more than 40,000 courses preloaded, and 10-hour battery life (or up to 10 days when used as a simple watch). The screen works well even in bright sun (which not all watches can say), and it comes with the quality you expect from a Garmin product.


4. Skygolf Skycaddie Touch GPS. Skycaddie’s offering is our favorite handheld device, offering wireless Bluetooth updates in addition to the 35,000 courses pre-loaded for the three-inch and full-color touchscreen. The ease of use is really tremendous as is the size, which is big enough to be easy to use while also being small enough to comfortably hold in your palm.

5. Bushnell Phantom Golf GPS. Our favorite cart model, the Bushnell Phantom Golf GPS is designed to be attached to the cart and left there so your hands stay free. With 40,000 courses pre-loaded and a 10-hour battery life, the Phantom offers exactly what you need for a long day out and the ability to mark up to four hazards per hole is nice, too.

But what if you don’t want a full GPS golf device? Given the price of handheld devices or golf GPS watches, maybe you want to start with an app on your phone. If that’s how you feel, there are still plenty of choices available, even if they may not offer all of the features or accuracy of a more expensive device.

We already noted our love for Arccos 360 Golf Performance Tracking System, but there are lots of other great apps out there, too. Check out our 5 best golf GPS app choices.

5 Best Golf GPS Apps

  1. GolfShot Plus. Not only is GolfShot great for both iOS and Android devices, but the plus version (which is a paid version) offers a ton of great features, including real-time design, 3D previews, statistic recording, and even club usage recommendations based on your previous golfing. It goes beyond simple distances, offering satellite images of each of the 15,000 courses in its database, and the statistics it tracks are simply astounding; not only will it keep score for you, but it can automatically link it to your handicap. It also supports Apple Watch and several Android wearables, so you can also use it without your phone. The ease of use is impressive, as are the layout and interface. It’s also among the very best at recording your stats and tracking your shots. It does, however, drain your battery pretty quickly, which makes sense when you consider all the features and satellite images.
  2. SkyDroid. While the user interface isn’t quite as nice as GolfShot Plus, it also costs a fraction of the price, which makes it more appealing for value shoppers. As a golf GPS app goes, this one relies on Google Maps, so when those maps are off (or lack data), the app isn’t as accurate. And the ease of use is phenomenal, as you simply hold your finger on the map location and it tells you the distance a second or two later. So while it’s not quite as accurate as more expensive options like GolfShot, it can be a great starting point, and the legions of SkyDroid users out there mean that maps are regularly updated courtesy of the open-ended Course Mapper tool. (So if you play somewhere and the map doesn’t seem current, odds are good that the community has a better version for you to use.) Just keep in mind that Google Maps are frequently only accurate within 4-8 yards and you’ll be okay.
  3. GolfLogix. While GolfLogix started as a handheld device (the Garmin GolfLogix GPS-8), it has since graduated to a golf GPS app for iPhone and Android. Like GolfShot, it can be pricey (with an annual subscription fee rather than a one-time download purchase), and some may question the value. Like GolfShot, however, the extra cost also means extra features above cheaper alternatives like SkyDroid. For instance, GolfLogix offers some of the best course mappings of any golf GPS app out there, and the statistics measured are both detailed and traceable. One advantage of GolfShot over GolfLogix, however, is that GolfLogix is not very good at predicting things, which means there’s more repetitive input required. It does, however, still offer a great user interface, and despite being feature-laden, allows for seamless and easy navigation. The club data, for instance, is particularly helpful in how it tracks shots by each club, including both the longest shots for each club and average distances. Its ability to track various statistics also rivals GolfShot, though the scorekeeping can take a little bit of time to feel comfortable with.
  4. Mobitee Golf. If you think of Mobitee as the GolfShot version of SkyDroid, you’re well on your way to understanding the appeal. While not as cheap as SkyDroid, it’s far cheaper than GolfShot or GolfLogix and offers closer to the same range of features. For instance, Mobitee’s interface is much more like a higher-end golf GPS app than a cheap version, and the database of nearly 40,000 supported courses is likewise impressive. Similar to GolfLogix, Mobitee also allows you to create a virtual golf bag so you know how each club has performed previously. Mobitee also has one of the best user-friendly interfaces, making it incredibly easy to use. The stat keeping is similarly impressive. One of the only ways you can tell it is a more budget-friendly app, really, is that you can sometimes tell when course data hasn’t been updated in a while.
  5. ShotTracer. Our final golf GPS app choice is not technically a GPS app, but still worth considering. ShotTracer allows you to take videos of your swing and create a trailing effect on the ball, allowing you to better see how your swing is working (or not working, as the case may be). As a result, it can also be tremendously helpful in developing and improving your swing.

What Is The Best Golf GPS App For Android?

When it comes down to selecting the best golf GPS app for an Android phone, there are really only a few best choices. That is, while there are literally more options than you can count, there are simply a few apps that are head-and-shoulders above the rest.

Let’s look at those 5 best golf GPS app for Android choices.

5 Best Golf GPS App For Android

  1. GolfShot Plus. We looked at GolfShot a bit above but didn’t really look nearly enough at how nice it is to be able to use the app on your Android Wear smartwatch—meaning you have all of the great features of the app right there on your wrist. Additionally, we’d be doing you a disservice if we didn’t mention the community of more than 2 million golfers or the willingness of the GolfShot team to add courses to the roster of over 40,000 courses already on the app. It simply requires Android 4.1 or higher.
  2. Hole 19. With more than 41,000 courses available, this smartphone app can act as the virtual caddie no human could ever hope to be. It can also help you book tee times and supports both Stableford and Stroke Play scoring. Even better, though it does come with in-app purchases, the original app is free.
  3. Golf Pad. Another free app (though again with in-app purchases), Golf Pad works well with Android smartwatches and Samsung Gear devices, provided you are running at least Android 4.1 or higher. It’s one of the better GPS range finders available in a free app, too, and promises to keep core features free forever.
  4. 18Birdies. Like Hole 19 and Golf Pad, the original app is free, and it offers the added advantage of working with Android wearables. It does, however, only support 6,000 courses currently. That said, for the courses it does support, it’s well worth checking out, as it was Golf Digest’s Editor’s Choice Award for 2018.
  5. mScorecard. Also a free download, mScorecard doesn’t include in-app purchases. And while it supports more courses than 18Birdies, it still isn’t nearly as widespread as some of these other apps. That said, it has one of the better social interfaces for comparing scores and can track distances for up to five players at a time. It also supports other scoring formats, including Skins, Nassau, Match Play, Stroke Play, Stableford, and more.

What Is The Best Golf App for iPhone?

When it comes down to selecting the best golf GPS app for an iPhone, there are really only a few best choices. That is, while there are literally more options than you can count, there are simply a few apps that are head-and-shoulders above the rest.

Let’s look at those 5 best golf GPS app for iPhone choices:

  1. Golfshot. If it sounds like we’re a broken record singing GolfShot’s praises, it is with good reason; the graphics and data are simply superb. As noted elsewhere, however, it’s worth paying the extra for the Plus edition, which is also compatible with Apple Watch. Optional auto-handicapping is pretty great, as are the stats and stat visualizations. The only drawback might honestly be how quickly it can drain your battery.
  2. Hole19. Like the Android version, the iOS version of Hole19 is loaded with features at a great price: Free. The user interface is quite simple and straightforward, and you can easily tap for distances to the front, center, and back of the green. The flyover view is comparable to much more expensive apps, too.
  3. GolfLogix. The iOS version of GolfLogix is consistently improved with each update, to the point that the golf GPS app version is in some ways superior to the original handheld device (the Garmin GolfLogix GPS-8). Like GolfShot, it offers handicapping and an incredible number of statistics. It’s much lighter on your batteries, however, though it can have issues with technical support—the only drawback we’ve seen so far.
  4. Mobitee. Mobitee’s user interface is straightforward, offering great satellite and aerial views for every hole and video flyovers for many of them. Additionally, there are separate versions for both iPhone and iPad, with the option to email your scorecards to friends after you complete a great round. It’s also free.
  5. Sonocaddie. Bright color layout images for each hole help set Sonocaddie apart, as does its ease of use. It also includes more than 40,000 courses in its database, the app is quite responsive. The only drawback? Subscriptions are limited to one device.

What Is The Average Score For 18 Holes Of Golf?

While these golf GPS apps and handheld devices are all designed to help make you a better golfer, that may mean very different things to different people. For instance, if you are a scratch golfer, shooting 85 means you had a pretty rough day; if, however, your handicap is 25 or 30, shooting an 85 might mean you had a great round.

But what does an average round of golf looks like, you might ask?

Despite all of the improvements in golf technology, the average 18-hole score has hovered right around 100 strokes. And the truth is, that the average score of 100 strokes isn’t the same on all courses; for instance, easier courses may have an average amateur score lower than 100 and harder courses may have a much higher average score. You can see this better when you understand how course ratings and slope ratings work, for instance.

Course ratings are equal to the expected score of a scratch golfer, with each set of tees having different course ratings corresponding to their expected average score for a scratch golfer. Looking at the course rating and par can give you a sense of a course’s difficulty; if the course rating is above par, that means an average scratch golfer would be expected to shoot over par, implying it is a harder course. For an easier course, you might expect the course rating to be lower than par, implying that an average scratch golfer should break par.

Slope rating, then, shows how a bogey golfer might do compared to the average scratch golfer. If, for instance, the average slope is 113, that means an additional 1.13 strokes should be expected for 1 stroke of handicap, meaning a golfer with a bogey handicap (18-handicap over 18 holes) would expect to shoot 20 or 21 strokes greater than a scratch golfer on a course with a slope rating of 113. That isn’t to say 20 or 21 strokes over par, remember, as par is not the same as a course rating.

You can use those two to determine an expected average course rating by doing some math—or you can use an automatic handicap calculator, which may be included in your golf GPS app or handheld device.

Or, if you’re trying to get a sense of how you compare to other golfers, consider these numbers from the National Golf Foundation:

  • The average round is somewhere right around 100
  • The average golf handicap for women is 29.2 and men 16.1
  • Fewer than 5% of adult golfers shoot rounds under 80
  • 21% of rounds fall between 80-89
  • 29% of rounds fall between 90-99
  • 24% of rounds fall between 100-109
  • 10% of rounds fall between 110-119
  • 11% of rounds are 120 or higher

Of course, that assumes that golfers play by the rules, and we all know just how easy it easy to call a mulligan, forget taking stroke-and-distance on a lost or out-of-bounds ball, and more. As a result, it’s quite likely that the average round is well above 100, and that most handicaps (if reported correctly) are much higher than actually reported.

What Is The Lowest Score In PGA history?

All of which makes it even more incredible the scores professional golfers are able to shoot week in and week out, round after round. After all, they aren’t allowed to devices such as a golf GPS app or handheld device in tournament play, nor can they bend the rules the way most of us are prone to do. Still, they regularly shoot par on some of the more difficult courses in the country or world.

And the lowest scores are truly astounding. In fact, ten different times a PGA player has shot a sub-60 round in PGA tournament play.

Nine players have shot a round under 60:

  1. Al Geiberger (1977 Memphis Classic; 29-30);
  2. Chip Beck (1991 Las Vegas Invitational; 30-29);
  3. David Duval (1999 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic; 31-28);
  4. Paul Goydos (2010 John Deere Classic; 31-28);
  5. Stuart Appleby (2010 Greenbrier Classic; 28-31);
  6. Jim Furyk (2013 BMW Championship; 31-28);
  7. Justin Thomas (2017 Sony Open; 30-29);
  8. Adam Hadwin (2017 CareerBuilder Challenge; 29-30);
  9. Brandt Snedeker (2018 Wyndham Championship; 27-32)

That’s only nine, though, you say. That’s because Jim Furyk, only the 6th man to ever shoot lower than 60, has also played a 58-stroke round, in the 2016 Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Connecticut He shot his 58 in the final round, with a 27-31 split. And yes, he won that tournament.

Can PGA players use GPS?

Again, the answer is yes and no. When it comes to PGA tournaments, the answer is a hard no, but in practice rounds or local tournaments, for instance, the answer may vary.

In general, non-PGA tournaments are allowed to make their own decisions about golf GPS devices and rangefinders, courtesy of the Local Rule we mentioned earlier. PGA tournaments, however, have a strict no rangefinder rule.

That falls under Rule 14-3 we mentioned earlier, that “artificial” devices used for “gauging or measuring distance” or other conditions of play (such as weather or slope) result in disqualification. Because yardage books are not considered artificial, however, they are allowed in PGA play.

And that rule extends to caddies as well, as Jerry Rice (who briefly played on the PGA’s Nationwide Tour) was disqualified from the 2010 BMW Charity Pro-Am after his caddie used a rangefinder in the second round.

Are Distance Finders Legal In Golf?

The short answer? Yes and no. Let’s look a little more closely because it all comes down to one particular rule in the USGA rulebook: Rule 14-3.

Rule 14-3 says that no golf player can use a device that helps him or her in their golf game. The basic premise is that no player should have an unfair advantage over another and that players should be compared in their games by their skills, judgments, and abilities. That sounds straightforward enough, and as if no distance finders or golf GPS devices would be allowed.

But it gets trickier from there. Whereas not that long ago electronic devices weren’t allowed anywhere near the course, restrictions have become progressively laxer. And, as a result, golf GPS devices are now legal even in many tournaments—within reason and within certain restrictions, which we’ll get to in a moment.

When Rule 14-3 was revised in 2006, it allowed for the use of distance-measuring devices. That revision was further expanded in 2016 to allow prohibited devices as long as the prohibited features are turned off during the game in question; the result of what has been since known as the “Local Rule” means that conforming electronic devices can be used in your golf game.

So what is a conforming device? The USGA allow:

  1. Stand-alone devices, such as rangefinders (laser or GPS). The GPS devices might be a handheld device or a watch.
  2. Multi-functional devices, such as phones or tablets, provided they’re only used for allowed golf purposes, such as distance measuring, for instance.

If that doesn’t exactly simplify it, here’s what you’re allowed to do with a golf GPS device or another distance finder:

  • Measure and gauge distance to your target
  • Measure and record distances of your shots
  • Access to recording your swing for later review (after the round in question)
  • Can share your GPS device among players
  • Access to other conforming features (calendar, clock, basic scorecard)

What you can’t do with Golf GPS trackers?

  • Measure, gauge, or otherwise calculate slope
  • Actively measure and gauge weather conditions
  • Record and review a swing during the round in question
  • Use swing measuring features
  • Use club suggestion features
  • Call, text, or email a swing coach during the round
  • And so forth.

If you have further questions, you can certainly do more research!

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