With the USGA’s recent ruling (Rule 14-3 and Decision 14-3/0.5), laser rangefinders that measure distance only (as opposed to other conditions such as the slope of the ground) may be permitted by a Local Rule. Even without a Local Rule, the USGA Handicap system requires players to post scores when a laser rangefinder (that measures distance only) has been used (Rule 14-3 and Decision 5-1f/2 of “The USGA Handicap System” manual).
Critical Golf has reviewed the top laser rangefinders, both those that measure distance only and those that measure slope, to help you determine which is right for your game. Laser rangefinders were scored on the basis of ease of use, features, accuracy and value.
The most accurate laser rangefinder readings are obtained when targeting highly reflective objects with bright colors under moderate daylight (overcast days are best). Larger targets, and ones that create a 90 degree angle to the line of sight, will receive the best readings. The steadier the unit can be held, the more accurate the readings will be. One of the largest struggles for new users of laser rangefinders is the initial period where they are learning both how to hold the unit steadily enough for accurate readings and how to do it quickly. Best practices include aiming at the flag (versus the flagstick), panning down from the sky or at objects in the distance to receiving readings to targets at edges (top of mounds, sides of tree branches, etc). Note that there are always those in the camp that prefer golf GPS devices, which don’t require as much expertise to use, but sacrifice some accuracy.
The pros and cons of laser rangefinders versus golf GPS devices include:
- Most accurate method (+/- 1 yard)
- Ability to get precise distance to pin, regardless of location on green, as well as false fronts or tiers
- Provides distance reading to any point on the hole (provided have clear view)
- No additional fees beyond purchase price
- Some units provide the slope from the player to the target (not permitted in tournament play)
- Need a clear line-of-sight to the target to obtain distance – if you have a blind approach, you are out of luck
- Readings will be impacted by fog, rain (including sprinklers on the course) and extreme light conditions during the day and at dusk – any factor that degrades the overall air clarity
- A steady hand may be required to get accurate readings