Should You Be Using a Rangefinder or GPS Tracking?

Bushnell Excel GPS Watch, image: expertreviews.co.uk

Bushnell Excel GPS Watch, image: expertreviews.co.uk

In golf’s lifetime, clock yardage markers only arrived in the last couple of minutes. For hundreds of years, golfers played mostly low shots that relied on roll to reach their destination. Golf was played by intuition and feel, but that began to change after World War II with the introduction of irrigation into golf courses.

These softer courses allowed higher shots into greens that would stop quickly. Flying the ball exact distances became the holy grail of expert golfers. When Jack Nicklaus, who hit the ball long and high, arrived on the scene, he popularized the concept of “yardages” with each club.

Jack Nicklaus With Yardage Book, image: golfchannel.com

Jack Nicklaus With Yardage Book, image: golfchannel.com

About this time the “150-yard marker” became the golf course standard. When golfers played unfamiliar courses, they looked for a marker on each par four or par five that indicated they were 150 yards from the center of the green. That 150-yard marker could be a striped pole in the middle of the fairway, a planted shrub on either side of the fairway or a metal disc buried in the middle of the short grass.

Eventually, course yardage markers expanded to include 200-yard and 100-yard markers so that blue (200), white (150) and red (100) became the accepted standard. When courses installed automatic irrigation systems, the sprinkler heads were often marked with distances to the center of the greens.

For older courses, measurements to the center of greens were often sufficient since greens were small and any shot to the middle was usually good enough to result in a birdie opportunity. With modern course architecture, greens became bigger and bigger. To assist golfers, yardages on sprinkler heads included three numbers – to the front, middle, and back of the green. Many courses began employing a flag system with three colors, so a golfer could tell if the hole was in the front, center, or middle of the green. Higher end courses began offering yardage books that told golfers exactly how far landmarks were from the tee on every hole.

The Ultimate Distance Aide

Any artistry and “feel” remaining in the game was wrung out by the arrival of electronic rangefinders. These devices use lasers or GPS tracking to provide golfers with the exact distance required for every shot. Not only does the player know the distance to the pin on an approach shot, but there is also no more guessing how far it is to carry a bunker or lay-up in front of a pond.

Leupold GX-4i 2 Rangefinder, image: golfcity.com

Leupold GX-4i 2 Rangefinder, image: golfcity.com

Some GPS devices provide entire pictures of the hole with distances that enable players to plan the attack of a hole out “backward.” They can determine how far to hit a tee shot to leave their best distance into the green and when to leave the driver in the bag.

That still begs the question, are these modern marvels right for your game? No matter how sophisticated a device is, it will not be effective unless you are accomplished enough as a player to deliver consistent shots with every club. Once you reach that level of play, you can use rangefinders and GPS trackers to determine how far you fly each club and incorporate that knowledge into your game. At that point, you can begin to ask yourself, “Am I really good enough to worry about whether this shot is 135 yards or 140 yards?” If you can execute with that kind of precision, a rangefinder is for you!

Even if you never become a good enough golfer to know when to “take a little off,” a six-iron rangefinder can be a worthy investment. As Bobby Jones once said, “Golf is played on a five-and-a-half-inch course, the space between your ears.” Nothing causes more bad shots on a golf course than indecision. Knowing the exact distance required for a shot – even when you lack the skill to execute it consistently – will likely bring more good shots and more fun to your golf day.

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