Golf Rangefinder Vs GPS Watch: Key Differences 2023

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The golf rangefinder vs golf GPS watch debate has been going on for a while in the golfing community. No matter where you stand on the golf GPS vs rangefinder debate, there is little doubt that both items can aid a golfer in his or her quest for the perfect shot and act as great distance measuring devices.

Golf rangefinders and GPS units have been around for a few years; however, golfers are often torn to decide which item they should use to aid their golf game.

In this guide, we explore which shot tracking device actually works best: golf GPS or golf rangefinder? What are the pros and cons of each device? This will help you with the decision of which golf GPS or golf rangefinder to buy.

Golf GPS Vs Rangefinder: What Are The Differences?

Both devices will help you to measure the distances required for your golf shots during a round. However, a golf rangefinder is generally slightly more accurate when it comes to distance measuring during a round of golf. However, a golf GPS is much faster at providing the information as it doesn't require pulling out the actual rangefinder from the golf bag.

A golf GPS uses GPS technology to precisely map your golf course. These devices display distances to hazards and other landmarks, such as lakes, bunkers, and pins (Garmin). On the other hand, Golf rangefinders generally require local golf course knowledge to determine how far a particular shot will play. No matter which one you choose, their features as well as advanced technology such as a slope feature help to make better decisions in regard to golf club selection and make excellent golf gifts.

In the section below we explore these key points in more detail.

Ease of Use

Both golf GPS watches and a laser rangefinder are pretty easy to use. The Golf GPS will map your course information for you, which is very helpful with giving accurate yardages to various hazards and landmarks. Some GPS devices also display alerts such as “a shot here might play longer than you think”, and “a shot here will probably play shorter than you think”. Golf rangefinders on the other hand, usually provide an approximate distance to the target. They are easy to use because you only need to aim the device and aim your golf ball at the target based on the golf distances provided.


This is where there is a key difference because a golf laser rangefinder is slightly more accurate. Golf GPS devices can provide precise distances, but they are not always 100% accurate. Hazards often cause both rangefinders and a GPS unit to be inaccurate. Example hazards include bunkers and trees. It's important to note that if you're using a golf GPS, it is still worth taking the time to learn the layout of your golf course before starting your round. You may find that certain areas of your course are difficult to get a reading from the GPS watch so it shouldn't be relied on at all times.


Many rangefinders will use laser beams to measure distances, and a GPS watch will use satellites to measure distances. They are quite different in terms of how they function because laser beam technology is much more advanced and provides more accurate measurements. Laser technology has been used in many high-end rangefinders for years, whereas GPS technology was first introduced in the early 2000s. Both technologies work well, but some people prefer one over the other.

Battery Life

Another key consideration is battery life. Both devices will last for a reasonable length of time; however, it is important to check that your golf rangefinder comes with a rechargeable battery and charger. If not, you may need to purchase extra batteries or a charger.

It is also important to ensure you are fully charged before starting your round of golf.


A golf GPS is cheaper than a golf laser rangefinder. You can get a good golf GPS for under $100, whereas a golf rangefinder typically costs over $200. If budget is an issue then golf watches may be the better option.

Why Should I Choose A Golf Rangefinder?

A rangefinder is an excellent handheld unit for avid golfers who need a solution for golf courses that they know and play regularly. This makes the decision on whether or not a rangefinder is worth it very easy, as you already have knowledge of the course in question. Rangefinders are also simple and accurate, with many models available at competitive prices. Most top models will also come with a slope function which is great if you are on hilly terrain and need the actual distance for an uphill shot or downhill shot. For more check out our how golf rangefinders work guide.


• Accuracy – A rangefinder is more accurate than a GPS. Many rangefinders are able to calculate distances within a yard of accuracy. This is great for providing exact yardages to the regular golfer.

 Easy to Use – A rangefinder is easier to use than golf GPS watches. There is no need to input any data into a GPS, whereas a rangefinder requires you to point it towards the target.

• Course Knowledge – A rangefinder is useful when you know the course well as it allows you to easily pinpoint targets on the green that you are already familiar with.


  • Cost – A rangefinder can cost up to twice as much as a GPS.
  • Size – A rangefinder is larger than a GPS and will be more bulky than simply looking at your wrist in the case of a GPS Watch.
  • Slower Pace Of Play – Your round of golf will be longer with a rangefinder compared to a GPS. You will spend more time aiming and waiting for readings as well as pulling the device out of your golf bag to use.
  • Limited targets – With a rangefinder, you might struggle to get detailed answers for measurements. Examples of this include if you're looking for details for the front or back of the green. These measurements you could get, even with an entry level GPS watch (ESPN).

Why Should I Choose A Golf GPS?

A golf GPS unit is a way to see more of the course. It provides you with an accurate rangefinder and saves time so that you can focus on what matters most: your game. GPS data is also a round saver for new courses where laser rangefinders cannot be used because they are inaccurate.


  • Time-Saving – A GPS allows you to save time by knowing the distance between targets without having to keep going into your golf bag. You can simply take a quick glance at your wrist to get an understanding of your club yardages.
  • Useful For New Courses – A GPS is ideal for new courses because it gives you a detailed map of the entire course. You can also load thousands of courses onto the device which means you can quickly learn how a new golf course is playing.


  • Less Accurate – A GPS is less accurate than a rangefinder as the satellite positioning system in your GPS may be inaccurate and cause long path inaccuracies. Some courses may not even register on it or show wrong distances. As rangefinders are more basic with built-in laser technology, they are more reliable.

In Summary: Which One Should You Choose?

Rounding up our golf rangefinder vs golf GPS watch guide, both laser rangefinders and golf GPS work well and can be a good choice for you to ensure that you implement good course management. However, the ultimate decision will often depend on personal preference and what your needs are between the technology, cost, size, and ease of use. Additionally, if you are trying new golf courses regularly then investing in a golf GPS would be a better option as you can pre-load the course information directly onto the device so that you get to benefit from advanced course features like scorecards, GPS-based shot exact distance tracking, and personalized exact yardage maps.

However, if you are only playing at your home golf course and have a sound knowledge of reading courses and measuring accurate distances, a rangefinder may be a better choice. It is simple to use and you may even be able to save money on a premium model, especially if you choose a great value rangefinder for the money such as the Callaway 300 Laser Rangefinder.