In November 2009, the R&A and the USGA issued a joint statement (see the R&A or USGA press releases) regarding the use of electronic devices, covering both dedicated GPS devices and phones with golf GPS applications. The R&A and the USGA reaffirmed that these devices, allowed only when a relevant Local Rule is in effect (see Rule 14-3 and Decision 14-3/0.5), may be used to measure distance only and must not be able to measure other conditions such as wind speed or direction, slope of the ground or temperature. Devices may provide players to access distance information from previous rounds, provided that information has been processed prior to play.
Multi-function devices, such as mobile phones, may be used for any non-golfing purpose subject to club/course regulations and the Rules on accessing advice-related matters – see Decision 14-3/16. With a Local Rule in effect, as mentioned previously, the distance-measuring application must be restricted to “distance only” and the device doesn’t have any other non-conforming features, such as the ability to gauge wind speed, gradient or temperature.
And yes, even without a Local Rule, the USGA Handicap system requires players to post scores when a GPS device (that measures distance only) has been used (Rule 14-3).
Critical Golf has reviewed the top golf GPS devices to help you determine which is right for your game. GPS devices were scored on the basis of setup, course availability, ease of use, course detail and mapping, features, accuracy and value. One key takeaway is that GPS devices are only as good as their course mapping accuracy, which we found could vary wildly between devices. Reviewers generally leaned toward GPS devices for their ease of use, with the understanding that they are sacrificing some amount of accuracy at all times and, depending on the device, may have to deal with extremely inaccurate course mapping.
There are inherent limitations of golf GPS devices, and in comparison to laser rangefinders there are both advantages and drawbacks.
- Don’t need to be able to see target to obtain the distance
- Some models include additional features such as scorecards and statistics tracking
- Quick and easy distance readings
- Readings not affected by light conditions at dawn and dusk
- Number of distances and accuracy is dependent on manufacturer
- Not as accurate as laser rangefinders when there is clear line-of-sight
- Possible additional lifetime, yearly, or per-course fees
- Setup and download of courses is required in most cases
Keep in mind distance readings are as the crow flies, and thus will differ from sprinkler heads or other on-course markings if there is elevation change between the player and target.
Take a look at we found to be the best golf GPS devices.