GPS Or Laser – Which Is More Accurate?

This is a long-running debate in the world of golf distance measuring devices. Usage appears to be split fairly evenly among golf club members, with some preferring the visual hole maps and at-a-glance distances of GPS devices while others opting for the point and shoot functionality and pinpoint accuracy of a laser rangefinder.

So we wanted to see which of the two types of device were generally more accurate, so brought along two of the very best models in each category to Burghley Park Golf Club in Stamford, along with a 50m tape measure.

On the GPS side, we chose the new SkyCaddie SX400. Coming in at £299.95, it is a less expensive, slimmed down version of the impressive SX500. Its more compact size makes it more comparable to a smartphone and it has the same features as the SX500 minus the 13-megapixel digital camera. A key distinction against other brands is that SkyCaddie hole maps and therefore the distances are ground-verified on foot for the most up-to-date course information.

From the laser rangefinder category, we entered the Bushnell Tour V5 Shift. This comes in at £359, although the non-slope version is comparable with the SX400 at £299. The Tour V5 Shift features vibrating JOLT and a red ring that flashes in the display to confirm the when flag has been located. It also has a 1,300 yard range (400 to the flag) and an improved slope calculation algorithm.

To conduct this test, we positioned our golf bag on the front of the 8th green and fixed the end of the tape measure underneath one of the stand legs. We then walked back down the hole in a straight line until our 50m tape measure ran out and, with both the GPS and laser set in metres, measured the distance to the bag in the case of the laser and the front of the green in the case of the GPS.

At this point, the laser was telling us it was 51m, but with a slight downward elevation change in play, the adjusted distance was exactly 50m. The GPS wasn’t quite as accurate, showing 56m to the front of the green.

We then measured another 50m back, so 100m in total. Again, adjusting for the slight slope, the laser was bang on and the GPS eventually settled on 105m. Fairly close, but not as accurate as the laser it would appear.

On the face of it, you might think the SX400 hasn’t come off particularly well here, but the point at which the front of the green was mapped might have changed over time given the variances in the greenkeepers’ cut lines. Also, in reality, you wouldn’t be able to get distances to the front of the green with a laser, unless it has GPS built in. There are a couple of models that have this, like the Garmin Approach Z80 and the Bushnell Hybrid.

So while laser rangefinders may well provide more accurate distances to specific points you can see, GPS devices are more useful in getting distances to points you can’t – like hazards off the tee or the middles of the greens. Admittedly, GPS devices don’t adjust for slope like some lasers do, which could be the difference between hitting or missing the green on hilly courses, but the pros and cons of each seem to be fairly even.

In summary, really think about the type of courses you play and what information would be most useful to you. This should then guide your buying decision into either a GPS or laser rangefinder. If you choose either of the models we tested here, we’r confident you won’t be disappointed.


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