Golf GPS vs Golf Rangefinder: The Pros & Cons of Each

Welcome again to Golf Weekly, where each week we check out the latest in golf technology, equipment, apparel, and experiences.  This week, we dive into the comparison between GPS devices and Rangefinders and which side makes the most sense for you.  

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We get a lot of questions here at Golf Weekly and one of the most common questions is what is better: a GPS or Rangefinder?  So we decided to put out an article describing the pros and cons of each so you can decide what is best for your particular golf game.  If you are interested in our favorite GPS or Rangefinder options for this year, check out our articles on each topic here:

Best Rangefinders of 2020

Best GPS Wearables

It used to be that only PGA players, with their caddies and yardage books, could expect to get precise numbers to the flag.  Regular golfers like you and I had to be content with yardages stamped on a sprinkler head or the occasional colored stake.  Times have definitely changed with GPS on every smartphone and plenty of companies making laser rangefinders, precise yardages are available to everyone.  The problem with so many choices on the market today is that it makes it difficult to pick the best option for you.  This article is geared to help solve that problem for you.  

We will start out with GPS devices:


One of the things which makes GPS devices so attractive to the majority of golfers is the number of different options they come in. For instance, you could get yardages on your phone, GPS watch, your hat clip, or the old faithful handheld GPS units.  This convenience is exactly what golfers are looking for, with the watches being especially appealing as you can gather information on yardages with a quick glance at the wrist.

A fully-featured GPS will provide ample data for golfers, especially when you’re playing a course for the first time. Whatever information you need to know, it’s all at your disposal. The entire golf course is laid before you and all without the cost of hiring a caddie. A GPS will not only give you the distance to the bunkers and water hazards; it will also show you hazards that aren’t visible to you. There is also information about the size and shape of the green which can be crucial for good course management.


One of the biggest complaints about GPS devices is accuracy. While modern GPS units are a massive improvement over the originals, there are still times when accuracy is an issue and that is when you begin to wish for a laser rangefinder. GPS units are also unable to give exact yardages to the flag.  However, if you want exact distances to that flag, then a rangefinder is a must!  The other limitation for GPS devices is that they can only be used at courses which the manufacturer has mapped. This isn’t a big issue as almost every unit now comes loaded with tens of thousands of courses – but that won’t make you feel any better if the course you want to play isn’t available for your chosen device.

Next let’s dive into Laser Rangefinders:


The single biggest reason to choose a laser rangefinder is the accuracy.  Every major rangefinder on the market is accurate to within a yard, and some promise accuracy to the half or tenth of a yard.  Another plus for rangefinders is that they can be used anywhere, and at every course on the planet without worrying about downloading anything in advance.  Rangefinders are also great on the range and when practicing as you will be able to verify that the flag you’re aiming at is actually 150 yards away and not 142.


The biggest hurdle for laser rangefinders is normally the cost.  Even the most inexpensive laser rangefinder costs around $200.  While a good laser should last for years, some people will have a problem with that type of investment.  

Another issue that some people have with Rangefinders is the pace of play.  Where a GPS will give you the yardages as soon as you get to your ball, a rangefinder requires you to take it out and aim it at the flag to get your yardage number.  This is an even bigger concern for players with shaky hands.  

Finally, a laser rangefinder can only give you yardages to things that you can see and “hit” with the laser.  A laser is best for knowing the distance to the pin, but it can’t reliably tell you the distance to the front, back, or middle of the green.  

Finally, a new category has emerged in the last couple of years with a hybrid of the two:  GPS rangefinders.  These devices look like laser rangefinders, but they include GPS features either on a side screen or right in the viewfinder.  Check out the Garmin Z82 as an example (We’ll link to the product in our bio)


These units have everything you could want.  They have the accuracy of a rangefinder, the ability to be used on any course, and they can target anything that you can see.  Additionally, they give you front, back, and center yardages plus the distances to hazards.  If you want maximum data for making course management decisions, this is the type of device that you want.


The biggest issue is cost: most hybrid units are around $500.  This should become less of an issue as more companies enter this space and older units become available at a discount.  Another issue is the ease of use.  Because so many features are packed into one device, they can be difficult to manage and there can be the pace of play issues.  For some players, more information means more time spent thinking about the perfect decision.  If you’re going to use one of these devices, make sure you’re fluent in its operation so you don’t hold up play.


Ultimately, the decision between a GPS unit and a laser rangefinder comes down to some personal preferences.  Is a laser’s dead-perfect accuracy worth the money?  Do you value the additional information a large screen GPS can provide?  Know that regardless of which option you choose, today’s golf technology will certainly help your course management.

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