Golf Watch Vs. Rangefinder — (with Pros and Cons)

golf watch vs rangefinder with the pros and cons of each software product at tell me more golf research teams

Golfers have many options for getting accurate yardage to hazards and pin placements when playing a round of golf. The most popular devices golfers choose to get distances to targets are a golf watch and the laser rangefinder.

Which one is better, the golf GPS watch or the laser rangefinder? Or do you need both of them?

The Tell Me More Golf Team will take a look at both devices and talk about their pros and cons to help you pick the device that’s the best choice for your game.

golf watch vs rangefinder with the pros and cons of each software product at tell me more golf research teams

GPS Watch Pros And Cons

golf watch vs rangefinder with gps watch pros and cons when using them for golf

Golf watches like those made by Garmin, Shot Scope, and SkyCaddie, are popular with golfers because they are easy to use.

Also, because they are on a player’s wrist, they are easily accessible on the golf course.

Most dedicated golf watches have thousands of golf courses preloaded onto the devices. Many GPS watches can also connect to a smartphone via Bluetooth and can pass statistics on to golf apps or receive course updates.

Pros and Cons of GPS Golf Watches


  • Thousands of Preloaded Golf Courses
  • Hole Overviews
  • Scorecard
  • Stat Tracking
  • Shot Tracking
  • Swing Analysis
  • Health Tracking (Heart Rate, Steps, ETC.)


  • Yardages Aren’t Exact
  • Battery Life Can Vary
  • Weather, Location and Terrain Can Impact GS Signal – Inaccurate Yardage Readings
  • Course Updates Needed

The best golf GPS devices, like the Garmin Approach S62, are more than just golf watches; they are also capable smartwatches. As a smartwatch, they can also receive notifications from your phone, track health statistics, and perform functions that other smartwatches can perform.

Smartwatches with high-quality golf GPS apps can perform just as well as most dedicated GPS golf watches, while being easy to keep track of during the round. 

While there are some drawbacks to using a golf watch, the additional scorecard and game-tracking features make them valuable to golfers on and off the golf course.


A laser golf rangefinder allows golfers to measure exact yardages to targets on a golf course like a bunker, water hazard, or the flagstick.

Having pinpoint numbers to a target helps golfers select the correct golf clubs they need to hit during a round.

Quality laser golf rangefinders like those made by Nikon, Callaway, Bushnell, Shot Scope, and Precision Pro have target acquisition software like Pinseeker, which locks onto targets in the foreground.

Golf Rangefinders with slope features can calculate elevation changes between the player and the target and provide very accurate numbers to help players select the right club for the distance shown.

Pros and Cons Golf Rangefinders


  • Ease of Use – Point and Shoot Target
  • Accurate to Within 1 Yard
  • Slope Feature Calculates Elevation Changes – Provides Plays Like Yardage
  • Durability – Should Last a Minimum of 5 Years
  • Long Battery Life


  • Need to Hold Steady to Acquire Target
  • Target Needs to Be in Line of Sight
  • Challenging to Lock on Target in Low Light, Fog and Mist
  • Cost – Premium Models Can be Expensive

A laser golf rangefinder provides a golfer with exact yardage to targets they will aim for on the golf course. Precise yardages help golfers with club selection and course management during a round.

What Features Should You Consider When Buying a Rangefinder?

When shopping for a quality golf rangefinder, the three main features to look out for are value, usability, and accuracy. Other equally important features include slope function, longevity, as well as build quality (optics and visuals). Here’s a brief rundown of each one:

1. Value

Accurate rangefinders go for between $100 and $500. The less costly brands often exhibit errors especially when your golf hand is not steady enough. High-budget rangefinders typically fetch the right number faster and with minimal precision from you, the user. We suggest that you spend upwards of $100 if you play golf 10 or more times a year.

 2. Accuracy

Our team of expert golfers tried out the best golf rangefinders in the market today and came to the conclusion that the most reliable accuracy measure is ±0.5 yards. The worst possible accuracy is between ±3 and 4-yards for 50 to 200 yards. We believe that these measures are linked closely to the software used to determine the frequency and strength of the signal that’s either sent out or received by the rangefinder. 

3. Usability

A good number of rangefinders today are equipped with pin-locking advancements that make it possible to scope out your pin as well as choose the right golf club. Seek out a rangefinder that will fit perfectly in your hand and allow you to utilize one-handed yardage from time to time. 

4. Longevity

The higher you’re willing to spend on a rangefinder, the better its durability. Like any piece of golf equipment, you need to determine how often you’ll use it, its intended use, as well as how long you may want to keep it. High and mid-price golf rangefinders can be used for more than 10 years provided they’re well taken care of. 

5. Optics and Visuals

Two of the most important features of any rangefinder are its optics and visuals. Unstable and blurry rangefinders make it relatively heard to detect a pin 300 yards away. Costlier rangefinders, such as Bushnell and Nikon, typically have somewhat better visuals. However, if you choose wisely, you’re sure to find an authentic rangefinder with clean visuals. 

6. Slope Function

This feature helps you determine precise yardages required for shots when gauging the difference in elevation from the fairway down to the hole.

Most golfers prefer to have the slop function for any shot within 150 yards because of the readout’s precision. When taking a birdie putt from a shorter distance, you’ll have a higher chance of getting the ball in. It’s therefore better to have the most precise data when you want to hit your second shot.  


Which One Should I Buy For Golf?

Which golf gadget should you buy? The one that best fits your game and what type of information you’re looking from from each device. 

A GPS watch and a laser rangefinder are tools that you can put in your golf bag and help your game.

A laser rangefinder’s specific purpose is to point and calculate the distance of targets on a golf course and give the golfer exact yardage to those targets.

A GPS watch, either a dedicated golf watch or with a golf app, can provide accurate but not exact yardages to targets on the golf course like the front, the back of the green, or the middle of the green.

Basic golf watches can also provide a virtual scorecard and track basic stats during your round, like the number of putts, fairways hit, and greens in regulation.

GPS watches with advanced golf apps like Garmin Golf or Arccos have more in-depth features such as shot tracking, club tracking, and swing speed. They can also help with club selection by analyzing past rounds.

Many golfers carry both devices around when they play a round of golf. Looking at your wrist to get an accurate yardage target might be fine for some shots. For others, a golfer might want to know the exact yardage or slope if there is an elevation change.

Can I Use Rangefinders And GPS Watches In Competition?

According to the USGA’s rule 4.3a about distance-measuring devices (DMDs), players can use them during competition.

Acceptable Distance Measuring Devices

  • Laser Rangefinder
  • GPS Watch
  • Handheld GPS Unit
  • Mobile Phone
  • Tablet

Golf courses or committees in charge of competition do have the option to prohibit DMDs by Local Rule. Therefore, check Local Rules before playing in any competition and using a DMD.

While DMDs are legal to use, there are limits to the type of information that a player can access from the device:

Information a Player Can Access

  • Actual Distance Between Two Points
  • Pre-Published Information
    • Swing Tips
    • Advice on How to Play a Hole
  • Scorecard
  • Local Weather Information
  • Chart Showing Average Club Distances
    • Data from Prior Rounds
    • Data for a Wide Range of Clubs

Information, a Player, Cannot Access

  • Displays of Effective Playing Distances
    • Slope Readings
  • Specific Club Recommendations
  • Analyzed or Processed Club Distance During that Round
  • Measured or Gauged Environmental Conditions
    • Wind Speed and Direction
    • Elevation
  • Display or Analysis of Set-Up, Swing, or Swing Mechanics

Players who violate rule 4.3a face strict penalties—the first violation results in a two-stroke penalty in stroke-play or a loss of hole in match play. A second violation during the same round will cause a player to be disqualified.

Distance Measuring Devices are intended to do exactly that, provide accurate, actual yardages to targets on the golf course. 

They are not intended to give any specific data beyond actual yardages or data that could provide a player a competitive advantage during a round.

FAQ Section

Are golf rangefinders better than watches?

A laser golf rangefinder is not better than a GPS watch but is more accurate. A laser rangefinder is accurate to within a half of a yard. A GPS watch is accurate to within several 3-4 yards.

Golf rangefinders also typically provide point and shoot yardages to targets on the course. In contrast, a golf watch can give accurate yardages, keep score, and track stats during the round.

A laser rangefinder and GPS watches are tools that any golfer can use to help them with their club selection and course management during a round.

Do you need a rangefinder and a golf watch?

You don’t need a laser rangefinder and a golf watch. However, getting exact yardages to targets, keeping score, and tracking stats during a round is nice to have out on the course.

Golfers use both devices because sometimes they don’t feel comfortable with one device’s yardage, so they can verify the yardage by checking it on the other one.

Are golf GPS watches accurate?

Yes, golf GPS watches are accurate to within 3-4 yards of a target, depending on the weather, the location of the course, and the terrain.

As a comparison, when looking at center yardage on sprinkler heads, those are accurate to a middle of the green pin placement. A golf GPS watch can give you an accurate number to the front, center, and back of a green to within several yards.

These yardages are valuable information because they allow golfers to consider where the pin is on the green. And if they might need to club up or down to account for wind or elevation changes.

What golf GPS watches lack in pinpoint accuracy, they more than make up for with the other functionality they have. For example, course maps showing doglegs, distances to hazards like a bunker or water, and numbers to lay up to can help any golfer with their club selections and course management.

Conclusion: Research by

black tell me more golf compressed logo with mottled background information for golfers

Golf GPS watches and laser rangefinders are valuable tools golfers can use during a round to help them navigate a golf course better and shoot lower scores.

Laser rangefinders can provide pinpoint yardages to targets. In addition, they can use slop technology to calculate plays like numbers when elevation changes occur. 

However, a laser rangefinder is primarily a rangefinder. It lets golfers point and assess distance for targets on the golf course and gives them exact yardages.

Golf GPS watches don’t provide exact yardages, but they are still accurate. They can also be a virtual scorecard and track many on-course statistics that can be valuable to a player after the round.

Either device will help a golfer play more quickly as they won’t have to spend time looking for yardage markers during a round of golf.  

If what you want is exact yardages, go with a rangefinder. A golf GPS watch is perfect if you want accurate yardages and more functionality like a scorecard or stat tracking. 


Patrick Corley Tell Me More Golf Instructor and Coach
Patrick Corley
From a golf scholarship to a Southern California University, to a private golf coaching career and an instructor position at a nonprofit organization, I’m here to help you get better at golf! With my 50+ years of golf experience; I bring you Tell Me More Golf. A golf coaching website that helps your game with instructional golfing content that’s ultimately geared toward making you a better golfer and having more fun!
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