Golf is a test of the mind just as much as physical skill. A vital part of the game is being able to judge how hard to hit the ball, so that it lands in the right place for your next shot, or sets up an easy putt.
In years gone by, this was entirely the work of brainpower: either using experience and yardage markers on the course to inform shot selection, or relying on the information in a course yardage book. But as is the case in so many aspects of golf, technology has come to players’ aid, and rangefinders can remove some of the guesswork and give players some dependable certainty in their shot and club selection.
In this guide, we’ll take a detailed look at the best rangefinders for golf, whether they’re right for you, and the key benefits they can deliver for your game.
What are golf rangefinders and how do they work?
Rangefinders are small handheld devices that help players accurately gauge the distance between their current location and the target they’re aiming at.
From the outside, most rangefinders look like cameras, with one lens on top of the other. The upper lens is the one that a player looks through in order to find their target, whether that’s the hole, or the area of fairway where they want their next shot to land. The lower lens is actually a laser which is then fired at the specified target. The length of time it takes for the beam to reach that target is then calculated by the rangefinder, which translates that information into a distance measurement (normally in yards).
Equipped with this information, and taking weather conditions into account, the player then has a much better idea of how hard they need to hit their next shot to reach the intended position.
Pros and cons of rangefinders
There are lots of benefits to using rangefinders, the most obvious being the ability to get accurate information on upcoming shots, which also helps golfers select the right club for the job at hand. The convenience of rangefinders can’t be overlooked, either: the small handheld size of them means that they can easily fit into a golf bag pocket and be used at any time.
There are wider positives of using rangefinders, too. At a time when golf at all levels is struggling to reverse the trend of slow play, rangefinders can speed up the thought process of a player’s shot compared to flicking through yardage books or looking for markers. This can help everyone get round the course much faster and not lose time waiting. And all the knowledge that a player can get from a rangefinder can support improvement in their overall game: for example, it can help quantify the maximum distance they can hit with each club in their bag.
It’s worth mentioning that there are two potential downsides to using rangefinders. The first is cost: the best and most reliable models can cost several hundred pounds, and often come with the requirement to pay an annual software subscription on top of that. The second is that some players prefer a more old-school, natural feel to their game, rather than having a certain amount of skill being removed by technology. However, in both of these cases, some golfers will be more deterred than others, depending on their personal preferences.
Our pick of the best golf rangefinders
There are countless rangefinders on the market, with options to suit every price point. The technology within them has been honed and developed over the years, to the extent that even the models at the cheaper end of the market are still pretty reliable and an asset to any golfer’s game. Here’s a selection of what we think are the best rangefinders for golf:
Inesis Golf 900
This is an own-brand rangefinder from the major sports equipment chain Decathlon, and as is generally the case with Decathlon kit, it comes in significantly cheaper than most other options. However, that’s not to say that it doesn’t do the job: it’s built a real reputation for reliable and accurate measurements (within one yard either way), and confirms a measurement to the player with a simple vibration. It does look a bit basic, but it still gets the job done, with up to 6x magnification and the ability to turn slope-adjusted distances on and off.
Garmin Approach Z82
Many people who don’t use rangefinders prefer to use a GPS-enabled smart watch for their course information – but with Garmin’s Approach Z82, it’s possible to get the best of both worlds. The view through the lens is supported by a 2D course map in full colour, that puts all the relevant information into better context and gives the most comprehensive guide to the hole in question. It’s not the cheapest product by any means and it will take a while to get up to speed with it, but the insights it can give a player can be truly transformative.
Golfbuddy Laser Atom
The Golfbuddy Laser Atom is absolutely tiny – in fact it’s so small that it seems impossible to get all the information and insights required from it. But underestimate it at your peril: it can accurately measure distances up to half a mile away, and can be used up to 5000 times before it needs recharging. If you want to keep the weight and bulk of your kit to a minimum, then this is an excellent choice – and it comes with a leather and chrome carry case that looks the part, too. The Atom is real power that you can carry around in your pocket.
Shot Scope Pro LX+
This GPS-enabled rangefinder stands out from its competitors because it can also be used to track shots and deliver analysis into performance. This is achieved thanks to the GPS unit that attaches to the bottom of the rangefinder magnetically, and key figures and information can be displayed on its screen in big, readable numbers. It effectively combines three different tools into a single unit – GPS reading, rangefinding and shot tracking – making it a comprehensive asset to inform any player’s all-round game.
Cobalt Q-6 Slope
Hardy golfers who are willing to play in almost all weathers need equipment that can withstand the conditions – and for electrical items like rangefinders, that means extra protection. Some rangefinders are therefore made to be waterproof, so that players can still get the information they need in wet weather, and the Cobalt Q-6 Slope is one of the best of them. Its display and brightness adjustment are excellent, and because it’s built to be used in any conditions, it feels durable to hold. In fact, so confident are Cobalt over its performance that it has a lifetime warranty, meaning you can get a replacement if it becomes damaged or starts to malfunction.
Nikon Coolshot 50I
Even the best rangefinders can prove useless if a player can’t hold it comfortably and steadily, because it then becomes difficult or even impossible to get a decent reading. Hold and feel are therefore critical factors to account for when buying a rangefinder, and these are areas where Nikon’s Coolshot 50i stands out. It has special textured sections on the top and the bottom of the unit which makes it much easier for a player to get a firm grip on it. Its graphics are also clear and easy to read, which improves its accessibility, and it’s decent value for money, too.
Voice Caddie L5
Some players find rangefinders fiddly and complicated, and many shy away from them because they feel they can be distracting. This isn’t an issue with the Voice Caddie L5, which has been developed with simplicity at its heart. It has two simple modes: Normal for when you’re playing down the fairway, and Pin for when you need slope-related information as you aim for the green. It’s a relatively small unit that fits comfortably into one hand, and its 7x magnification means it’s just as good over longer distances (up to 1200 yards) as it is over shorter ones.
Get golf insurance with SportsCover Direct
Rangefinders are valuable pieces of equipment, and so should be protected like clubs and other important accessories are. If a rangefinder is lost, stolen or damaged, it can cost a significant amount to get a replacement – unless it’s insured.
At SportsCover Direct, our golf insurance policies can include accessories like rangefinders, so that you won’t end up out of pocket if anything unfortunate happens while you’re out on the course. Our cover also insures you for injuries to yourself or to someone else, so that you can put any worries to one side and focus fully on your game.
Available from just a few pounds a month, you can find out more about our golf insurance here.