By the time you are done going through this guide-cum-review, you will know what constitutes a good golf GPS watch, why you need one, and the best golf GPS watches on the market at the moment. So, take a seat, buckle up and grab some popcorn!
Saying technology has changed the way we live has to be one of the most shopworn statements of the last, er, eight or so years. It is like busting out a map in the middle of the street to figure out directions or using a cell with actual buttons (you know, for tapping?). Some of us may still be guilty of it, but it’s just not cool anymore.
The truth is, though, we cannot overlook the tremendous impact tech continues to have on every aspect of our lives. And sport has not remained untouched. In fact, the impact of technology in sports is one of the most hot button issues in the industry, cleanly dividing opinion right down the middle.
And so it is with golf.
- 1 The Evolution of Golf
- 2 Distance Finding Devices are born
- 3 Why Buy a Golf GPS Watch?
- 4 The Best Golf GPS Watches to Buy
- 5 Garmin Approach S2
- 6 Bushnell Neo Ion
- 7 Callaway GPSync Golf Watch
- 8 Garmin Approach S6
- 9 Garmin Approach X40
- 10 TomTom Golfer 2 SE
- 11 Garmin Vivoactive Smartwatch
- 12 Garmin Approach S60
The Evolution of Golf
The game has come a long way since the Stone Age days of rounded wooden balls and universal hickory wood shafts.
The equipment in use today barely resembles that of some few decades ago.
Golf clubs have perhaps witnessed the greatest change more than any other aspect of the sport. Modern clubs can hit the ball longer and with more accuracy, thanks to high-tech construction that takes into account factors like component weight and aerodynamics, while also incorporating better shafts – graphite, for example.
The golf ball has also undergone a radical revolution. Manufacturers today construct different ball types – one-piece, two-piece, three-piece, four-piece, five-piece – depending on the skill level of golfer.
Golf shoes, once the bane of most players, have evolved for the better. The modern golfing glove is not just a fashion statement, but an essential golfing accessory. Even the turf has not been spared, with remote oil sensors being used to provide real-time information such as soil moisture and salinity.
Despite the deep penetration of technology in the sport, you still have to swing the club yourself. With the aid of distance finding technology, however, most average Joes are able to shave a few digits off their handicap.
Enter golf GPS watches.
Distance Finding Devices are born
Distance finding devices are not really new to golf. They have grown in popularity since the USGA adopted them in 2006.
Laser range finders and portable GPS devices have since become must-have equipment for golfers at all skill levels for the simple reason that they help them make better decisions on the course. Initially, golfers had to prepare for play by referring to maps, books and markers, but that era is long gone.
More recently, golf GPS watches have become quite the fad, as they are always handy (in every sense of the word) and much more convenient. The more advanced type offer more than just yardages to the front, centre and back of the green. They also provide the player with up-to-the-minute stats, including fairways, GIR, putts and a slew of other nuggets.
It’s a good time to be a golfer.
Why Buy a Golf GPS Watch?
Golf GPS watches eliminate guesswork out of the equation by providing you with more reliable distances on blind shots, and can measure the distance from one point to the next. This, in turn, helps you decide on the best club to use and how to take each shot.
These gadgets also help in course management by making it possible to plan ahead. This is especially handy on a course whose layout you do not have a good grasp of. Many watches come with preloaded courses so you can go through the course and orient yourself with it before stepping out for a game or round of practice.
Think of a golf GPS watch as a caddie who knows the course like the back of their hand.
What these watches have also managed to do is speed up play in a whole range of ways.
You don’t have to waste time calculating distances anymore, ditto choosing a club. As well, your subsequent shots are likely to be faster and more efficient by having a hold of information such as where you will land with the tee shot, or the distance you will leave to the hole.
Unlike other GPS devices such as laser rangefinders which can be rendered fairly useless by a simple scratch on the lens, GPS watches also tend to be quite robust.
Overall, the actionable information and insights from golf GPS watches make you a far better golfer.
The Best Golf GPS Watches to Buy
If it’s your first time buying a golf GPS watch, it is good to know that the market is littered with innumerable choices.
Ideally, opt for a watch that is easy to use, is comfortable on the hand and does not hinder your game, but rather, optimises it. It defeats purpose to settle for a device that will give you trouble using, not to mention that would be a total waste of good money.
Our goal is to help golfers like you make a more enlightened choice by outlining some of the best golf GPS watches that have no trouble navigating any golf course – no matter which corner of this course-abundant world you find yourself in.
It is worth noting that most golf GPS watches have identical standard features, but they are not all created equal. As with all things, cheaper isn’t better. Despite their best efforts, many low-priced models cannot be relied upon to accurately measure long distances.
Well, you will rarely find a GPS watch that furnishes you with pinpoint figures, but a good device should have a minimal margin of error. The recent advances mean an accuracy of up to 3-4 yards is considered standard, provided the conditions are optimum.
As well, the more expensive hardware is never always better. A watch can have all the bells and whistles, but if it only serves to complicate your game, what good is it?
Our reviews have factored in all these things, and following are the recommendations we deemed worthy to include in our best golf GPS watches list.
As a rider, we probably should mention that you will come across a good deal of Garmin devices on this list.
This is not a personal preference or anything along those lines. Garmin just happens to be the leading brand in the golf GPS watch space, and a maker of some impressive GPS hardware for that matter. They have years of experience in nautical and military applications, so a simple golf course should be easy pickings.
Garmin also seems to be knocking out golf GPS watches faster than you can say triple bogey, each totally different from the other.
That out of the way…
Garmin Approach S2
Kicking off our list of best golf GPS watches is the Garmin Approach S2, the second release in the Garmin S-series line.
Why so low a model, you might ask?
Well, the Approach S2 is just one of those classic devices that are akin to vintage wines. They seem to get better with age and their value goes up with scarcity. It’s like the Ford Mustang. Timeless. Or the Nokia 6210, once described as the AK47 of mobile phones and a handset you’ll still find in the possession by some people 17 years after its release.
The Garmin Approach S2 was released in 2013 and to date, it remains one of the best entry-level golf GPS watches by a yard. It is simple. It is practical. It is peerlessly precise.
- Preloaded with over 38,000 worldwide golf courses, plus free lifetime course updates
- Shows yardages to the front, back and middle of green
- Distances to layup points and doglegs
- Digital scorecard with ability to upload to Garmin Connect
- Measure individual shots from anywhere on the golf course
The watch comes with 38,000 preloaded golf courses scattered around the globe, so it pretty much covers most of them. For those that are not, lifetime course updates are offered at no extra charge.
Some of the features of the Approach S2 include automatic course detection and hole transitioning. The watch has a very intuitive user interface, and a quick look at the face gives you yardages to the front, back and centre. You can also get the yardage to the layup position and the dogleg, all in clear numbering that is easy to read.
There is even a digital scorecard for individual players, which you can review, save or print on your computer.
The watch has a rechargeable battery capable of giving 8 hours in GPS mode (just enough for about 36 holes of golf) while you can extract three weeks out of it in basic watch mode. Yes, this is still useful because the presence of an odometer means you can monitor the much you walk on any given day, or every round you play.
The Approach S2 is available in black, with additional color options like blue and red if you like to keep things flashy.
- Great accuracy, even from out-of-bounds areas
- Impressive course collection
- Yardage to the dogleg and layup locations
- Scorecard function
- Sometimes needs manual adjustment to reflect correct hole
- No yardages offered to lakes or bunkers
- No online portal
Bushnell Neo Ion
Bushnell may be better known as makers of great binoculars and rangefinders, but their stab at the golf watch segment has produced pretty solid watches that always deliver on accuracy and overall top-quality build. And perhaps none signifies this excellence more than the Bushnell Neo Ion, a sleek wearable that features over 35,000 preloaded courses in 30 countries.
And here is why it warrants a mention.
If you have used golf GPS devices for some time, you must have noticed how long it takes the device to recognise what course it’s on. Even after the long wait, some units never end up finding the course. This is the one notable thing that differentiates the Bushnell Neo Ion from the pack. The watch finds the course in a snap, and does not lose it.
- Golf Laser Range Finder
- Auto course recognition and auto hole advance. Easy-to-read front/centre/back distances
- Pre-loaded with 35,000+ courses in more than 30 countries. Long battery life - play three full rounds between charge
As well, the yardages are solid and quick during the round. Any golfer worth their salt known you cannot underestimate the importance of having the right numbers in devising an approach strategy. This golf watch also offers handy shot distance readings, then goes on to automatically record hole advances.
The automatic course recognition and auto hole advance aside, the watch also comes with additional features that include hazard and layup distances, with a step counter which you can make use of off the green when walking, jogging or running.
The Bushnell Neo Ion promises an impressive battery life (a solid 16 hours) which means you can squeeze about three full rounds before charging. That is impressive, and something not even some higher end devices can come close to matching this.
The overall design on this golf piece is stylish, and the build is durable, even guaranteeing waterproof capabilities. The screen may not be to the level of some watches on this list, but the good part is that it makes for easy reading irrespective of the light conditions, and that is what matters.
The few faults we associate with the Bushnell Neo Ion is the limited number of courses that are preloaded. 35,000 is a sizeable number, true, but the fact that they are only in 30 countries might render it pretty useless in some countries.
If this is not a biggie for you, you can count on the fact that few golf GPS watches can do what this watch does. It aces all the things it promises to do; though basic, most golfers prefer it this way. It’s a top golf device at the price.
- Quick course recognition
- Ease of use
- Measures distances for every shot
- Impressive battery life
- Courses are restricted to 30 countries
Callaway GPSync Golf Watch
At first glance of the Callaway GPSy golf watch, one of the first things that catch the eye is its throwback styling. But you will quickly realise this look goes beyond skin deep when you two get the chance to have a moment alone on the turf.
The Callaway GPSy, as is often called, is not a ticking contradiction, promising old-school on the surface while getting caught up in the tech trends of the day. No. What it does is simple: it offers the basic functions you would expect from a good GPS watch, and does a pretty darn good job at it.
The watch, with a black and white screen, comes preloaded with 30,000 courses from the world over, with no downloads or subscription fees needed.
- Preloaded with 30,000+ golf courses worldwide
- Accurate distances to front, center, and back of green
- Accurate carry distances to hazards and doglegs
- No subscription or download fees
- Auto-hole advance, Shot Distance Measurement
One of the reasons this watch is a constant listing on many reviews is the features it is equipped with. Useful features. The auto course recognition aside, it also boasts an odometer function and very handy scorekeeper. Both of these make it easy for you to keep track of your round data during your play.
Putts per round and GIR information is also included in the readouts, as well as the hole/total score and other data you will find valuable.
The Callaway GPSy can last up to 10 hours in GPS mode, with watch mode delivering an incredible 40 days. In case the essence of this gets diluted in all the figures, this is a full month, with a bonus week thrown in for good measure. And sticking to type, the watch gives you the option to set it in your preferred format – digital or analog.
It has a beautiful smooth band, and the watch itself is available in two colour variants: black and white.
For all its fortes, this Callaway golf watch falls short in that it has no Bluetooth connection to your smartphone or other such devices. Then again, the whole point is to strip the smart off of it, so take as you will this aspect.
All in all, this easily passes for one of the best golf GPS watches around. For those that like to keep it simple, this is the go-to watch, with an attractive price to match.
- Reliable front, centre and back yardage
- Waterproof (up to 1 ATM)
- Polished design
- Basic but useful features – time, date, unit, alarm, backlight, language, daylight savings, sound, shot distance etc.
- Impressive battery life
- Some units – not all – need updating watch’s firmware to enable scorekeeper feature which is a hassle
Garmin Approach S6
The Garmin Approach S6 is one of the best golf GPS watches on the market right now. It features built-in mapping for 40,000 global courses, and can offer an aerial view of the hole for every single one of them.
It’s not your ordinary golf watch this, and it was designed with the absolute golfing nut in mind. One of the pluses of owning it is that you enjoy accurate yardage to the point, wonderfully displayed on its crisp, high-resolution colour touchscreen.
- Dedicated CourseView button displays exact distances and the true shape and layout of an entire hole, including tee box, fairway and green
- High resolution, sunlight readable and glove friendly colour touchscreen
- Smart Notification allows you to receive email, texts and alerts directly on your golf watch from your iPhone 4s or later
- Precise distances for more than 38,000 international courses; no subscriptions or fees
- Garmin Connect for Golf lets you play, analyse, share, and compare your round
The S6 is not all about show.
It will help you achieve more consistent performances because it furnishes you with the mechanics of your swing – always a sweet reminder of the bonuses that come with owning a dedicated golf watch. Not only that, it also measures the power of your swing, showing you the power of each shot by displaying it as a percentage.
This watch can also track your tempo and use beeps to guide you in maintaining rhythm if need be. It connects with your smartphone where you can save scores and view notifications to help you stay on the ball (no pun intended).
For all its incredible features and quality performance, the Approach S6 golf GPS watch is condensed in a compact design. So compact that it easily passes for one of the smallest devices on the market. The overall look is nothing but sleek, with just a pair of buttons for easy navigation.
The battery can last 15 hours.
The downside is that the Kansas-based wearable firm will make you pay for every little feature on this device.
- Swing metrics – SwingStrength, SwingTempo and TempoTraining
- 40,000 preloaded international courses with zero subscription
- PinPointer provides blind shot assistance when pin is not visible
- High-resolution colour screen and touchscreen interface
- Manual pin positioning
- Statistics cannot be saved on a computer
- Some users have reported minor bugs and crushes
Garmin Approach X40
We will try to stay true to our word and throw another Garmin device in here. This one is even sleeker than the S6 or Garmin Approach S20, a pretty big deal in its own ways. Actually, the X40 golf GPS watch looks more like a Fitbit, the brand’s popular activity tracker, than its aforementioned counterparts.
But just like its closer cousins, the Garmin Approach X40 manages to pack an incredible amount of features and functionality in such a tiny gadget. Small it may be, but once you get the hang of it, it is amazingly easy to navigate on the touchscreen display which also makes for easy information reading despite its orientation.
- Precise distance at a glance to the front, middle and back of the greens, plus hazards and doglegs
- Preloaded with 40,000+ International golf courses, plus free lifetime course updates
- AutoShot game tracker automatically tracks shots along the fairway and measures distances
- Tracks heart rate at the wrist day or night, to provide more accurate calories burned information
- Smart Notifications: receive texts, emails, calls, and social media alerts on your watch
With 35,000 courses, initial products were not preloaded with as many courses, but anyone looking to buy one now can revel in the fact that the latest releases are preloaded with over 41,000 courses. These include pin position details and hazards alike.
There is a feature to track your shots – which needs to be switched on – and this will prompt you to tag which club you used. This is more of a bell and whistle, but to anyone interested much in the data, it is no doubt useful.
The Garmin Approach X40 can send notifications to your phone via Bluetooth, and on-watch scoring is nicely implemented. It also has a scorecard feature which allows for better round tracking, and these stats can be uploaded to your computer.
Overall, it’s a great watch if your budget hovers just under £200. Avid golfers with an active lifestyle off the course will love it too because it acts as a heart rate monitor and GPS run tracker when you are not on the green.
The battery can give 5 hours of service on GPS mode. On the face of it, this sounds underwhelming. Until you consider the number of features the multi-coloured watch comes with.
- High accuracy
- Movable pin locations for precise yardage
- Exact yardage to different hazards
- TruSwing technology
- Scorecard feature that can be uploaded
- Activity tracker
- Small screen can take some getting used to
TomTom Golfer 2 SE
TomTom is a revered old hand in the world of GPS devices, and the Dutch telematics company makes it to our list of best golf GPS devices with the TomTom Golfer 2 SE, a sleek upgrade on their impressive 2016 release, the TomTom Golfer 2.
When the Golfer 2 rolled around, its major selling point revolved around two things. One was the automatic shot detection feature that allowed you to track your game without lifting a finger. The other was the useful MySports app that made it possible to analyse your game data and see, for instance, if you’re missing fairways to the left more than the right.
For all its benefits and popularity, the major issue with the TomTom Golfer 2 was that its strongpoint also happened to be its Achilles heel. The shot detection feature was found wanting in that it was 1. Inaccurate to a large degree; 2. Intrusive as it set off beeps and buzzes whenever a shot was detected; and 3. It resulted in a needlessly steep price tag.
This didn’t go unnoticed by the powers that be in Amsterdam, and they duly responded with the TomTom Golfer 2 SE.
- Discussion of the history of the scores: Study The History of your favourite and identify the axes for improvement
- Automatic detection of cuts: your watch automatically detects and records your likes to provide you with key information on your game,
- Regular updates of course: Get the updates to those from your smartphone via a wireless connection. Sensors (internal) : Motion sensor (accelerometer + gyro), compass
- obstacles: visit the distance between the inlet and outlet of every obstacle throughout the fairway
- away from green: Precise distances to the front, centre and back of the green
The upgrade still persists with the automatic shot detection feature, but the main purpose of refreshing its predecessor was to address the pain points.
So, how has does this stack up against its predecessor?
The automatic shot detection provides live distance of every shot. A live counter pops up on the screen whenever you take a short and start walking up the fairway, showing you the far the ball travelled. This comes on automatically, unlike many top-end devices from the likes of Garmin where you have to enable the measure mode.
In terms of accuracy, the SE is spot on. The main feature is distances to front, centre and back of the green, spanning 40,000 courses. Distance to hazards is a likeable experience, displaying on-course hazards like bunkers, water and ditches as elements on the fairway, as well as how far you need to hit to clear them, and how to play to the side of them.
As for the annoying beeps, that is, thankfully, now possible to quieten. The shot detection will stay on, but you can now ignore the din.
The Golfer 2 SE can now do all this and more at a more attractive price point, which might just be enough reason for more people to warm up to it, seeing as to how the previous model overpriced.
The golf watch also comes with a sporty strap, with one option featuring black & green, and the other grey and orange.
On the downside, the SE may still detect shots that are yet to happen; sometimes even failing to detect a shot, but it is not like this is unique to the Golfer 2 SE. The good thing is that there is a workaround to it. In the instance a shot is recorded erroneously, it is possible to cancel it from the four-way button. And in case a shot is not detected, you can quickly add it by covering the screen.
That is no doubt a welcome move by TomTom, but it’s a damper when you have to keep fussing on the watch adding and cancelling shots.
Overall, though, the TomTom Golfer 2 SE is definitely a solid upgrade over the Golfer 2. You will be hard pressed to find a golf GPS watch that offers such impressive functionality at its price. This is a watch that means business.
- Accurate distances
- Clear hazards
- Distance of every shot shown live
- Practical Golfer app
- False positives
Garmin Vivoactive Smartwatch
Another Garmin product that ranks among the best golf GPS watches on the market.
This watch is endowed with several features that distinguish it from most golf watches out there. Innovative design that is both compact and ultrathin. A high resolution colour touchscreen that is easy to read even under direct sunlight. Built-in sports apps for swimming, biking and GPS-enabled running, and other useful features.
There is none quite like it out there.
Well, you could argue there is the Apple Watch and all the Android wear variants, but the fact that some of these devices do not have built-in GPS puts that debate to rest. Unless, of course, you are talking about the most recent models such as the Apple Watch 3. For that, then we would be forced to throw in a more superior Garmin device to make it a fair contest.
- Ultra-thin GPS smart watch with sunlight-readable, high-resolution colour touchscreen display
- Built-in running, cycling, golf, swimming and activity tracking apps to monitor your progress even when away from your phone
- Pairs with your smartphone to gently vibrate and display alerts for incoming calls, calendar items, emails and texts plus notifications from social media and other mobile apps
- Free downloads for customisable watch faces, stats widgets and apps from connect IQ, Garmin's 3rd-party app developer site
- Rechargeable battery lasts up to 3 weeks in watch/activity tracking mode or 10 hours using GPS; this product is not compatible with smartphones with Windows OS and iPhone 4
Anyway, the Garmin Vivoactive is a watch designed with golf players in mind (and there are certain perks that come with that) while also doubling up as a multisport gadget, including skiing. The watch comes with 38,000 international courses, and you can use it to accurately measure layup and dogleg distances.
The accelerometer on the Vivoactive also helps you track your stats as you work out. For instance, you can use the watch to check the amount of calories you have burned. As far as golfing goes, the technology makes it possible to see your tally hole number and par, as well as stroke counts per length.
This is a smartwatch, which means it can pair with your smartphone to receive notifications for just about every alert – text messages, emails, incoming calls; social media updates even. This makes it the perfect watch for anyone who wants to enjoy the benefits of a smartwatch but cannot find them in a golf GPS watch.
In short, this is a golf GPS watch that doubles up as a smartwatch, offering the best of both worlds.
The battery lasts 10 hours in GPS mode, and you can extract three weeks out of it in activity watch mode.
So, are there are areas where the Garmin Vivoactive falls short?
The one obvious drawback with the watch is that the display can be illegible in a dim environment. You have to manually turn on the backlight through the left-hand button, although this lasts only a couple of seconds.
That is the one place a smartwatch beats the Vivoactive, but you could also argue this is a golf watch designed for use in the day. Everything else is just a bonus.
- High-resolution colour touchscreen
- Sleek design
- Smart features
- Dim display in dark conditions
Garmin Approach S60
The Approach S60 is the latest S-series release off the Garmin production stable. While it may not be as feature-rich as the multisport phenomenon we know as Garmin Fenix 5, the S60 is considered by many the best golf GPS watch on the market right now.
Indeed, this is Garmin’s flagship golfing watch, a proper golf watch through and through. The device combines a 1.2-inch 240 x 240 colour screen (same as Fenix 5’s) with a stylish build and long list of features.
You can rely on it for information such as accurate yardages to not just greens, but also hazards and doglegs. The Garmin Approach S60, which comes with 40,000 preloaded courses, can also automatically record the distance and location of each shot. It is capable of factoring in elevation changes between player and target, thanks to its PlaysLike feature, which then calculates what the distance will, uh, play like.
- Sleek GPS golf watch that reflects your passion on and off the course
- Large, 1.2" Sunlight-readable color touchscreen display
- Quickly gets your location using GPS to Show precise yardages to greens, Hazards and doglegs, on full-color course maps
- Convenient Quick Fit bands for fast style changes without tools
- More than 40, 000 preloaded courses from around the world
This golf watch has features which could help you improve the posture and tempo of your upswing and downswing – TempoTraining and SwingTempo. It can also track shots around the course through the AutoShot feature, prompting you to tag with a club, with the option to review them later.
It can also sync your data through the company’s dedicated Garmin Golf app, making it easy for you to compete with fellow golfers and friends by accessing each other’s handicap, score, rank and more.
The S60 also doubles up as a general activity tracker, tracking everything from steps walked, to calories, distance travelled and sleep. It will give alerts when you have been immobile for long durations, both on the watch’s screen or if you fancy them on your smartphone.
The watch promises 10 hours of golfing (enough for several rounds in a day), and it can also give you 10 days in watch mode, all the while tracking your activity. It is available in customisable straps that can pair well with all wear – jeans, gym clothes, suit; doesn’t matter.
It is clearly a heavy-hitter, the Approach S60, right up there on the list of elite golf GPS watches.
- Full-colour, crystal-clear super hi-res touchscreen
- Training aids
- Full list of cool, practical features
- Social aspects
- Activity tracking for multiple sports
- Watch picks up practice swings sometimes
The whole point of investing in a good golf GPS watch is to improve on your game while making an enjoyable experience out of it. And in case you are wondering, no, a GPS watch is not an absolute necessity. But if you intend to take your game to the next level (and who isn’t, right?) this is definitely an investment well worth it.
The better you understand the course you are playing on, the greater your chances of shooting a great round. Relying on distance markers will be a thing of the past, so your game will not be adversely affected by inaccurate information.
As well, the analysis features can polish your skills considerably. They can help you correct mistakes before they become bad habits, and tell exactly where you are losing some strokes.
As for the device itself, a good GPS watch is a timeless piece that is easy to use because, hey, you are on the course to play golf, not figure out how the watch works. It should be comfortable on the wear, and can be relied upon to provide accurate results.
The devices that have made it to our list of best golf GPS watches tick every box when all things have been considered. These are watches every golfing enthusiast, new or experienced, will find extremely useful.