What’s the Difference? GPS Vs. Laser Rangefinders

Golf rangefinders usually fall into two types, GPS (Global Positioning System) or Laser Beam models, but what’s the difference between these systems? All systems are designed to produce the same outcome, the golfer’s exact yarding for the next shot. However, the two systems do have their own advantages and disadvantages as to how they deliver this valuable information to the golfer; the weak points of the other are usually the strong points of one system.

More and more professional golfers utilize laser golf rangefinders to back up conventional ways to find the yard on the course, and I think it’s perfectly acceptable for the ambitious novice to use them as well.

The device for GPS.

Let’s look at the rangefinder form of GPS. Generally, these instruments display a visual overhead view of the hole on which the golfer is currently located, which is accomplished through a GPS satellite signal (usually within a few feet of accuracy). The different manufacturers typically provide a core base of the most common golf courses preloaded (or installed when the device is first activated). Extra golf courses are usually added periodically, but this usually requires the golfer to pay a monthly or yearly subscription fee to keep up to date with the GPS unit.

The GPS systems will show the yard with preloaded features such as bunkers, water hazards, prominent plants, green, etc. on the golf hole. While the yards to features on the fairway are normally set, the range to the flag is more difficult to measure (as it is rotated daily), and GPS systems generally show the yards to the green front, center, and back, rather than the flag itself. Not really a concern for the amateur golfer as we aren’t as consistent as the pros (usually, it’s OK to get the ball on the green).

One of the great features of the overhead screen model is that it allows the golfer when there is no line of sight, either off the fairway in woods, or not seeing around a dog-leg, or not seeing the water hazard over a slope, etc. Typically, the golfer will figure out what shot with the information provided is needed.

Both GPS models are typically allowed to play in tournaments or contests, as they only have simple yarding data.

The array of lasers.

Such Laser versions use a completely different technique to provide a tool on the hole to the golfer with the yardage; they use the primary line of sight, essentially if you can’t see it, you can’t measure it. The use is totally different from the GPS versions because you aim with one eye (similar to a telescope) through the eye part to “sense” the target and calculate the distance.

Laser systems have no preloaded data and have no ongoing costs associated with it; in reality, certain models also require you to insert your own individual average hitting ranges which you reach per night.

Many laser rangefinders manufacture integrate a method of scanning into their designs. This feature allows the golfer to search the hole ahead, and when the golfer recognizes the correct target, the unit can show the range to the items as you scan over them, keep the device still, lock the selected item and view the yard. In multiple situations, this is useful; you can select anything to measure on the hole, even measure your driving distance (just stand by the ball and measure back to the tee). The best way to use this device is to get a precise measurement to the button; in addition, some models have a special “pin seeker” mechanism integrated into the system to block the ambient stuff and activate the pin.

Some basic models provide the “length only” to a target which allows this form of laser rangefinder legal in match or gameplay, but many other models have additional functions that help the golfer make it illegal, that’s ok if all you want is help lower your rating, but be sure to check if you want to use one in tournaments.

Such features include slope engineering, the potential to adjust for the range caused by a slope, such as hitting a shot of 150 yards up a hill with a club that normally goes 150 yards due to the slope, the opposite is true of a downward shot. Since this is considered to be an unfair advantage, it will make the unit illegal (even if you don’t actually use it). Many versions often enable the golfer to enter the club’s individual hitting ranges, enabling the system to decide the club to strike (often illegal).


So the fundamental difference between two forms of devices is that the laser utilizes sightline, which is more flexible than the GPS because the golfer can calculate anything they want and has no ongoing costs. The GPS aids when you don’t have a site board, but the precise path to the pin can’t be measured. The GPS’s biggest drawback is; what if you don’t have your home course (or other courses you play on) in your database? I realize there’s more going on all the time, but that can be overwhelming. Some of the more sophisticated GPS systems today, if you have the time, require you to attach your own route manually. For these reasons, I prefer the models of a laser rangefinder to the GPS. Ideally, it would be great to combine the two.

Fortunately, some manufacturers also recognize this as a great idea and produce a laser and GPS hybrid, allowing you to switch between systems to get the best information you can.

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