Which type is best for you?
To choose your best distance measuring device, you need to be honest about how and where you play. For example, during testing we played the Castle Course at St Andrews where blind tee shots are a feature. A rangefinder would have made it really difficult to plot our way around having not played the course before. A GPS handheld came into its own, giving accurate yardages to hazards and runout areas we couldn't actually see from the tee. Here's the benefits and drawbacks of each device:
PRO: Automatically gives all yardages to the front, middle and back of the green, plus distances to hazards. Really useful on blind shots and great for away golf.
CON: You’re reliant upon how the course has been mapped. Some have annual fees for accessing updated course maps; others take a while to set up. Some only give distances to the front, middle and back of the green.
Here's our list of the best value models out there:
Key Features: 35,000 courses pre-loaded. Glove friendly touchscreen. Bluetooth with a free smartphone app. Hi-resolution 3in colour screen readable in the sun. 'Vivid HD' course graphics inspired by tour yardage books. 'IntelliGreen' shows the shape of the green from your attack angle. Digital scorecard. Pricing plans range from £29.95 to £44.95 a year.
Out of the box: You need to create an account through the SkyCaddie website or an app on your smartphone. Pre-loaded courses are free for 12 months in the UK and Ireland then you need an annual membership.
First use: Set-up time on 1st tee: 2.39 mins. Colour screen. A lovely compact system that fits nicely into your palm. The main hole screen has loads of yardages to bunkers and carries etc which saves flicking through other screens like you do on a GPS watch. However it doesn't give par and SI on the main screen, which would be useful if you're playing matchplay. The scoring and analysis system is great for scrutinising your game.
Verdict: Up there with the best. The yearly subs will put some off but as it funds accurate measurement it could well be a price worth paying.
Key Features: 8,000 European and north African courses (37,000 globally). 4in mobile phone-quality touch screen. Pinch and zoom hole view. Width and depth of green indicators. Shot distance measurement. Fixed lay-up point (select a point you want to lay up to and you get the distance to that point). Moveable pin placement. Water resistant.
Out of the box: Needs charging before use. The 'manual' runs to 47 pages of English instructions, but to be fair its pretty intuitive.
First use: Set-up time on 1st tee: 2.02 mins. Colour screen. First thing you see is the screen is bigger than any of the others on test; it feels more like using a smartphone. The larger screen makes plotting your route a bit easier as you see more detail and can relate it to the landscape. It's a simple thing but to see the hole number, par and the stroke index all on the main screen is invaluable on a little-known course.
Verdict: An impressive unit. We used it on two courses we'd never played. The data it gave us on each tee was invaluable. But do you need to invest in this level of info if you only play your home course most weekends?
Key Features: Pre loaded with 33,000 courses. Long battery life lasts over three rounds. Easy to read front/centre/back distances. Hazard distances up to four per hole.
Out of the box: Simply unpack and stick into a USB slot in your computer to charge before play.
First use: Set-up time on 1st tee: 2.08 mins. Black and white screen. The Ghost is a really neat unit that fits snugly into an open pocket on your bag for easy access. We really enjoyed how the Ghost is super-intuitive to get up and running with all buttons clearly labelled on the back of the device. Displays for hazards weren't as easy to interpret as some, taking our fourball a bit of discussion on which hazard was which. Annoyingly ours ran out of battery life on the 15th after only being charged a day and a half before.
Verdict: If you play at your home course most weekends the Ghost is a decent option; it gives you the vital yardages you need. At this price it's a great entry-level device which could bring a lot of confidence to your game if you struggle with club selection.
SkyCaddie Linx GT £269.95
SkyCaddie says this is the first GPS golf watch to use a club tag system (you need to put sensors into the grips) and your phone to deliver more accurate shot tracking. The system also captures shots automatically, so there’s no manual tagging required which can easily be forgotten with some other devices.
We tested the G8 last year and loved its combination of clear graphics, size and how it offers some really useful functions. The “Playslike” distances take account of elevation changes (which need to be turned off in comps) and a “Club Advice” feature recommends a club based on your previous play.