Comparing GPS vs Range Finding Devices

Hi Members!

As golfers, we have all seen various gadgets, training aids and other golf peripherals all designed to enhance our golfing experience.  Some are useful, others not so much.  The MGK team sort of figured that since we have almost 6000 members, if we could share our experiences with these aids, it would help all the members at the club.

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To get the ball rolling, and since I have been a member of MGK for longer than I have been an employee, I’ll be reviewing various devices designed to help with estimating distance on the course.

The commonly available devices designed to provide distance information can be grouped into 2 broad categories, 1) GPS Based or 2) Optical Range Finding Based

In general, GPS systems are not as accurate compared to Optical RF systems, but are more convenient to use and if paired with a visual display, can provide useful bird’s eye views of the hole you are playing to facilitate course management.  Optical RF systems are very accurate, with advanced models even allowing for slope and gradient, to provide you with the exact distance to the target.  However, they are restricted by line of sight and require a very steady hand to operate, especially if the target you are aiming at is far away.  This is because Optical RF’s require the user to manually aim at a target and then press a button to generate a distance reading.  At longer distances, it is a challenge to settle the aim point exactly on a small target, e.g.  A flapping flag at 170m, which could result in an incorrect reading if the device picks up an object slightly behind what you are aiming at.

Over the course of 2 games at Marina Bay Golf Course and Orchid Country Club, I tested the following devices:

1)      Iamcaddie (GPS Based – Audio/Voice)

2)      Golfshot Mobile App (GPS Based - Visual)

3)      Bushnell Tour V2 Slope (Optical RF Based - Visual)

1)            iamcaddie

A relatively new product to Asia but established in the US, iamcaddie is part of the family of GPS devices that provide information via voice instructions, i.e. they will tell you the distance to the middle of the green from where you are.

iamcaddie is a small, circular lightweight GPS device that clips on easily to your cap or visor and is operated by pressing the main button (there are 2 other minor ones for adjusting settings).  Once activated, distance information is provided instantly by pressing the silver button up till 30m from the center of the green, whereby it is replaced by a standard message mentioning that you are near the  green. 

What I liked:

Ease of use on the course.  Switch it on, wait about 2-3 minutes for the device to pick up a satellite connection, and everything else is automatic.  The Golf Course is selected automatically along with the relevant Tee Box (triggered once you are in the physical proximity of the tee box).   As you complete a hole and move to the next tee box, the device automatically recognizes the next hole.

Lightweight and Portable.  Clipped to my cap, distance information was available instantly and at all times with just a small gesture, even from some of the more adventurous locations I found myself in (I was not having a good day with the Driver).  There was no need to remember to take it with me from the buggy, and it did not clutter my pockets.

Good Battery Life.  After my game at MBGC on a Monday, I forgot to charge it for Sunday’s game at OCC.  However, the device lasted throughout the entire 36 holes (18 at MBGC and 18 at OCC).

What I did not like:

Having to remember how to change settings.  Since there is no visual display, you need to memorize how to manually change the settings, e.g. Yards to Meters, or manually changing the tee box back to the correct hole if you hit a wayward shot onto the next tee box.  I have provided them feedback that visual cover containing basic instructions should also be included along with the 3 or 4 other different coloured covers that are provided.

Not knowing the distance to the front and back of the green.  While a voice based system cannot be expected to provide as much information as a visual map based system, sometimes just knowing the distance to the middle of the green is not enough.

Device needs regular updates.  The update system is standard for modern gadgets, i.e. plug into a laptop or computer, download a client manager from host website, install software and then plug in device occasionally to get updates.  Although you can miss a few updates and still have the device working, if left for too long, the device will not be able to detect golf courses in its proximity.  While this is easily fixed by plugging it in and running the update, it can be an unpleasant experience if you find out about it only on the course.

Other Points:

As with other GPS devices, if the course you play on is not mapped, you can write in to request for it.  As there is a local team supporting this, courses in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia can be updated pretty quickly. 

Accuracy is comparable to other GPS systems.  When tested against a laser range finder, the deviation was within 3 meters.




Golfshot Mobile App

A visual GPS system that can be downloaded to your smart phone.  Aside from providing distances, a visual map of the hole being played is normally available (satellite image).   Golfshot also has functions to record scores and track your game statistics

What I like:

Sufficient Information Provided.  Information regarding; the front and back edge of the green, how far to the bunker, how much to carry the water hazard, etc, are all captured.

Mobile Updates.  Updates done without having to plug into a laptop.

Scoring Records and Analysis.  The scoring function allows the golfer to analyse which aspect of his game needs work by recording other information aside from how many total strokes for the hole, e.g. penalty shots, number of putts, etc.

What I did not like:

Drains battery power.  Running on an iphone 3GS, this application drained the battery to death before 18 holes were completed both times.  Running on an iphone 4S, it managed to complete the round but managed to drain a fully charged phone to a red bar.

Distance updates are quite slow.  It appears to take a while (5-10 secs) for the distance reading to stabilize.

Manual S