By Joel Tadman
2019 Best GPS v Laser Rangefinder Test - Joel Tadman discusses the pros and cons of both styles of distance measuring device and compares two of the best models launched in 2019
2019 Best GPS v Laser Rangefinder Test
I’m a laser rangefinder user. Always have been, always will be. Well that’s at least what I thought until I recently had a round with the new SkyCaddie SX500 handheld GPS. My perception around the vagueness of GPSs meant I always dismissed them when it came to my weekend rounds, lambasting the generic front, middle and back distances and internally cursing the time it takes for the yardages to update.
How wrong I was. Laser rangefinders certainly have their advantages, mostly around getting precise distances to the flag - ideal if you’re playing well and know your numbers - but they certainly have their limitations. Many of the new advances in laser technology are wonderful – they can take into account slope and even temperature and altitude - but they push the price up significantly, which is hard to justify given you’re not permitted to use many of them in competitive rounds.
I was testing the SX500 up against the new Bushnell Pro XE, which, don’t get me wrong, is one of the best lasers around (who doesn’t want a laser that sticks to your car door?) but a lot of the new features have to lie dormant in the monthly medal, so it makes me question the value they offer the serious amateur golfer.
RELATED: SkyCaddie SX500 GPS Full Review
By contrast, the level of detail the SX500 provides, along with the clarity and HD detail of the hole maps on the screen, was genuinely mind blowing. Looking at the hole as the bird flies, I could see, even touch, where I wanted my ball to finish off the tee to avoid the trouble and give myself a preferred distance for my approach shot. It told me distances to reach and carry hazards and the shape of the green even adjusts based on my direction of play.
I do still think that lasers have their place. Some have GPS functionality built in and with practice, they’re incredibly quick to use. The SX500 GPS does have the ability to offer exact distances to the pin too, but realistically that’s only if you’re in the fortunate position of obtaining a pin sheet, which from experience is a rarity at most golf clubs besides on Club Championship weekend.
Thinking about this scenario a little deeper, is it really a bad thing if I don’t know the exact distance to the flag as long as I know the distance to the middle of the green? Many courses have colour-coded pins for front, middle and back and it’s ironic to me that the GPS’s basic information may actually help my scores by discouraging me from chasing tight pins that get me into trouble.
Not everyone will share this outlook and will still prefer to know the exact distance, especially lower handicappers looking to make birdies, but there’s certainly some merit to aiming at the middle of the green on every approach shot.
I was one of those golfers but my GPS experience really got me reflecting on where I most often drop shots and it is certainly with my irons, although this is partly down to the numerous technical and mental deficencies that often keep me awake at night. The fact that lasers rely on line of sight means they’re not much use on courses with lots of blind tee shots and seeing an overview of the hole does provide a clearer idea in your mind of what lies ahead, something that is especially useful on unfamiliar tracks.
So choosing the best type of distance device for you really does depend on the courses you play and whether your rounds are mostly friendly or competitive. It makes sense for a low handicapper playing mostly competitive rounds at their home club to veer towards a laser, while for golfers that play a lot of new courses, the extra information on a GPS like the SX500 will be invaluable.
As for me, I’m still undecided. Would it be weird to use one of each?
Joel has worked in the golf industry for over 12 years covering both instruction and more recently equipment. He now oversees all product content here at Golf Monthly, managing a team of talented and passionate writers and presenters in delivering the most thorough and accurate reviews, buying advice, comparisons and deals to help the reader find exactly what they are looking for. So whether it's the latest driver, irons, putter or laser rangefinder, Joel has his finger on the pulse keeping up to date with the latest releases in golf.
During these enjoyable years he has had some money-can't-buy experiences, like interviewing Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy one-on-one and covering the 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor.
One of his career highlights came when covering the 2012 Masters he got to play the sacred Augusta National course on the Monday after the tournament concluded, shooting a respectable 87 with just one par and four birdies. To date, his best ever round of golf is a 5-under 67 back in 2011. He currently plays his golf at Burghley Park Golf Club in Stamford, Lincs, with a handicap index of 4.7.
Joel's current What's In The Bag?
Driver: TaylorMade SIM2, 9°
Fairway wood: Titleist TSi3, 15°
Hybrid: Titleist TSi2, 18°
Irons: TaylorMade P770, 4-PW
Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM8, 50°, 54° and 58°
Putter: Evnroll ER2V
Ball: 2021 Titleist Pro V1x