A golf rangefinder isn’t just for beginners, although it’s true, that once you’ve gained experience on the course you can roughly estimate distance without a rangefinder. However, new golf rangefinders can do so much more than just measure distance. But how does a golf rangefinder work? Can it really give you an edge on the course?
There are currently two widely used rangefinders: GPS and laser, however, there are also optical rangefinders, but they’re not quite as accurate as both the laser and GPS models are.
If you’re not familiar with golf rangefinder technology, how these devices work, and what they can do for your golf game, then you came to the right place. We’ll go over golf rangefinder technology and help you determine which type of rangefinder can have the biggest impact on your golf game.
How does a golf rangefinder work? Well, this ultimately depends on which type of golf rangefinder you choose. The two top types of rangefinders include GPS and laser. Laser rangefinders utilize an invisible infrared laser beam to read distances, while GPS rangefinders use preloaded maps and a satellite signal to determine distance. Because the GPS devices come with preloaded maps, the rangefinder is able to calculate the distance from the golfer to the flag at a much faster rate. However, because the GPS rangefinder relies on preloaded maps, you may not be able to use it at every course. This can be problematic if you travel overseas or visit a course that’s not in the rangefinder’s database. You can use a laser rangefinder at any course in the world and without having to stop and search for a new course map to download. Both styles of rangefinders come with their own advantages and disadvantages. Both types are accurate and easy to use, so it will mainly boil down to personal preference in terms of which type of rangefinder is better.
Golf rangefinders are great tools for both practice and for use during a game. Many of the latest models come equipped with some great extra features that can help to improve your golf game. If you’re not familiar with how these devices work, we’ll give you a rundown on the technology each type uses.
Read on to learn more about rangefinder technology and what you can expect in terms of accuracy, quality, and performance.
Laser Rangefinder Technology
Laser rangefinders are by far the most popular rangefinders on the market. But why?
GPS models are said to be much faster than a laser rangefinder. However, you can use a laser rangefinder on any course in the world. This is where GPS rangefinders falter. GPS rangefinders have to rely on preloaded maps of local golf courses. If you run into a course you can’t find in your arsenal of maps on your rangefinder, you may still be able to download the map for the course, but if the rangefinder is unable to locate the course in the database, then you’re out of luck.
As you can see, using the GPS rangefinder can be limiting.
Both styles of rangefinders work by calculating the distance from the player to the next hole, which makes it easy for the golfer to determine how hard and far they need to hit the ball.
How a Laser Rangefinder Works
To use this style of rangefinder, simply point the handheld device at the target and squeeze the trigger. Doing so will send a laser beam to the intended target. A distance reading should be available within a few seconds.
The issue here is with both accuracy and ease of use. Some models are very accurate, reliable, and easy to use, including popular models by Bushnell, like their top-selling model the Bushnell Tour Z6 Golf Laser Rangefinder, which locks onto a target easily. With lower-priced rangefinders, locking onto a target or the correct target can be a hassle. If you don’t lock onto the target correctly you’ll get an error message or an inaccurate reading.
The optical rangefinder isn’t quite as popular as laser or GPS rangefinders, but they do offer a solid performance. This type of device features a couple of lenses located at one end of the rangefinder. The lenses zoom in on the target to find the height of a pin and convert it to the distance by using a built-in scale. How accurate or inaccurate the optical rangefinder is ultimately depends on how well you focus the device on the intended target. In terms of accuracy, this type of rangefinder can’t compare to GPS or laser rangefinders, which is why they have fallen out of favor with most golfers.
As we mentioned earlier, using a GPS rangefinder can be limiting. With this type of rangefinder, you must pay a monthly subscription fee to use it, since these devices work via a satellite signal. These rangefinders are said to be faster, but you have to download a variety of maps for local courses. When you want to measure the distance to the next hole, you’ll take the rangefinder, point at your target and press the trigger. Since the rangefinder stores maps of golf courses, it already has the distance information from hole to hole, which can make the device faster, and easier to use. Once you’ve targeted a hole, the device will automatically determine the distance to the next hole, offering a more seamless playing experience.
GPS models are available in a couple of style options. First, you have the popular, more common handheld rangefinder. But the GPS watch is quickly gaining in popularity since they’re much easier to take from hole to hole. To learn more about both styles of golf rangefinders, click here to read our article on golf GPS watch vs handheld.
Laser rangefinders are the more popular option, simply because you don’t have to worry about downloading new maps if you’re out of town, or out of state. You also don’t have to pay a monthly subscription fee. The initial cost is it. Because of this, golfers in search of a more convenient rangefinder, or a more affordable option, often choose the laser rangefinder.
But despite the fact that this type of device uses lasers to read distances, the technology used is actually very simple. Earlier, we briefly touched on how these devices work, but below, we’ll break it down for you more clearly.
A laser rangefinder uses technology that’s similar to that of an autofocus camera. With an autofocus camera, a laser beam is projected to the desired target. The laser beam hits the target and reflects back to the camera. It’s then detected by the camera’s sensor. An internal chip measures the amount of time it took the laser to return to the device in order to calculate the distance. In the past, autofocus camera technology was very sluggish and not exactly accurate. But with technological advances, new models of autofocus cameras, and of course, laser rangefinders, make these devices faster, and more accurate than ever.
Is a Laser Rangefinder Accurate?
Like the autofocus camera, the rangefinder utilizes the same technology to determine the distance from hole to hole. The laser beam reaches the desired target, reflects back to the rangefinder, and you get the calculated distance to the next hole or another type of desired target.
A rangefinder is incredibly fast because the laser beam moves at the speed of light, which is why you’ll get a distance reading in just a few seconds. Newer rangefinders also offer improved accuracy compared to models produced just a few years ago. On average, even low-end rangefinders have an accuracy rating within one yard. Some models are more accurate than others, but these are the devices that typically come with a higher price tag. However, if you’re a serious golfer and play in tournaments, then a model with a higher accuracy rating will be worth the additional cost.
Laser Rangefinder Limitations
Each model you’ll come across will have a range rating. This spec will tell you how far the laser beam can reach. On average, most models will have a range of four to five hundred yards, while higher priced models have a range of eight hundred to one thousand yards. Devices that have a higher range rating doesn’t exactly indicate that the devices are more powerful, it points more towards the quality of the hardware and software the device uses. Higher priced rangefinders will come with top-notch technology. This translates to sensors and computer chips that offer a more accurate performance, with the ability to bypass obstacles in the rangefinder’s path in order to provide the real distance from the golfer to the target. Low priced rangefinders can struggle on certain courses that have obstacles such as trees and brush.
Which Type of Rangefinder is Right for You?
The answer to this question is debatable. GPS users claim the GPS devices are more accurate since it features preloaded maps of golf courses. However, not all GPS rangefinders keep their map databases up to date. This means if changes are made to a course, you may get back inaccurate readings. Whereas a laser rangefinder is considered much more versatile and can work anywhere since it doesn’t rely on the use of preloaded maps.
Why Are Bushnell Rangefinders so Popular?
Bushnell rangefinders come equipped with the popular JOLT technology, a feature that will alert the user by vibrating, once they have successfully locked onto the desired target. Their rangefinders are also said to be among the most popular models on the market, a fact that makes them popular with golfers of all skill levels.
Do Pros Use Golf Rangefinders?
You bet. You probably won’t see a pro golfer using one during a tournament, but you will definitely spot them using one during practice. Rangefinders can be used as training tools that can help you learn how to better gauge distance.
Can I Use a Rangefinder Designed for Hunting for Golf?
You can. Many basic rangefinders now have settings for both hunting and golf. Basically, what you’re looking for is a rangefinder that has the ability to provide accurate readings, one that is able to hit your desired target without obstacles impacting the results. If you want a rangefinder primarily for golf, we recommend choosing a model that’s specifically designed for the game since these models will come with more golf appropriate features.
Are Rangefinders Tournament Legal?
Yes and no. Typically, models with the slope feature are not considered tournament legal, however, devices that allow you to switch off the slope feature, and models without the slope feature usually are. The slope feature makes the rangefinder highly accurate, compensating for the slope on the course in order to provide a more accurate distance reading. If you’re not sure whether your model is tournament legal, make sure you check the rules of the tournament before bringing your rangefinder.
How does a golf rangefinder work? As you know by now, laser models use an invisible infrared laser to measure the distance, optical rangefinders us a built-in scale and a two-lens system to determine distance, while GPS devices work via a satellite signal and preloaded maps of local golf courses. Which type of rangefinder is more accurate is debatable. Most golfers tend to favor the laser rangefinder because they’re easier and more convenient to use.
The type of rangefinder you choose should be based on your skill level and golfing needs. If you don’t want to pay a monthly fee or you want to be able to use your rangefinder at every golf course in the world, then opt for a laser rangefinder. If speed is a priority for you, then the GPS style rangefinder is a better choice. Budget-wise, the optical rangefinder can be a great option, but these very basic models have been left behind due to new features that both the GPS and laser rangefinders now have to offer, including JOLT technology, and slope compensation. To learn more about rangefinder technology, click here to read our buyer’s guide.