How Do Rangefinders Work from Tell Me More Golf Coaches Instructing Your Technology Purchases

How Do Rangefinders Work? – Golf Rangefinder Technology

How Do Rangefinders Work from Tell Me More Golf Coaches Instructing Your Technology Purchases

I am the lead golf coach at Tell Me More Golf, and today I will demonstrate how rangefinders work.

A quality and dependable rangefinder is an essential piece of golf equipment for everyone from low handicappers to weekend warriors. They are very versatile tools that can be used everywhere from the driving range to tournament play.

In this article, we will take a deeper dive into the different styles of rangefinders available on the market today, and help you learn about exactly how rangefinders work

Golf Rangefinder Technology Basics

When it comes to different styles of rangefinders, there are two primary categories. Laser rangefinders are the most accurate and popular options, though they require a direct line of sight to their target. Companies like Bushnell lead the way in terms of laser rangefinders, and there are many different models to choose from. 

There are also rangefinders that operate by using GPS technology. There are both smartphone apps and dedicated GPS units, and they give a reading to the pin or obstacles based on your proximity on a digital pre-mapped course

There are also “old school” optical rangefinders that were used far before laser or GPS technology, and while they can still be found today, the technology is considered obsolete by today’s standards. 

Let’s take a closer look at each style of rangefinder that is available for purchase today, and compare the benefits and drawbacks of each option.

With so many different styles and models of rangefinders to choose from, you are sure to find a good fit for your particular needs on the golf course. 

How Laser Rangefinders Work

Laser rangefinders work by emitting a laser pulse and measuring the time it takes to bounce back after hitting a target. They use high speed timer mechanisms to accurately measure the miniscule amount of time it takes for the laser beam to travel from the rangefinder to the target and back. 

The machine then uses a pre-loaded algorithm to determine how far away the object is.

Higher end laser rangefinders are able to “lock on” to objects with a pin-seeking feature that helps to keep a focus on the flag stick even with shaky hands.

High end laser rangefinders like those sold by Bushnell have a slope adjustment feature which automatically calculates the adjusted distance to account for elevation gain or drop. This feature is very helpful in casual rounds, but is not allowed during tournament play.

Nearly all laser rangefinders that feature slope adjustment technology also come equipped with a toggle switch to turn this feature on and off. Only distance measurements are allowed during sanctioned tournaments, and many rangefinders have a light on the side to indicate whether the slope function is on or off during operation. 


Laser rangefinders tend to be more expensive compared to more simple versions, which is understandable considering they project a laser beam at the speed of light and capture it bouncing back with extreme precision. 

While batteries may not be the first thing many people think of when looking at rangefinders, they are an important consideration that can make a big difference down the line.

Most name brand rangefinders use a specialty battery that is both expensive and hard to find in many places.

Also, there are many rangefinders that have rechargeable batteries via USB.

In many instances, the pro shop at your local golf course will sell these specialty rangefinder batteries. The major drawback is that they are generally sold with a hefty markup, as pro shop owners know that they have a captive audience that would prefer not to leave the course in search of a new battery before a round of golf. 

There are a number of different “off brand” rangefinders sold on major online retailers like Amazon that conveniently use AAA batteries. While these rangefinders may not come with all the bells and whistles in terms of features, the convenience of using affordable batteries that are readily available tips the scales in their favor for many golfers. 


How GPS Rangefinders Work

GPS Rangefinders are also used to get accurate measurements to different spots on the golf course, though they work very differently compared to laser rangefinders. GPS rangefinders calculate where the device is related to the rest of the golf course, and they come preloaded with thousands of the most popular courses in the world.

The most simple GPS rangefinders give a measurement to the center of the green at the push of a button, and it is up to the golfer to manually toggle from hole to hole during the round.

Others automatically switch holes depending on the position on the golf course.

Other GPS rangefinders feature screens that are a bit bigger, and able to display more information at once. These versions generally give distances to major hazards on the hole like bunkers and OB lines, as well as the distance to, and carry distance for clearing water hazards. 

There are also a number of different smartphone apps that are designed to operate as GPS rangefinders using the location technology already built into the phone. These tend to be a bit less accurate than dedicated units, but are very affordable and show a full overhead shot of the hole with distances. 


One of the best parts of using a GPS based rangefinder as opposed to a laser “shooter” is the fact that they do not require a direct line of sight to the target to calculate the exact distance. This is great for “dogleg” holes that turn dramatically, as well as blind tee and approach shots. 

Sometimes, laser rangefinders that do not feature “lock on” technology have a tendency to accidentally display the distance to background objects rather than the flagstick. Many laser rangefinder users always “shoot” the target twice to be safe, while owners of GPS rangefinders simply take a look at one static number. 

How Optical Rangefinders Work

“Old school” optical golf rangefinders work by using a system of lenses and prisms to magnify the image of the flagstick or target. The golfer looks through an eyepiece to see the target, and then adjusts the focus back and forth until it is clear.

This style of rangefinders does not require batteries or electronics, and can be very accurate when used properly. However, they are much more difficult to use compared to laser rangefinders, and are more susceptible to user errors due to shaky hands or misalignment of the images.

How Hybrid Rangefinders Work

Hybrid rangefinders offer the best of both worlds between GPS and laser rangefinders, and many golfers consider them to be the best options on the market. At first glance, they can easily be confused for laser rangefinders, but under closer examination there is one major difference. 

Hybrid rangefinders operate as fully functional “laser shooters,” but also showcase digital displays on the side. There is GPS technology built into the device, and the display shows the distance to the center of the green with the simple push of a button.


While the idea of using both styles of technology may seem redundant to some golfers at first, it can be a huge time saver over the course of a full round. It is much more convenient to simply glance down at the device when checking the distance, and better accuracy is achieved by using the laser

The best use for this style of rangefinder is for longer courses with par fives and “unreachable” par fours. It is easiest to check the display when searching for a comfortable lay up distance, and the shooter is generally used for finding the pin distance for accurate approach shots. 


How Hunting Rangefinders Work

Hunting rangefinders essentially work the same way as the typical golf rangefinder, though oftentimes they offer increased range at a higher price point. Hunting rangefinders also offer stability assistance, as they are made to spot game from significant distances. 

Some rangefinders on the market today are designed and marketed as “dual purpose” laser shooters, as they offer enough range for hunter’s needs as well as slope assistance technology. In general, hunting rangefinders can be used for golf, but golf rangefinders may not always be appropriate for hunting. 

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How do Rangefinders work?

Rangefinders work by either looking through a lens or glancing at a small screen to determine an accurate distance from the golfer to the center of the green, or another point on the golf course. 

How do Laser Rangefinders Work?

Laser rangefinders work by shooting a small laser pulse at an object, and timing how long it takes for the beam to return back to the device. 

How do Optical Rangefinders Work?

Optical rangefinders work by manually focusing on an image through two different images, and referencing a chart that uses basic math principles to estimate an object’s distance. 

How do Hunting Rangefinders Work?

Hunting rangefinders work the same way as laser golf rangefinders, though they are often equipped with significantly upgraded range for spotting and measuring game at significant distances. 



Rangefinders come in many different shapes and sizes, and there are also many different options with different features and price points to meet the needs of different golfers.

Laser rangefinders are the most common and accurate options, while GPS rangefinders are generally a bit easier and quicker to operate. Regardless of which style fits your golf game best, the team of experts here at Tell Me More Golf always recommends having a rangefinder on hand, and you will soon find your golf buddies and card mates asking you for a distance reading many times per round!


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!
Our golf instructor team brings it all to you, so enjoy!

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