How To Use a Golf Rangefinder — (Advice for Laser, Optical, and GPS)

how to use a golf rangefinder from tell me more golf expert golf instructor authors

I am the lead golf instructor at Tell Me More Golf with over 50 years of experience.

I think golfers today have many options when choosing a golf rangefinder. Using a rangefinder makes it easy for golfers to get accurate yardage information to targets on the golf course during a round.

Are you looking to put a golf rangefinder in your golf bag to help navigate around the golf course?

The Tell Me More Golf Team reviewed three main types of rangefinders: laser, optical, and GPS. We will help you pick the best one for your game.

how to use a golf rangefinder from tell me more golf expert golf instructor authors

How To Use a Laser Rangefinder

The highest recommended laser rangefinders, like those from Callaway, TecTecTec, Precision Pro, Nikon, and Leupold give golfers pinpoint yardages to targets like bunkers and the flagstick on the golf course.

Golf laser rangefinders have an eyepiece that a golfer looks through and a reticle that they use to aim at a target on the golf course. They then press a button that shoots a laser beam at the target that will lock onto it and provide pinpoint, accurate yardage to the target.

Laser golf rangefinders typically have pin-seeking technology that allows the laser to lock onto a target in the foreground.

They can also have a scan mode to get accurate yardages to targets like water hazards in the background.

Many laser rangefinders have a slope function that calculates the total distance with elevation changes between the golfer and the target.

You do have to have a clear line of sight to use a laser rangefinder to shoot and lock onto the target. However, it can be hard to lock onto a target in inclement weather like rain, mist, and fog, as well as low-light times of day like dawn and dusk.


The optical golf rangefinder is often the least expensive of the three options.

They are monocular devices with built-in scales and pre-loaded conversion charts to produce the correct yardage.

They work by using a form of triangulation called parallax, where two lenses at the opposite end of the rangefinder focus on an object. You then use a focusing knob to overlay the two images on top of each other. The focusing knob is calibrated to the scale, which allows you to convert the reading into the distance the target is away from you.

It takes a steady hand and a lot of patience to use an optical rangefinder correctly and get accurate readings from over 100 yards out. Also, the pin has to be a standard height for the conversion charts to function.

Optical golf rangefinders are the least accurate of the three types of rangefinders.


How To Use A GPS Rangefinder

While not as accurate as a laser, golf GPS rangefinders are still precise within a few square yards of the target. GPS golf rangefinders come in several forms: smart/golf watch, handheld, and phone app.

GPS golf rangefinders have other functions that golfers love on and off the golf course.

Common Golf GPS Functions

  • Score Tracking
  • Stat Tracking (Fairways Hit, Greens in Regulation, # of Putts)
  • Club Tracking
  • Club Recommendations
  • Course Map/Overview
  • Topography (Slope and Break) of Greens
  • Layup Yardages for Approach Shot
  • Smart Watch/Golf GPS Watch

Many of today’s smartwatches like the Apple Watch, Samsung, and Garmin have GPS built into them. For example, a third party golf-app gives golfers information on their wrists during a round of golf. Golfers love being able to check their watch for distances instead of walking around and looking for sprinkler heads or other yardage markers during their rounds.

Some third-party golf apps go beyond basic golf tracking and can give golfers feedback on their golf swing. In addition, they have social aspects so golfers can play against their foursome and other golfers.

Handheld Golf GPS

Handheld Golf GPS units are built specifically for golf by manufacturers like Garmin and Bushnell. They have built-in GPS and usually connect to a cell phone via Bluetooth so that they can download golf courses and updates, as well as sync data saved on the unit with the cloud.

They usually have larger displays than golf watches, with more detail in the course maps and hole overviews. They also track a player’s scoring and on-course statistics that the player can view later on the device or from an app associated with the product.

They are typically small enough for players to carry in a pocket while playing. They can also clip it onto a push cart, or sit it in a golf cart console for easy access during the round.

The popularity of handheld golf GPS devices has waned over the past few years. However, new apps and software on smart/golf watches and smartphones now offer the same, if not improved, functionality.

Golf GPS Phone Apps

GPS is a common feature in most smartphones. As a result, the popularity of GPS golf phone apps has exploded over the past decade. In addition, many high-quality third-party apps have a wide array of features equal to any dedicated golf GPS device.

The larger screens of smartphones provide crisp detail with course maps and overviews. In addition, the camera allows cool features like shot tracing and recording a golfer’s swing providing valuable feedback for a golfer.

Golf GPS readings can be affected by weather, terrain, and location. In addition, courses that have just opened or been redesigned may not have been surveyed recently, so the yardages to targets might not be up to date.

Where To Aim a Golf Rangefinder

Most laser rangefinders have two modes that a golfer can use to locate and lock on a target for an exact distance: pin seeker and scan.

Pinseeker Mode

In pinseeker mode, when you look for a target through the viewfinder and aim with the reticle, the rangefinder will seek out the target closest to the golfer. When the target is locked, laser rangefinders will let you know by vibrating or chirping, and that’s when you can read the accurate yardage on the screen.

Today, flagsticks have reflectors at the top of the pin that a laser can easily pick up on and lock onto easily. Or, if your hands aren’t that steady, you can swipe to reticle back and forth over the flag itself to get the rangefinder to lock onto the target.

Scan Mode

Scan mode lets golfers aim using the reticle to swipe back and forth at objects in the background and get distances for those objects without locking onto a single object. Scan mode is useful when shooting hazards like bunkers, water, or trees where you need accurate yardage without locking in on the target.

Because you aren’t shooting at a specific object and swiping back and forth, you need to ensure you are hitting the target in the background, not in the foreground.

Conclusion: Research by

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When looking for the best golf rangefinder for your game, consider what you’re looking for in the device.

A laser rangefinder is an excellent choice if you’re looking for hyper-accurate yardages.

On the other hand, if you’re willing to sacrifice a little bit of accuracy for a better overview of the course and score and stat tracking functions, then look for a quality golf GPS.

If you’re on a budget and are comfortable with the more straightforward readings from an optical rangefinder, that’s always an option.

Many golfers use a combination of two technologies to get the best of both worlds. Find the device that helps you, and use those accurate yardages to help you navigate the course and shoot lower scores.


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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