Edited by: Jordan Fuller
Reviewed by: John Marshall
Gone are the days of searching for a sprinkler head or a 150-yard stone and pacing off a yardage from there, guessing at where the pin is and hoping you’ve calculated properly. These days, the first thing most golfers do when they get to their golf ball is pull out their rangefinder and shoot the yardage to the pin.
With the popularity of rangefinders booming, there’s been a proliferation of offerings in a wide range of prices. Do you really have to spend $400+ to get a good one? Is a bargain rangefinder worth the gamble or will it only provide frustration?
This article will guide your purchasing decision to help you find the perfect rangefinder for your needs and budget.
Last updated on 2019-11-21. The links are affiliate links. Product images are served from Amazon Product Advertising API.
Table Of Contents
- 1 Featured Recommendations
2 12 Best Golf Rangefinders
- 2.1 Editor's Choice: Bushnell Tour V4 JOLT Laser Rangefinder
- 2.2 Runner-up Budget Slope Rangefinder: Callaway 300 Pro Laser Rangefinder with Slope Measurement
- 2.3 Best Budget No-slope Rangefinder: TecTecTec VPRO500 Golf Rangefinder
- 2.4 Best Tournament Legal Rangefinder: Leupold 119087 GX-3i2 Digital Golf Rangefinder
- 2.5 Best Budget Rangefinder With Slope: TecTecTec! ULT-X Golf Rangefinder
- 2.6 If Money Is No Object: Bushnell Pro X2 Golf Laser Rangefinder
- 2.7 Rechargeable Battery Option: BOBLOV 650yds Golf Rangefinder
- 2.8 Nikon Coolshot 20 Golf Rangefinder
- 2.9 Bargain Basement Option: Wosports Golf Rangefinder with Slope
- 2.10 TecTecTec VPRO500S Golf Rangefinder with Slope
- 2.11 Precision Pro Golf NX-7 Pro Slope Golf Rangefinder
- 2.12 Rechargeable Plus Slope: Saybien Rechargeable Golf Rangefinder
- 3 Testing Protocol & Criteria Used For Evaluation
4 Questions & Answers
- 4.1 What is a rangefinder?
- 4.2 What are the key characteristics I should look for when buying a rangefinder?
- 4.3 How do I use a rangefinder on the golf course or driving range?
- 4.4 Are rangefinders allowed by the rules of golf?
- 4.5 Should I buy a rangefinder with slope calculation?
- 4.6 Should I opt for a laser rangefinder or is a GPS unit better?
12 Best Golf Rangefinders
Editor's Choice: Bushnell Tour V4 JOLT Laser Rangefinder
An excellent offering from the industry leader
The Bushnell Tour V4 JOLT Laser Rangefinder is the one you’ll find most often in the hands of PGA Tour Pros during practice rounds. It’s an excellent rangefinder that does a good job of locking onto the target and giving highly accurate readouts.
Bushnell has been the leading manufacturer of golf rangefinders since they first started popping up on golf courses, and this is a solid entry from the industry leader.
JOLT technology is Bushnell’s term for the vibration you get when the rangefinder locks on its target, which is usually the flagstick. It works great right out of the box, but I’ve noticed as the rangefinder ages it jolts less and less.
However, the yardages are still accurate so that’s really a minor quibble; it’s just nice to get that confirming vibration and when you don’t get it, you need to look elsewhere to make sure that the distance you’re reading makes sense.
One part the Bushnell rangefinder falls short is in the sturdiness of its housing. It’s lightweight plastic and doesn’t feel like it offers sufficient protection for the jostling and drops than can happen during a round of golf. It’s certainly much less rugged than the Leupold housing.
But they do include a nice silicone sleeve to provide extra protection for the Tour V4, which goes a long way to help. Much like an effective cell phone case, the silicone sleeve gives that extra layer of shock absorption and protection for the inevitable drops and abuse that the rangefinder will take. It’s a necessary addition for an underwhelming housing.
If there’s one strike against Bushnell, it’s in their customer support reputation. Occasionally we’ve had trouble getting a response from them at all, and sometimes their responses are inadequate or unsatisfying.
If you have trouble with your Bushnell rangefinder, you’ve got mixed chances at successfully obtaining warranty service or replacement. So I advise you to be gentle with a Bushnell, especially outside the 2-year warranty period.
Overall, however, the Tour V4 is a great no-slope, fully tournament legal option that’ll give you reliably accurate readings.
Runner-up Budget Slope Rangefinder: Callaway 300 Pro Laser Rangefinder with Slope Measurement
Solid rangefinder from Callaway
Most major golf manufacturers are happy to leave the laser rangefinder category to the companies that have long specialized in binoculars and hunting scopes, like Bushnell and Leupold. But Callaway have anted up with a rangefinder of their own to put in the mix, and it’s a very good entry.
The price is very attractive for a rangefinder with 6x magnification and slope reading, but a few aspects leave something to be desired.
Long range vision
The Callaway 300 Pro advertises that it provides yardages for targets up to 1000 yards away, and I was able to pick things up from about 500 yards — longer than anyone will probably ever need during a round of golf. This is an impressive feat, but it’s somewhat marred by the fact that once you get outside of about 100 yards, the picture gets fuzzier and fuzzier.
No matter how much I tried to adjust the focus to crisp up and clarify the image, it just wouldn’t quite resolve into the crystal-clear images found in some of the top-tier options. While this wasn’t an issue for a typical iron shot, it became difficult on par 5s and long par 3s to be sure that I was shooting the correct target.
Another feature that seems minor but might cause problems is that the 300 Pro features a “Pin Acquisition Technology” that chirps when it’s locked onto the pin. Instead of a silent vibration that only the user of the rangefinder knows is happening, the 300 Pro chirps loudly and proudly when it gets a lock.
So what’s the problem? Well, imagine you’re at the top of your backswing when you hear a weird chirping sound from your playing partner five yards away. It’s potentially distracting enough to affect someone’s swing, so be sure you’re shooting your yardage when no one is swinging nearby.
The Callaway 300 Pro offers a slope measurement, which it immediately uses to calculate an “actual” yardage for your shot. However, on more than one occasion, the slope calculation under-represented the slope, applying only 2 degrees when other rangefinders gave 3 degrees or more.
More often than not, it was correct, but it underestimated enough to give me pause. If it spits out a number that doesn’t quite pass the eye test, trust your instincts and take a little bit extra.
Best Budget No-slope Rangefinder: TecTecTec VPRO500 Golf Rangefinder
Low-cost option doesn’t sacrifice accuracy
TecTecTec’s non-slope-reading entry on this list, the VPRO500, is an accurate unit that measures yardages up to 500 yard with as much precision as rangefinders that cost twice as much.
However, there are a few compromises you make when you opt for the budget option. If you’re interested in spending as little as possible for a good, accurate reading, this is one you should take a long look at. But for really elite performance, you may want to spend a bit more.
When you first pull the VPRO500 out of the box, it feels a bit like a light, cheaply made plastic toy. I have no faith that this will survive even a medium-height drop onto a paved cart path.
So I’d suggest buying a protective sleeve for it. However, the protective sleeve will run you an extra $15-20, and it makes the operation of the rangefinder a little clunkier.
A less noticeable but still problematic aspect of the VPRO500 is that the battery cover is just a sliding piece of plastic. Other, more expensive rangefinders have battery compartments that are locked and sealed (generally requiring unscrewing with a coin or similar) to protect against water entering the battery compartment.
There’s no such protection here, so you’ll need to be careful about keeping your VPRO500 dry. Don’t drop it into dewy grass, and use it under an umbrella if it’s raining. If you do get it wet, make sure you dry it off quickly with a towel, and if it gets submerged I’d suggest removing the battery entirely and letting it air dry.
The good thing is that, for half the price of a comparable Bushnell or Leupold rangefinder, you can get exact yardages to your targets with speed and precision. The VPRO500 has a pinsensor tech that helps ensure that you get the flagstick, even against a tree-filled backdrop.
The scan mode, which gives you a consistent reading while you move the reticle from target to target, is very effective as well — if you can see the numbers, which sometimes show up just out of sight and require a bit of tilting to display properly.
For the occasional golfer who doesn’t want to spend an arm and a leg on an elite rangefinder, the VPRO500 is an acceptable, if slightly flawed, option.
Best Tournament Legal Rangefinder: Leupold 119087 GX-3i2 Digital Golf Rangefinder
Fast, accurate, excellent target acquisition, sturdy build
The Leupold GX3i2 is an excellent, straight-to-the-point rangefinder that sticks to the basics and does it very well. With a bright red reticle and OLED screen, the GX3i2 is easy to read in all conditions. It’s rugged aluminum case is a step up from the cheaper-feeling plastic of most other brands.
The readings pop up quickly and are dead-on accurate to a tenth of a yard. Leupold is a company known for making the best laser gun sights in the world, so it’s no surprise that their golf rangefinder is a winner.
The GX3i2 is as straightforward as it gets: shoot target, get yardage. The bright red reticle and yardage displays are a breeze to read, much easier than the dull black of other brands that can sometimes fade into the background or get washed out in the sun.
With no slope readings, the GX3i2 is legal to use in tournament conditions.
The sturdy aluminum enclosure really sets the Leupold apart from other rangefinders. While it’s still lightweight, the strong metal case feels great in your hands and will withstand a good deal of abuse.
While the laser optics contained inside are still delicate, you can drop this on a cart path and be confident that it’ll still work just fine.
The battery life is impressive, lasting for over two months of regular play. There are a few different modes, including “scan mode”, which i’m a big fan of. Instead of locking on one target, it sends a steady laser that gives a constant readout of whatever you’re looking at. This way you can ensure that you’re picking up the pin — start the readout at a tree behind the green, and when you get to the pin you’ll see the number change.
Best Budget Rangefinder With Slope: TecTecTec! ULT-X Golf Rangefinder
Loaded with features and highly accurate
TecTecTec is looking to break the virtual monopoly that Bushnell has on rangefinders, and the ULT-X is a great product that should make good inroads on the market for them.
With advanced features like distance measurements up to 1000 yards, extreme accuracy, vibrating pin lock, slope measurement with sliding faceplate, and a high quality carrying case, the ULT-X successfully competes with rangefinders nearly double its price.
If you want to turn the slope measurement on, just pull the faceplate out from the body of the rangefinder. A bright yellow stripe will appear, indicating that the slope measurement is activated and the rangefinder isn’t tournament legal.
Need to use it in a tournament? Just slide the faceplate back flush with the body, hide the yellow stripe and you’re good to go! This versatility and clever design makes the ULT-X a great option for elite players who want to shoot slope ratings during a practice round and still use the same rangefinder in the tournament proper.
I’m Picking Up Good Vibrations
The ULT-X boasts extreme accuracy, especially on tough-to-shoot pins over 150 yards away. With its proprietary “TGT (Target Lock Technology)” system, the rangefinder vibrates when it locks on the flagstick.
This is very reliable, but always double-check if there are trees surrounding the green, as there were a few instances where I thought I’d shot the pin but it turned out to be a tree. Most courses have 150-yard markers at the very least, so use common sense to make sure that you’re actually locked on the pin.
The ULT-X also has impressive resolution at 6x magnification. This can be especially useful in match play when you may not be quite sure if your opponent has hit the green or fairway — you can use the rangefinder as a binocular of sorts to get a better idea of where a ball might be.
The only issue I ran into with the display was that the yardage numbers were displayed quite high on the screen and became difficult to read at times. They’re black, so if displayed against a dark background like dirt or brown trees, they don’t exactly jump out.
Overall, the TecTecTec ULT-X represents a solid value and one of the top rangefinders on the market.
If Money Is No Object: Bushnell Pro X2 Golf Laser Rangefinder
The priciest rangefinder tested provides elite performance
With the Bushnell Pro X2, you’ll find all the bells and whistles and notable features possible packed into one excellent package, complete with a sturdy, rugged metal housing with comfortable rubber grips.
So why isn’t it the winner? Well, it’s extremely expensive. Coming in at over $100 more expensive than any other rangefinder tested, it’ll cost you as much as a brand new, top of the line driver.
Is it worth it?
The performance is undeniable: the Bushnell ProX2 is as accurate and fast as the Leupold rangefinder, and adds on an incredibly accurate slope calculation option. It has an on/off slope switch to make it tournament legal when necessary. It’s solid metal case with rubber grips is tough and fully waterproof.
The ProX2 picks up yardages nearly immediately, and the JOLT technology locks onto targets with a nice vibration. Slope measurements are clearly displayed. The optics are spot-on, looking like High-Definition TV through the top-quality lens.
Lasers are delicate
But here’s the thing: the internals are very similar to all the other rangefinders tested. Which means that there are delicate lasers and lenses and wiring and everything inside the housing. The average life for a rangefinder, even one as well-built as the Pro X2, is just over two years.
So while this will survive drops and tosses, it won’t survive them forever. Is it worth spending twice as much for an item you’re still likely to have to replace in a few years? When you can buy three rangefinders that still give really good readings for the price of one of these, is it worth it?
Ultimately, that’s going to be up to you. But I’d rather spend my money on a better value and have more left over for greens fees and lessons.
One feature that I love that I hope will be implemented into lower-priced models soon is the “dual-display” option that Bushnell provides. With a single press of the Mode button, you can switch from a deep black to a bright, popping red display.
With many other rangefinders focusing on accuracy and under-delivering on seemingly essential things like clear yardage readings on displays, Bushnell has provided multiple display options. This ensures that you’ll be able to easily see the yardages no matter the light conditions.
I hope this type of design innovation catches the eye of other manufacturers and makes its way into their offerings.
Rechargeable Battery Option: BOBLOV 650yds Golf Rangefinder
BOBLOV is a new entrant into the rangefinder market, and there’s a lot to like about their reasonably priced rangefinder with a USB-chargeable battery and slope measurement.
However, it’s most useful for golfers who don’t hit the ball a long way as measurements outside of 200 yards are very tough to get. If you don’t hit the ball much further than 200 yards, the BOBLOV is an excellent, low-cost rangefinder.
Instead of a disposable CR2 battery like most rangefinders use, the BOBLOV has a rechargeable lithium battery permanently installed. It comes with a charging cable, so you can just plug that into your cell phone charger, USB outlet, or computer to charge the rangefinder. It lasts an impressive 7-10 rounds on a single charge, and has a fairly reliable battery life indicator.
The battery life drops off significantly once it hits 50%, so when you see it approaching that number make sure you take it home with you to charge it.
I’m a bit torn on the rechargeable battery aspect. I love that it creates less waste and that you don’t have to shell out big bucks for pricey CR2 batteries. But if you’ve got an early tee time to make, it’s very easy to forget that your rangefinder is plugged into the wall. You may find yourself arriving at the golf course and realizing your rangefinder is still at home, charging on your kitchen counter.
And if the battery does run out mid-round, you can’t simply replace it with a backup battery. You may want to buy a portable battery charger to keep in your bag for emergency mid-round charging.
The BOBLOV rangefinder is acceptable within 200 yards. The margin of error was about 2 yard from 100 yards out, and about 3-4 yards from 175. That’s worse than more expensive rangefinders, but it’s better than most GPS units.
However, outside of 200 yards, I found it hard to get it to lock onto anything at all. It definitely had trouble picking up flagsticks even on clear days, and more often than not would give me a measurement to something farther off in the distance.
If you’re a shorter hitter, the BOBLOV will work for you. But if you need to know whether it’s a 210-yard 4-iron or a 225-yard hybrid, it’d be wise to look for a better unit that works from longer distances.
Nikon Coolshot 20 Golf Rangefinder
Disappointing performance from a respected manufacturer
Nikon is a company known for their world-class cameras. They’ve also been in the golf rangefinder market for longer than you may realize, as they used to manufacture the Callaway-branded rangefinders.
But the Nikon Coolshot 20 is a disappointing entry from an overall very good manufacturer. We had trouble getting good readings from distances beyond 150 yard, which outweighed the exceptional battery life and good optics through the viewfinder.
It sure does look good
The Coolshot 20 is a sleek, extremely lightweight and compact unit that’s built well. It’s weatherproof so you don’t have to worry about using it in wet, rainy conditions. It comes with a nice carrying case and fits very nicely and comfortably in your hands.
Looking through the viewfinder, you’ll notice excellent clarity. If you’re just using the Coolshot 20 as a binocular-type magnifying tool, it’s great at that with its 6x magnification.
Long distance issues
But we’re looking for performance over style, and the Nikon Coolshot 20 only delivers part-time performance. From 150 yards and it, it’s spot on. But it’s like it hits a wall and just won’t grab the flagstick from further out than that. I found myself just shooting the ground around the flag, or a bunker face in front of the green and guessing the yardage from there.
To me, that’s just unacceptable given the other options on the rangefinder market. I did find one single Coolshot 20 that would actually shoot yardages up to 200 yards, but the others we tried were consistently inconsistent, if that makes sense.
You may be able to send your Coolshot 20 to Nikon for recalibration, but I think a rangefinder should work right out of the box. Despite the long battery life and the impressive optics, there are better options on the market.
Bargain Basement Option: Wosports Golf Rangefinder with Slope
Laden with features but comes up short overall
The Wosports Golf Rangefinder is a low-cost option that has an attractive price tag and list of features. However, buried deep down in that list of features may be its main problem: it lists that it’s also an excellent hunting rangefinder, in addition to golf.
However, hunting rangefinders, while they use the same basic technology as golf rangefinders, are actually very differently tuned. This may explain why the Wosports Golf Rangefinder has some basic issues finding the flagstick, which holds it back from being a top-tier option.
The biggest difference between a golf and a hunting rangefinder is that a golf rangefinder is designed to find a very thin object (flagstick) out in the open. A hunting rangefinder is supposed to find a large object (a deer, say) through a bunch of small obstacles like twigs and branches. So a hunting rangefinder won’t grab a skinny target like a flagstick. When a company like Wosports tries to make one rangefinder to perform both tasks, they run into issues.
Even though the Wosports rangefinder offers separate modes for golf and hunting, it seemed to only do an approximation of each instead of excelling at one or the other.
From shorter yardages inside about 130, I had no issues picking up the flag quickly. As we got to 150 yards or so, I’d need to shoot it 4 or 5 times to get anything at all. And sometimes, what I was able to pick up wasn’t the flagstick.
This performance (or lack thereof) will negatively affect the pace of play and could have you playing the wrong yardages as well.
Blur and slope issues
The optics also suffered outside of 200 yards, as I struggled to find a crisp focus at that distance. With poor optics and poor reliability, I can’t suggest this for anyone who regularly hits shots outside of 200 yards.
And when I attempted to engage the slope function, it simply returned bad numbers. Steep hills read as small inclines, while mostly flat shots would sometimes read as 3-4 degrees of incline and suggest an extra, unnecessary 15-20 yards.
If you find the low price tag appealing and are only looking for good performance up to 150 yards, the Wosports will fit the bill. But if you’re looking for a full-function rangefinder, I’d move on.
TecTecTec VPRO500S Golf Rangefinder with Slope
Added slope feature seems to mess with accuracy
The TecTecTec VPRO500S should just be the exact same thing as the VPRO500 reviewed above, with the added advantage of a switchable slope technology.
While the VPRO500 has a few issues, it’s still a very good rangefinder for the price. But the VPRO500S, while commanding a higher price for having the slope function added on, unfortunately performs worse at the basic function of getting a yardage reading.
The vibration PinSensor technology in the VPRO500S was all too happy to buzz away when I tried to shoot the flagstick. But then I’d shoot the same flagstick again and the reading would be 5 yards different. Then I’d shoot it with a Bushnell, and it would be 15 yards off! It turns out the Bushnell was right, while the VPRO500S was only giving an approximate range instead of a laser-accurate reading.
This level of variance just isn’t acceptable at any level of golf. 1 or 2 yards difference? I’m ok with that, especially if it saves you a few hundred dollars. Five yards difference won’t affect high-handicappers too much, but good players will find that unacceptable. The VPRO500S was closer to 5-15 yards of variance, which isn’t even good enough for high handicappers.
The slope reading
Strangely, the VPRO500S seemed to get more accurate when reading with slope that it was without it. At that point, the variance from a top-tier rangefinder was only a yard or two.
So if you plan to use it only in slope mode, it’s acceptable. But I don’t trust that it’ll stay that way, because of the flaws of the non-slope-enabled mode.
Aside from the slope function, this has the same minor durability issues that I raised in the VPRO500 review, so if you do wind up with this rangefinder, make sure you grab a protective silicone case and keep it dry. However, I think it’s worth it to spend a few extra dollars and grab a better model.
Precision Pro Golf NX-7 Pro Slope Golf Rangefinder
Decent performance but there are better options for the price
Precision Pro isn’t a very well-known brand, but with a price tag rivaling those found in Bushnell, Leupold and other elite rangefinder manufacturers, I had high hopes for the NX-7. It’s a lovely unit and comes with an awesome, unique feature: free battery replacement!
Unfortunately, the unit was not very reliable with its yardages, often shooting the front of the green instead of the pin and sometimes taking way too many button pushes to get any reading at all.
Wait, free batteries?
That’s right, instead of having to buy expensive CR2 batteries that are often $6+ each at a drugstore, you just fill out your info on their website and they’ll send you one.
This could be a game-changer as it can save you upwards of $30-40/year over other brands. If Precision Pro keeps this program going and can improve their main product a little bit, they could make serious inroads on the rangefinder market.
Slope’s right on
The optional slope calculation (it has a tournament-legal mode and a slope mode) is actually remarkably accurate, if you can manage to get a read on the flag. On sharply uphill shots, I’d have the flag right in the middle of the reticule but the NX-7 would give a reading to the front of the green instead.
It took several tries to get the flagstick to register, an unnecessary and frustrating delay.
On a perfect day with bright sun and flagsticks with nothing near them, the GX-7 worked just fine. But anytime it was hazy, overcast or the golf course was tree-lined or hilly, the GX-7 just required too much work to acquire the target. And the visuals through the viewfinder were subpar. It felt like the focus was almost there, but I couldn’t quite get it to resolve to 20/20.
The bottom line
If this rangefinder was $100 cheaper, I’d have nicer things to say about it. But when there’s as much competition on the market, you’d better be getting elite performance from a $250+ rangefinder, and the Precision Pro GX-7 has a ways to go before it gets there.
It’s a promising start and I’ll have my eye on this company going forward, especially with their excellent slope algorithm and their innovative free battery program.
Rechargeable Plus Slope: Saybien Rechargeable Golf Rangefinder
The Saybien golf rangefinder is the second rechargeable unit reviewed, and the only one that features both rechargeability and slope. The price is attractive too, at under $200.
However, the rangefinder is cheaply made of flimsy plastic and feels fragile. The focus knob is too loose and hard to keep in the right place, and the thing just won’t find the pin.
The best aspect of the Saybien rangefinder is that it comes with a battery that can be charged via Micro USB cable. I went in pretty deep on the BOBLOV review above, so I won’t rehash what’s been said before.
Basically, if you’re looking for a unit that you won’t have to buy batteries for, this is your other option.
The Saybien, when you can get it to pick up the proper target, actually does provide a fairly decent slope calculation. It was within a few yards of exact, which really isn’t bad for a rangefinder in this price range.
However, it was very difficult to pick up the flagstick. I found myself just shooting the ground around the green and hoping it was telling me the yardage to a part of the green near the flag.
Don’t drop it
The unit feels cheap when you take it out of the box, and it’ll break easily. It’s not one that you can confidently toss to one of your playing partners. I’d worry about it breaking even if they catch it gracefully.
Sometimes going for the cheap option is a great bargain, and sometimes you just wind up with something poorly made. Unfortunately, the latter is the case with the Saybien.
The optics aren’t great, the focus knob is too loose to dial in a good focus, and the flag is too hard to shoot. I’d suggest looking elsewhere.
Testing Protocol & Criteria Used For Evaluation
Criteria 1: Accuracy
The number one requirement for a rangefinder is that it must be spot-on accurate. If we wanted a variability of 5 or 6 yards on each measurement, we’d go for a GPS yardage finder that can also provide a map of the hole and yardages to the front and back of the green.
The reason we’re using a rangefinder is for pinpoint accuracy (no pun intended). The difference between a 55 yard and a 60 yard chip could be a tap-in birdie or a tough 15-foot downhill putt.
We also want to be sure that the yardage is accurate to the target we select. If your rangefinder accidentally picks up a tree behind the flagstick instead of the flag itself, you may find yourself significantly over-clubbing. So you want to be sure that the yardage is accurate and specific to your intended target.
Criteria 2: Durability
The average golfer will use their rangefinder 30-40 times per round, and more on tough courses with a lot of doglegs and hazards.
The rangefinder will be taken in and out of its case, tossed around, left on the seat of the golf cart, dropped, mishandled, rained on, dropped again, and rained on some more. It has to be built strong enough to take a beating and still crank out accurate yardages without blinking.
With price tags starting in the low $100s and climbing all the way up to $400 and beyond, we’re looking for a rangefinder that will work this summer, next summer, and many years to come.
Criteria 3: Battery Life
There are few things more frustrating than grabbing your rangefinder on that tough par 3 tee box and seeing the display suddenly go dim.
The battery indicator is flashing EMPTY and you’ve forgotten to bring a backup. You’re stuck either pacing off yardages for the rest of the round, or annoying your playing partners with request after request for them to shoot a yardage for you. Not to mention that the CR2 batteries that a lot of these rangefinders use can get pretty pricey!
As much as we like our bright displays and extra features, something as simple as battery life can make or break a rangefinder. I want one that will last at least 30-40 rounds (which, for many golfers, is an entire golf season).
If I’m having to switch out batteries every couple of weeks, that rangefinder is going to get replaced with one that won’t eat batteries.
Criteria 4: Value
With such a wide range of price points for rangefinders, we want to be sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck. Can you just pick the lowest-priced one and be on your merry way to the golf course, or will that sacrifice too much performance? Is it worth it to spend some extra money for extra features or is a simpler, lower cost option the best way to go?
Either way, the last thing you want is a frustrating experience with a rangefinder that doesn’t work right or constantly malfunctions in the middle of a round. The value rating takes into account initial cost, cost of replacement batteries, and how good the performance is relative to the price.
Criteria 5: Display/Optics
The Display/Optics rating takes into account what your eye sees when it peers through the lens of the rangefinder.
The best optics will be crystal clear, like looking through a rifle scope or binoculars.
There should be no blurring at all, crystal clear images coming through making it easy to pick out the proper target. We’re looking for at least 5x magnification and an easy focus adjustment mechanism (that stays in place once it’s adjusted).
As far as display, we’re looking for a highly effective reticle to make sure you’re aimed properly (or the option to pick from several different reticles) as well as clearly visible yardage readouts. They should pop out against any background and should be clearly visible whether you’re playing in the haze of dusk or under the bright glare of high noon sun.
Questions & Answers
What is a rangefinder?
A rangefinder is a device that looks kind of like a binocular, but it’s just meant to be held up to one eye. Most have a button on top that activates a laser beam that shoots at your target, and rebounds to the sensor beneath your eyepiece. It uses the laser sensor to determine how far it is to whatever target you shot, whether it was a flagstick, a tree, a bunker face, or whatever.
What are the key characteristics I should look for when buying a rangefinder?
Your rangefinder should provide a yardage measurement that’s precise to the yard. Some go farther than that and provide half-yards or even 1/10s of a yard, and while that’s interesting, it’s not necessary.
The rangefinder should excel and picking up a flagstick no matter what’s behind it. A rangefinder that requires a long time to focus in on the target will just frustrate you and slow down play.
It should come with a carrying case that protects it when it’s not in use, and clips onto your bag for easy storage. It should be simple and efficient to use. When you buy it, you can usually tweak the settings so the viewfinder is set to your liking, and then on the course it should be a simple matter of “push button, get yardage.”
How do I use a rangefinder on the golf course or driving range?
The rangefinder is useful for more than just finding out the distance to the flagstick. You may want to use it to shoot the bank of a pond to make sure you have enough club to carry it, or the tree on the other side of a dogleg so you don’t drive the ball through the fairway.
At the driving range, a rangefinder can help you really dial in your distances. This is especially useful with ¾ and ½ wedge shots.
Take out your sand wedge and hit a few half wedge shots, taking note of where they land. Once you’ve got a consistent landing spot, you can use your rangefinder to shoot a target near that spot and voila! You now know exactly how far your ½ sand wedge goes (hot tip: it’s not as simple as “half the distance of a full shot”).
You can also use a rangefinder to find out how far you can fly your driver. Shoot a target far down the range and see if you can fly your driver past it. This may come in handy if you’re trying to cut off a dogleg or take an aggressive line over a hazard.
Are rangefinders allowed by the rules of golf?
In almost all circumstances, yes. If you’re playing golf in a professional tournament or you’re trying to qualify for the US Open, no. Even some professional tournaments will allow them via a local rule, so check your rules sheet!
Technically, rangefinders must be allowed via a “local rule” but essentially every non-PGA Tour tournament allows them, including USGA national amateur championships.
However, if you are good enough to be playing in a professional tournament that disallows rangefinders (generally called “distance measuring devices” in rules parlance), leave your rangefinder in the car or hide in far in the recesses of your golf bag.
You’d be surprised how automatic the “rangefinder reach” is: as soon as you get to your ball, you’ll be grabbing for your rangefinder whether it’s allowed or not. Best to not have it there at the ready, as you can risk several penalty strokes or even disqualification.
Should I buy a rangefinder with slope calculation?
Well, now we’re getting into a bit of a grey area. Slope calculations (that is, a rangefinder that also tells you how many yards of elevation there are between you and the target) are not legal to use in either recreational golf or tournament play.
However, much as playing partners used to have a “gentlemen’s’ agreement” that using rangefinders was OK before the USGA legalized them, many amateur or recreational players choose to use rangefinders with slope measurements anyway.
Most slope-enabled rangefinders have a “tournament mode” so they can be used for distance-only when you’re playing in official events or when your playing partners don’t want you using slope measurements.
Slope measurements can come in very handy during practice rounds for tournaments. Just shoot a slope yardage for any major hills and mark it down in your yardage book — it’ll give you a leg up on the guy who’s just guessing.
Should I opt for a laser rangefinder or is a GPS unit better?
This one ultimately is up to you. Personally, I prefer having a laser rangefinder as it gives you extremely precise measurements to whatever target you fire the laser at. However, GPS models will give you certain advantages, such as overhead views of a hole so you can make a good plan of attack even if shots are blind or deceptive.
However, GPS units give much less reliable yardages. On a clear day, you can expect drift of up to 5 yards or so, and on a cloudy day it can get much worse. You may even lose your signal entirely. Many GPS units or phone apps also eat batteries, so if you get stuck in a slow round, you may run out of power before you’re done.
Maybe it’s a good idea to have both at your disposal, but if you go this route, make sure it doesn’t slow you down too much! You’ll become the least popular golfer on the course if you take ten minutes before every shot trying to figure out exact yardages.
For quickness and accuracy, I’d recommend a rangefinder for most golfers.