Digital Caddies

Will GPS-enabled phones and Laser range finders change your game?

January 2009

GPS App for iPhone

Green Finder, our favorite in golf distance programs built for GPS-enabled mobile phones, admits that ionospheric delays and the limited accuracy of cell phone towers can affect iPhone's GPS precision. (The iPhone's engine uses cell phone towers, Wi-Fi signals and Assisted GPS to pinpoint locations.) To minimize erroneous readings on the course, GreenFinder trains a team of 20 lab-based mappers to read and analyze imagery from multiple providers.

HOT: You can purchase Greenfinder ( for $35 on your iPhone, download the course on the first tee and use it during your round. (Note: Other "share ware" or free apps weren't as reliable.) And the iPhone has a larger color display and higher resolution than any current golf GPS unit.

NOT: The app can drain iPhone's battery in just four hours. To extend the battery life, GreenFinder recommends manually locking the screen after you hit your shot. But pulling out phone, unlocking it, and waiting for a signal takes more than a minute -- not very convenient.


Point and Shoot: Laser Rangefinders

GPS units may offer the best technology for all targets, but if you have a clear line to the flag, the best laser rangefinders can excel over GPS units in pinpointing distances. Bushnell's V2 Rangefinder ($470, and Leupold's GX-1 ($300, utilize special programs designed to home in on the flagstick instead of the tree behind the green. Meanwhile, LaserLink's Quick Shot ($279, promises 100 percent accuracy, with a significant caveat: the flagstick must be fit with "The Smarty," a tiny prism reflector designed to receive laser beams from LaserLink rangefinders.

Point, Counterpoint

Rob O'Loughlin, President of Laser Link Golf, defends laser rangefinders

GPS is great technology, but because they're designed to locate things not measure things, they're simply not for golf. GPS devices measure to the front, middle, and back of greens, but never to the pin, which is the most important distance in golf. So how useful is information that forces you to guess where the flagstick is? No professional player in the world uses GPS in their practice rounds -- they use lasers because GPS are simply not accurate enough and because lasers are the only distance measurement tools that provide highly accurate and precise measurements to the flagstick. And lasers are hassle-free. They're ready to use right out of the box and require no costly downloads, no computers, no satellite issues, no daily charging, and no set-up. Even on the course, there's nothing faster. Rather than wait for the satellites to catch up because of interference or signal delay, simply "click it and rip it" with a laser. Laser rangefinders provide better information, faster.

Richard Edmonson, CEO SkyHawke Technologies, defends GPS units
Sure, 97 percent of caddies on Tour use lasers. But that doesn't mean they're better than GPS devices. Caddies generally work in pairs or triplets and use each other as targets. For example, to determine how far away a bunker is, one caddy will stand by it so the other can use him as a target. While this teamwork is great for them, amateur players don't work in pairs. One of the weaknesses of lasers is you need to have something reflective or something vertical to shoot at. Fairway run-outs or measurements to the front and back of greens are impossible to shoot. Another argument I hear is that lasers are easier because they're wire-free. But I think the ability to download courses is a great advantage, not a disadvantage. We sweat to give golfers the information a caddy would gather. We've done all the work for you so you don't have to see your target to know where it is. Lasers are great technology and have great uses. But when it comes to golf, GPS units are the better mousetrap. Assuming the course is mapped correctly and GPS engine is designed to work for golf, GPS lets you play golf and not work at golf.


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