Edited by: Jordan Fuller
Reviewed by: John Marshall
In the modern era of golf, GPS wristwatches and handheld devices have revolutionized the game giving golfers of all skill levels the power to know exact distances to the pin from anywhere on the course.
As wonderful as the technology is for the amateur, the options can be confusing to sift through as golfers try to decide between watches and handheld units.
To clear that confusion, here’s a detailed guide to the 10 best golf GPS watches and handheld devices available to golfers.
Table Of Contents
- 1 Featured Recommendations
- 2 Best GPS Devices
- 3 Best Handheld Devices
- 4 Testing Protocol & Criteria Used For Evaluation
5 Questions & Answers
- 5.1 Why do I need a GPS device on the golf course?
- 5.2 What are the key characteristics I should look out for in a great golf GPS device?
- 5.3 Watch vs. Handheld: Which one should I pick?
- 5.4 Which one is more convenient?
- 5.5 Which one has more features?
- 5.6 Do I need to pay extra fees to use my device on the golf course?
Best GPS Devices
1. Garmin Approach S20
Best Golf GPS Device: Solid Watch for Novice & Advanced Golfers Who Love Statistics
Garmin has cornered the market on GPS watches for golfers. With a sophisticated display and terrific interactive information, the Approach S20 is one of the best GPS devices on the market today.
The S20 features a slim wristband that is durable and doesn’t suffocate your wrist as you play. It also features one of our favorite features, AutoShot, which actually auto-records the statistics from your round and uploads them automatically to your Garmin Connect account.
The Connect feature gives you a home to see all of your stats for instant feedback as to why your round did or did not go well.
A great package that is extremely affordable, the S20 is a multi-function watch that golfers will love.
One of the best features of the S20 is the CourseView feature that automatically updates your watch as new golf courses load onto the Garmin Connect system.
This feature means you’ll never have to worry about whether or not your favorite new course will be on the Garmin Connect app.
AutoShot Round Analyzer
Another wonderful benefit to owning the Approach S20 is the app integration with the Garmin Connect system. The S20 has an AutoShot feature that automatically uploads your round to the Connect website.
You can replay each shot online and see what contributed to your best shots and how you can fix your worst attempts of the day.
The S20 takes a snapshot of each swing, displaying things like swing speed, shot yardage and location of each shot.
The information instantly uploads for you to view as soon as your round ends. It’s an impressive piece of technology that will undoubtedly help your golf game.
2. Garmin Approach X40
Best For Advanced Golfers: slim, accurate GPS watch
The Approach X40 is a more compact GPS wristwatch that provides plenty of detail during your round. With a slender, yet clear display, the X40 has many of the same features that golfers have been enjoying on the more traditional S20 and S60 watches from Garmin.
The X40 does have tremendous app integration with the beloved Garmin Connect system, so all of your drives, putts, and yardage are recorded for analysis at your convenience.
The watch also works very well as a health tracker, providing instant updates on your heart rate and reminds you when you need to move if you’ve been stationary for too long.
All the great golf features in the body of a first-rate health tracker, the X40 is a winner.
A golfer might look at the X40’s display and immediately think that it is too small. But they’d be missing how the company has maximized the space on the screen to provide a tremendous amount of information.
Golfers have instant access to yardages from anywhere on the hole as well as a look at the shape of the green.
A Touchscreen that Pairs with Smartphone
The display also pairs with your smartphone to provide email, text message and other critical alerts so you’ll never miss a chance to respond.
The X40’s screen utilizes a touchscreen so you can get information faster so you’ll never hold up your playing group as you look over your next shot.
The X40 comes preloaded with thousands of courses, and through the Garmin Connect system, the watch will continue to get lifetime updates for free.
Each course you play will give you the opportunity to see yardages from a variety of tee locations as well as a glimpse into the shape and break on the green.
3. Bushnell Neo Ion Golf GPS Watch
Best For Mid-Level Golfers: Stylish with an extensive display
Featuring a long battery life and a larger display than most GPS golf watches, the Neo Ion from Bushnell is a durable gadget that handles itself well on the golf course.
Preloaded with over 36,000 courses, the Neo Ion has a sporty design that fits well on the wrist.
The Neo Ion has some exciting features such as an auto course recognition that automatically moves your watch to the next hole as you move to the upcoming tee box.
The watch also does a great job at giving you distances to all three areas of the green as well as hazard and layup yardages for those long par 5s.
Compact and lightweight, the Neo Ion is a solid GPS watch that delivers the goods.
Bushnell Golf App
The Neo Ion works in unison with the Bushnell Golf App. This application is an advanced app that gives you such amenities as a 3D flyover of holes as well as an overhead angle that provides yardage distances to all areas.
The app also gives you wireless updates of new or updated courses and sends them to the watch via your Bluetooth connection.
The large display on the Neo Ion provides multiple distances from not only the fairway but as you reach the green. One of the best qualities of the Neo Ion is how quickly it gives the distance to the front, center, and back of the green.
When using with the app, you should have a full view of what lies ahead on the hole and what club you’ll need to use to get there.
4. GolfBuddy GB9 WTX+ Smartwatch Golf GPS
Alternative Choice For Mid-Level Golfers: Stylish with an extensive display, ideal for mid-level golfers
GolfBuddy has created a user-friendly watch that has a classic look yet provides advanced technology that rewards golfers on the course.
With a slick touchscreen that keeps the information moving, the GB9 GPS watch gives the golfer everything they could need when playing a round.
From shot distance to broad overviews of each hole, the GB9 has one of the more detailed screens we’ve seen in a wristwatch.
Although we were disappointed with GolfBuddy’s lack of a sophisticated app to integrate with the watch, the GB9 was still a useful gadget that delivered superior performance on the links.
Dynamic Color on Display
One of the details that sets the GB9 apart from other watches is that the touchscreen features rich color to enhance your experience.
With a slight touch from your finger, you can access the overview of a hole, the distances to the front, back and center of the green and the pin’s location.
The color of the GB9 gives crisp contrast while you plan your next shot so you can see potential hazards and avoid those pesky bunkers.
Long Lasting Battery
With the demand on the watch via the advanced graphics, we were pleasantly surprised to see that the watch lasted over eight hours on a single charge.
While this probably won’t get you more than a round per charge, it does allow plenty of power if you want to stick around for another nine holes.
While GolfBuddy’s smartphone app will keep your courses up-to-date with free updates, it won’t do more of the advanced features like keep the statistics you’ll find on the Garmin and Bushnell watches we reviewed earlier.
5. Garmin Approach S60
Best For Low-Handicappers: Multi-Featured Watch
The most elegant golf GPS watch on the market is the Garmin Approach S60. With a stunning display that gives almost 3D like images for the course you are playing, the watch does so many things it is hard to tell you which one is the best.
Not only does it work as a health tracker, but once you get on the course, the S60 excels with smartphone integration that updates courses wirelessly and works seamlessly with Garmin’s Connect online system for a statistical breakdown of your round.
What’s great about the S60 is that the watch gives you full-color maps of the green, fairway and complete hole so you’ll never be hungry for information. Innovative and stylish, the S60 is an incredible GPS watch that delivers stunning performance.
Long Lasting Battery
A feature that we adored on the S60 is the stamina of the battery. Lasting over ten hours, the S60 does a fantastic job at staying strong to power the advanced features of the watch.
If you are away from the course and are just using the watch as a clock, the battery will last a jaw-dropping ten days before it needs a charge.
Crisp, Clear Display
Perhaps the best features of the S60 is the 1.2″ inch display that provides crisp and detailed images that contrasted so well we never hesitated in finding the right club based on the information we saw on the screen.
Even in the brightest of sunshine, we found that the S60 looked wonderful, giving us plenty of detail.
Drag and Drop Placement
One of the more unique features of the S60 is the drag and drop pin placement feature that allows you to take your finger and move the pin to correspond with its current location.
The S60 then recalculates the yardage for unrivaled precision from a GPS golf watch. This features also works when you are looking to hit your shot to an exact location on the golf course.
Best Handheld Devices
1. GolfBuddy Voice 2 Golf GPS/Rangefinder
Best For High Handicappers: Great compact device
The Voice 2 from Golf Buddy is another popular version of their petite yet highly capable line of voice-enabled GPS devices.
Golf Buddy has taken the Voice 2 and increased the battery life while keeping the same high contrast, large number display that gives users an exact yardage for their next shot.
Legal for tournament use, the Voice 2 is water resistant and comes with a battery that lasts up to 14 hours per charge, good for over two rounds of use. With eight languages pre-loaded, the Voice 2 delivers outstanding performance.
The Voice 2 is remarkably easy to set up and use. Once you choose a male or female voice to guide your round, the Golf Buddy devices provide automatic course and hole recognition.
We recommend that you show up early to allow the device to load the course you are playing, but overall, the Voice 2 is painless and straightforward to operate.
Multiple Yardage Readouts
Not only will you get the distance of each shot after it happens, but the Voice 2 will get you ready for your upcoming shot with accurate yardage to various areas of the green.
You shouldn’t have a problem picking the right club when you see how precise the yardage is using the Voice 2.
Dynamic Green View Technology
Once you are close to the green, the Voice 2 is going to give you a complete look of the shape and slope of the surface. You’ll be able to see where you need to play your shot for the easiest birdie putt.
Beginning golfers who use the Voice 2 commonly see their average improve dramatically in the following rounds after using this GPS device.
2. Bushnell Phantom Golf GPS
Best For Mid-Handicappers: Great handheld device
The Phantom from Bushnell is one of the most fun GPS handheld devices we’ve ever tested. Large and with a square shape, the well-designed readout makes the Phantom clear to read.
With minimal buttons, the Phantom’s simplicity shines through as an excellent option for golfers of all skill levels, including mid-handicappers looking to make the jump into single digits.
When using the Phantom alongside Bushnell Golf app, the golfer gets a complete overview of the hole and precise distances to clear hazards and navigate tough dog legs. The app gives the golfers a 3D view of the hole and layout, bringing the Phantom’s yardage readout to life.
BITE Magnetic Mount
A feature that we adored was the BITE Magnetic Mount technology that keeps the Phantom right on your golf cart using any metal surface.
The magnet is very powerful and not once did we see the Phantom slide or move during our round.
Having the magnetic capability also frees up our hands to focus on choosing the right club rather than cycling through screens on less intuitive GPS devices.
Auto Course Recognition and Auto Hole Advance
One of the features we loved with the Phantom is how intuitive it is when on the course. It will recognize and preload your course as you get ready to play as well as move its readings to the next hole as you finish out on the green.
When using alongside the savvy Bushnell Golf app, players get a full picture of the hole and the yardage needed on each shot.
3. Garmin Approach G8
Best For Low-Handicappers: Amazing smartphone-like GPS
With a sleek and detailed display, the Approach G8 from Garmin is one of the most delightful and user-friendly GPS handheld devices we’ve ever tested.
For golfers with some disposable income, the G8 will vastly improve your game from the tee box to the green.
Durable and tough, the G8 comes preloaded with over 41,000 courses with more being added each week. Golfers who seek the most information possible will do well by adding the G8 to their bag.
With PinPointer technology, the G8 tells you exactly where the pin is on each hole, even if you can’t see it.
Once integrated with your smartphone, the G8 sends all alerts such as phone calls and text directly to the screen so you’ll never miss out on relevant information.
Users of the G8 will notice that the exclusive PlaysLike feature gives the golfer exact distance by taking into account the elevation changes and slope of the green.
Few other GPS devices can provide that type of precision with the accuracy guaranteed by the Approach G8.
Club Advice and PinPointer Technology
The G8 will monitor and record all of your shots and then provide advice on the correct club to use based on your day’s swing.
It is a marvelous tool to have on windy days as the elements can significantly affect your shot, and the G8 will remind you of previous shots into and against the wind.
PinPointer technology on the G8 allows the golfer to play smarter by alerting the user to the exact location of the pin. This technology is vitally important when hitting into a green that the golfer can’t see or get a full picture of from their shot location.
4. IZZO Golf Swami 5000 Golf GPS Rangefinder
Best For Mid-Level Golfers: Fun handheld GPS
IZZO’s most popular GPS handheld device is the Swami 5000. With a fun look and feel, the 5000 is a colorful handheld gadget that provides the golfer with a vivid look at the hole ahead.
With over 38,000 courses preloaded onto the device, you can take the Swami 5000 just about anywhere in the world and be ready to go the moment you hit the links.
Water resistant and with an improved battery, the 5000 provides the standard auto course recognition and hole advancement seen on most GPS devices at this price point.
With a stylish interface, the lightweight Swami 5000 is a great device for intermediate golfers of all ages.
Advanced Readouts of Greens and Fairway
The 5000 does a terrific job of providing the distance to the front, back, and center of the green. It also gives the golfer a precise location of upcoming hazards and doglegs to help the user avoid trouble.
The advanced color display is clear for easy reading and detailed enough to get a sense of where the trouble lies on each hole.
New Course-Specific Technology
Although the Swami doesn’t have the app integration that we love with our GPS devices, the 5000 does have a very simple to use interface that provides on the spot shot distance, distance to the pin, and allows you to keep score for your last ten rounds upon your device for later analysis.
With over 30,000 courses at your fingertips, you won’t have to worry that the Swami won’t know where you are playing the day’s round.
5. Golf Buddy VoiceX Easy-to-Use Smart Talking Golf GPS
Best For Beginners: Solid clip-on GPS
The GolfBuddy VoiceX GPS handheld device is a compact gadget that packs a nice little punch on the golf course.
With a clear and easy to read display, the VoiceX provides golfers with an array of relevant information like pin placement, shot distance and yardage to various areas of the green.
The VoiceX updates wirelessly as you approach the golf course, preloading the most current version of the course to your device. If you don’t want to have to punch buttons all day, then the VoiceX earns its name by audibly reading the distances to you in your choice of male or female voice.
Insanely affordable and perfect for the beginning golfer in your family, the VoiceX is a solid GPS device.
Simple Audio GPS Device
One of the largest charms of the VoiceX is how small yet smart it is for the beginning golfer. The automatic hole recognition makes it a simple device to learn and use.
For older golfers who have trouble seeing smaller letters and numbers, the VoiceX’s audio feature will come in very handy during your round.
One of the highlights of the VoiceX durability is the fact that it is water resistant. If you are a young player participating in tournaments, the VoiceX is ideal because it can withstand wet weather during a round.
Precise Yardage Readouts
The VoiceX also provides multiple yardages on each hole so you can avoid water hazards, bunkers and flying the green with your second shot.
We found that the large yardage numbers contrasted well within the display. Also after each drive, you’ll be able to see your shot distance for immediate feedback during the round.
Testing Protocol & Criteria Used For Evaluation
GPS devices and wristwatches are handy tools that use a screen to convey yardage and other pertinent information. Since the display is essential for passing this information along, the quality of the display is a critical feature.
But not all devices convey those details equally. Wristwatches have far less area to give the golfer a full spectrum of the yardage to the front and back of the green.
The wrist-bound devices are different than handheld devices that could potentially give the golfer a fuller idea of what lies ahead on the fairway or green.
Handheld devices are known for having better display quality because the unit is larger for more screen room and the larger gadget can utilize better technology.
For golfers who want a handheld that displays the entire hole, then the display becomes even more critical.
One of the benefits of owning a GPS golf device is that the yardage shown is relatively precise to allow you to choose the right club for your shot and avoid imminent hazards as well.
Most companies that manufacture GPS devices state that their device provides an accurate measurement give or take a yard in any direction.
Whether it be a watch or device, knowing that the GPS will provide accurate readings for your next shot is quite essential to finding the right GPS unit.
So after purchase, it is not a bad idea to continue to test and see if your unit is giving you accurate readouts within the stated margin of error.
Accuracy on GPS devices for golf is also dependent on housing the correct coordinates within the company’s app or website.
If the course has recently undergone renovations, then the GPS devices may have old information causing it to display the wrong yardage on each hole.
Watches and handheld GPS devices must be durable to be worthy of purchase, but each gadget has its positives and negatives in this area.
Wristwatches do better with the stress of a round of golf. Since they are in a fixed position on the wrist, they tend to last longer than handheld devices.
Watches are more compact and lightweight, making them easy to carry and far more likely to stay out away from damage on the course or perhaps even getting lost during a round.
Handheld devices are more apt to being damaged during a round. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen to all golfers who own a handheld gadget, but it is a warning that the durability of the device over the lifetime of the unit will be tested.
Proper storage and finding a safe spot for the device to remain during driving or walking is crucial to keeping the unit secure.
One of the latest features that seem to be getting more publicity is how the GPS device integrates with your smartphone.
Whether it be on a website or a sophisticated app, finding a GPS that takes accurate readings on the course will open your post-round world into diving into the statistics that could give you insight on how to improve your game.
Perhaps your second shots are missing the green with a high frequency? Then the app will let you know as it takes into account the readings from your last several rounds.
For the GPS device for golf to achieve elite status, it must have a solid foundation that can be used in an app or through a reliable website.
Every GPS device comes with thousands of preloaded courses already installed on the unit.
Most companies vary in the sheer number of clubs featured on the device, but if you have a few courses that you primarily play, it would be wise to look ahead and see if those courses are present on the device.
If the device is consistently updated, then new courses that are popping up in your area will soon make their way onto your GPS watch or handheld unit.
Finding a device that comes preloaded with at least 25,000 courses won’t be difficult to find in the GPS market. Most have over 35,000 preloaded for immediate use.
However you go with your GPS device, make sure that it has the courses that are important to you already taken care of on the device.
Questions & Answers
Why do I need a GPS device on the golf course?
Easy to use, advanced GPS devices can give golfers a large amount of information in a small unit. GPS devices allow golfers to not only see the layout of the upcoming hole but assist in helping them choose a strategy for what clubs you’ll need on each shot.
With clear displays and colorful backdrops, GPS devices provide golfers with a full array of insight into each shot before it occurs.
Also, these devices not only show the golfer yardage and detailed maps but also have the capability of storing statistics on the round as the golfer plays all 18 holes.
For amateurs, detailed GPS devices can assist in helping them understand the yardage to the front, center, and back of the green. These devices can also give the golfer the precise distance to hazards such as water, sand and heavy rough.
What are the key characteristics I should look out for in a great golf GPS device?
There are five key features that golfers should look for in their GPS devices. Quality of display, accuracy of the readings, durability of the device, the app integration with your smartphone and how many pre-loaded courses come with the device are essential features that golfers must explore before buying a unit.
Since most GPS devices come in either a handheld device or wristwatch, the quality of the display is crucial to receiving all the information.
Some handheld devices give you a complete picture of the hole before you play, a terrific advantage for golfers playing a course for the first time. Wristwatches are more concise with the information they show on their display and less comprehensive.
Finding a GPS device that is well known for being accurate is also an essential feature to research. Most of the advanced devices give a precise reading to the hole within one yard of actual distance.
Finding a device that is durable is vital for making sure that you get value for your money. With the rigors of traveling and playing with a golf bag causing potential damage, you’ll want to make sure your GPS device is cared for during travel and play.
And then the last two features involve the sophistication of the device’s technology. Most GPS devices integrate via an app on your smartphone. The application can tally stats like total strokes, driving distance, and the number of putts.
Then this information is download to a website for a breakdown of your overall game. You’ll see where you need to improve to continue to shave strokes from your average.
Finally, each GPS device comes preloaded with courses from around the country. If you play one course the majority of the time, then you’ll need to make sure that the course’s layout comes preloaded onto your device.
Watch vs. Handheld: Which one should I pick?
In the debate between golf wristwatch devices versus handheld units, the answer comes down to preference.
For those who don’t want to carry around a handheld device, then the watch is a perfect alternative that gives accurate yardage while resting on your wrist.
The downside to a wristwatch is that the display is small, so the information provided will be focused on the distance to the flag and other limited measurements.
Golfers wanting a complete experience may be inclined to lean toward choosing the handheld device.
While some handheld units only give out yardage numbers, other devices provide a full layout of the upcoming hole, allowing the golfer to formulate a strategy that will dictate the correct club usage.
Which one is more convenient?
For convenience, it is hard to beat the wristwatch. The watch is compact, lightweight and doesn’t need attention. You just strap it to your wrist and then use it while you play.
The downside to the handheld device is that you must find a way to keep it handy while also not damaging it during play. Golfers who don’t like the handheld devices say maintenance is their number one complaint about the device.
Which one has more features?
Handheld devices win the battle on what device has more features. With a larger display and the ability to tally a host of statistics as you play, handheld GPS golf devices also work well with smartphone apps to give you a comprehensive overview of the layout and yardage to all areas of the course.
GPS watches are reasonably straightforward with the smaller display giving you yardage to the pin and possibly a couple of other areas of the green.
However, you could find yourself lost when trying to decide the distance to possible bunkers or water hazards.
Do I need to pay extra fees to use my device on the golf course?
No, users of GPS devices do not have to pay extra fees to use their unit on the golf course. That said, the thing that most GPS users need to be aware of, is how their use of a GPS device possibly affects the play of others.
For example, if you are using your device for long periods and not taking your shot when it is your turn to play, then the unit can become a source of frustration for other golfers.
GPS device owners need to take the time to learn their devices before they step foot on the course. By shrinking the learning curve and understanding how to use the device during the round’s downtime, you’ll save time, strokes and the patience of your fellow players.