One of the most effective ways amateur golfers can improve their game is to invest in a handheld golf GPS device. Proper course management is a fantastic way of knocking shots of your scorecard but it is a part of the game that too many of us neglect. With a golf GPS system to do the hard work, there is now no excuse for getting it wrong.

The golf GPS system as an aid for golfers may only have been around for a few years but already their impact has been quite amazing.

It was back in 2000 that US President Bill Clinton decreed that GPS (or Global Positioning System) technology from American satellites could be used commercially.

He can't have known how big a favour he was doing his fellow golfers.

Golf GPS systems use satellites to pinpoint your exact location. At their simplest level golf GPS systems then use this information to give golfers valuable information on yardages, including distance to the green and distance to hazards.

In the past couple of years the GPS market has exploded. That's good news for golfers provided they can look through the bewildering array of options to find the device that best suits their needs and their budget.

The Rules

You're unlikely to see any players marching around Augusta on the final Sunday of The Masters studying a GPS handheld device. On the other hand they all have real life caddies to give them a helping hand.

Most of us rarely get the chance to use a caddie that knows our game and the course equally well. That's where golf GPS can come in.

The R&A has changed its rules to allow the use of golf GPS devices if they have been approved by the individual golf club and a change in the local rules. This now covers club competitions as well as general play.

There has been much debate about the use of golf GPS systems and not all clubs have been prepared to change their rulings. So the golden rule is always to check if you are in any doubt.

With many golfers and administrators now convinced that the use of GPS devices is actually an effective way of combating slow play it seems certain that more and more clubs will allow the use of GPS golfing aids in the future.

As golf GPS offers more and more information it is important to remember that the rules only cover distance measuring devices and devices offering wind or elevation measurement would not be permissible even if the local rule had been changed to allow distance measuring devices.

As with golf GPS sytems the R&A have amended their rules to allow for the use of distance measuring devices such a golf rangefinders if sanctioned by Local Rules. So the golden rule is the same: always check with the course before you use the device. And, as with GPS devices, your golf rangefinder must only measure distance to be permissible.

There are several options:

Golf GPS Handheld Systems

GolfBuddy PT4

GPS devices are mainly about yardages, but there are plenty of other features to help you with course management. The simplest device will give you the distance to the front of the green or yardages to the front, centre and back of the green.

Some of these more basic golf GPS systems will also provide measurements to two or three additional hazards on each hole. If you are lucky enough to regularly travel to play golf then you might also want to consider how many courses your GPS handheld device can store.

Many now offer the option of keeping a 100 more courses on the device while many manufacturers have easily downloadable databases of thousands of courses on their websites. It's also worth checking how much these additional courses will cost you. Some manufacturers offer free access but remember to check in case there are any extra charges.

As well as helping with course management GPS handheld golfing aids can also help you find out more about your own game. Many models now offer the option of tracking your own game. With these you can store information about fairways hit, greens in regulations, sand saves and driving distances. If you enjoy tracking your statistics or want to get a better knowledge of your own game then these are well worth considering.

It's easy to be blinded by the technology when discussing golf GPS systems but there also some practical considerations before you buy. We'd all love to only play golf in good weather but that doesn't always happen so check if the device you are interested is waterproof, rainproof and impact resistant. But don't rule out those sunny days, an anti-glare screen will make life much easier.

Finally remember to test your favoured GPS handheld golf device for ease of use. You want it to improve your game and it won't do that if you get flustered trying to use it. With so many different models available there is great variation in the usability of golf GPS systems including new touchscreen devices. It’s certainly a good idea to choose one that you feel confident and comfortable with.

Golf GPS Systems on Golf Trolleys

If you already have an electric golf trolley or you are considering buying one then it is well worth considering how the trolley can fit in with your golf GPS requirements.

On the simplest level this can amount to no more adding a holder for the GPS handheld device to your trolley. If you plan to do this and already own a GPS handheld system then it is well worth checking out that there are compatible attachments for the trolley you are considering buying.

There are also more and more options if you are considering combining both electric golf trolley and golf GPS systems. Many manufacturers are now making some form of golf GPS system an integral part of their trolleys. If you are considering buying a golf trolley with built-in GPS there a couple of things to consider.

Firstly it's a good idea to check that the inbuilt GPS system has the same features that you would expect in a stand alone device. The convenience of an inbuilt in device will soon be lost if doesn't carry out the functions you require.

Many golf GPS enable trolleys have a disable option that you can use when playing competitions or on course that don't allow golf GPS systems but it is worth checking that there is such an option and that your course or club will allow you to use a trolley featuring a disabled GPS system during competition play.

Golf GPS Software and Apps for Smartphones

Fun Golf iPhone App

With so many gadgets now available you may feel that a GPS golf system is a step too far. If that's the case then you might like to consider using your smartphone as a GPS system and, thankfully, there is already an app for that.

Installing golf GPS software might give you access to preloaded course maps or you might have to do some mapping yourself if the course has not already been mapped. Mapping courses yourself does not usually take long and whilst this does involve time, it does allow you to create your own distance points on the map to suit your game, like special lay-up areas.

With our pockets overflowing with gadgetry these days it is certainly a tempting option to combine your golf GPS system with your existing phone and, as you only need to buy the golf GPS software, it can also be a cheaper option.

On the plus side this gives you access to many of the key features of any golf GPS handheld device without the need to shell out for hardware and operation of the software should prove quite simple if you are already adept at working your phone.

As many are effectively online based, then there are usually more interactive features such as live scoring, shot distance averaging and live online scorecards and maps for others to follow your progress around the course online.

On the downside the quality of the GPS system may not be as good as a dedicated device and battery life is likely to be shorter. A dedicated golf GPS handheld device usually has power to last for several rounds on a single charge, whereas a phone is not and if battery power is a problem with your handset then it is unlikely to last through a full round of use.

Installing golf GPS software on your phone will mean you are governed by the same rules and restrictions as any such device would be. If, however, the course you are playing has a total ban on mobile phones then you would be unable to use your GPS system, a major consideration if a course you play regularly has such a local rule.

Golf Rangefinders

Nikon Coolshot Laser Rangefinder

Golf rangefinders, or lasers, are a common alternative to GPS devices and bring their own advantages and disadvantages. With a golf rangefinder there is no need to download maps or worry about the strength of satellite signals. You just point the golf rangefinder at the target and it uses lasers to bounce a signal off the target and back to the handset to work out the distance. They can be pointed at flags, bunkers or other points of interest. Many come with technology to distinguish between the flag and trees behind it.

Many golf rangefinders also come with the function to also measure any change in elevation or other factors affecting your shot such as temperature. At present these features are not permissible in competitive play so make sure these functions can be disabled and that you can use it with the function disabled in a competition.

On the downside bright sunlight, fog or rain can hamper the performance of laser pulses that rangefinders use to measure distances. Also you have to have line of sight of the target, so if you are trying to measure a distance round a dog leg or tree then the rangefinder won’t be able to help you, nor will it provide an overall map of the hole.

Similarly the target you are trying to measure the distance to might not reflect the laser pulse back to the golf rangefinder making it impossible to measure distances. This is especially true if the target is small, dark coloured or has angular surfaces.

On the other hand in the right conditions a golf rangefinder can offer more accuracy than golf GPS systems and it is also a real help on the driving range if you are trying to get a better idea of the distance of each club in your bag. As with golf GPS systems when choosing your golf rangefinder always consider ease of use.

There is little point spending a large sum of money on a device that you then struggle to use. Anything that is complicated or fiddly to use is likely to defeat its purpose and become more of a distraction than an aid to your game. Choose the device that you are most comfortable with.

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