Dramatic flyover footage of your favorite hole is just one of the golf-related ways to use a remote-controlled unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). We divided our picks into two categories: high-end professional/enthusiast drones capable of carrying a high-definition video camera like a GoPro, and less-expensive "starter" models. We based our ratings on factors like out-of-the-box ease of use, durability, standard features and overall value. Drones over .55 pounds now require a simple $5 FAA registration, available online.
The most popular enthusiast/professional drones come in a quad-copter configuration—four horizontal propellers at the corners of a lightweight plastic frame. The best models are sophisticated flying machines that cost more than $1,000. They come out of the box complete with a high-definition video camera, stabilizing gimbal linkage between the drone and the camera, and an easy-to-use control interface. They're also easy to get up and running successfully without dozens of hours of practice, have a range of more than a mile and can fly for upward of 20 minutes on one battery charge. Replacement rotors—the most frequent casualty during hard landings—are easy to come by and relatively inexpensive. With an included app, you can control the drone manually, engage autopilot for a predetermined route along specific waypoints and view and edit video from the on-board camera.
The best entry-level drones are also easy to fly right away, can be controlled via Wi-Fi with your smartphone or tablet and offer a protective buffer against clumsy piloting. Sturdy construction should make the inevitable rookie crashes learning experiences that don't require a trip to Amazon.com for replacement parts. A good hobby drone flies for about 10 minutes and operates within the 150-foot Wi-Fi signal range. Video quality isn't anything to brag about in comparison to models costing five times more, but a bird's-eye view is a nice change of perspective.