Top of the line: Bushnell 1600 Slope Edition
Pros: They provide a precise distance within one yard of a target, and do so instantly. They are more common among low-handicap golfers.
Cons: It’s easy to shoot a tree behind the flagstick instead of the flagstick, and they do not provide information on unseen hazards or bunkers.
Top of the line: SkyCaddie SGX
Pros: The tools map all features of a course and holes, so distances can be measured to bunkers and hazards as well as from the woods.
Cons: They do not provide exact yardage to a flagstick — just a general front, middle and back.
Top of the line: ViewTi Golf GPS
Pros: The apps can range in price from free to $20 and can combine round statistics such as fairways and greens in regulation plus keep a record of scores.
Cons: They typically use a generic satellite image that does not include details, they burn through a phone’s battery, and they’re dependent on a constant 3G signal.
Tim Cushman reached into his golf bag and pulled out two balls, a glove, a tee and the single-most expensive item in the bag — a Callaway GPS device.
“It takes tons of strokes off my game,” he joked before pushing his first tee shot Tuesday into the left rough.
More than saving strokes, Cushman’s new tool saves him time. With the push of a button, he knows how far he needs to hit to carry a front bunker and land his second shot on the green. He has no need to find a sprinkler head, read its message and step off a number of yards to his ball.
“It really helps on courses you’re not familiar with, it helps if you can’t find good markings and it helps giving distances,” said Cushman, who usually plays on Chattanooga-area public courses. “Its just kind of neat having it.
“And yes, I have used it from the woods. That’s where I spend most of my time.”
Technological advances in rangefinders, GPS devices and, more recently, smartphone apps have increased the popularity of such tools to aid golfers in dropping their scores and perhaps increasing their pace of play, especially when golfers find themselves off the typical path.
Both the Tennessee and Georgia golf associations allow participants to use distance-measuring devices during competitive rounds, so long as the device does not provide the slope — the distance uphill or downhill.
“It made things a lot easier when we could start using them, because no matter where you were — in the woods, the rough, or God forbid another fairway, you knew where you were,” said David Noll Jr., who won the Georgia Amateur last weekend and uses a Bushnell rangefinder to get precise distances. “It’s simplified things and spoiled us a bit.”
Distance tools are not allowed during competitive rounds of most national tournaments as well as USGA and professional tour events.
“You have to go back to the pin-sheet,” said Noll, who has played in 12 USGA championships. “Do that and walk off yardages to sprinkle-heads.”
Jon Williams, owner of Golf Headquarters, used to walk off his distances. And during his experiences, he’s found that just about every course in town has one or two sprinkler head markings that are off by more than 10 yards, which can be the difference between a birdie and a bogey.
He prefers a GPS device to a rangefinder because he is not precise enough with iron shots to hit a 160-yard shot within five yards of 160. Get him on the green, he says, and he’s good.
“I’m looking more to stay out of hazards than to know the exact distance to the pin,” Williams said. “I’m an average player. I want to know what it is to carry that trap.”
Even with that knowledge, Williams has found a bunker or two in his rounds.
The new technology provides critical information to golfers. But it’s still up to the player to comprehend the info, then swing the club and get the desired result.
“GPS devices overtook rangefinders in sales about two years ago, but we’re starting to see a divide where better players want to know the distance to the pin,” Williams said. “For the average golfer, the GPS is so easy to use. Drive by, get a yardage or give it to your buddy, and you’re good to go.”
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...