When it comes to figuring out how far you and your golf ball are from where you want your golf ball to go, you have four options to make the calculation:
1. Just eyeball it and guess
2. Use a yardage book and/or laser-measured sprinkler heads, as well your feet, to dial in
3. Bust out your golf GPS device or app on your phone and get an approximation
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4. Pull out your laser rangefinder, shoot your target and get as close to an exact reading as possible.
Most folks eschew the first two choices, choosing either a golf GPS device or app, or going with a laser rangefinder product. However, since most golfers use one or the other, we thought we'd settle the debate: Should you use a golf GPS or a laser rangefinder?
The truth is that the answer depends on your skill level and where you play your golf.
Based on Your Skill Level
If you're above a mid-handicapper -- so, if you have trouble breaking 85 -- you probably only ever need a golf GPS, be it an app on your phone (and there are plenty of them) or a separate unit (which we'd recommend because it doesn't jack up your phone battery).
A basic GPS will give you yardages to the back, center and front of the green. Since higher-handicap players miss the green about 75 percent of the time anyhow, having that green-sized range is all you need.
If you have a more advanced GPS unit, or use an app, you're going to get approximate distances not only to the green, but also to all the hazards that are likely in play for a not-so-good player. That's good knowledge to have, as penalty strokes tend to really rack up for players who struggle to break 90. If you can take those out of play, then you can shave strokes quickly.
However, if you're a better player -- in that sub-85 range -- then you should be using a laser rangefinder. You are more likely to see trouble that's in play for your game from the tee box, so you can shoot it. You also are more likely to hit a green in regulation and have a decent look for birdie. That means an exact distance is important for you, which a laser rangefinder can do, assuming you use it properly.
Based on Where You Play
The second component, albeit perhaps less important, to answering this question has nothing to do with skill level and everything to do with where you play your golf.
If you have a home course, be it a private club or a public facility, you probably know the lay of the land very well. You know the hazards, the bunkers and the green complexes. That means you probably don't need to know how far it is to the middle-right fairway bunker, but you do need to know exactly where the hole is. You'll need a laser rangefinder for that and, really, nothing else.
If you're the traveling type or a local nomad, then a GPS is probably the way to go. With a GPS app, you're effectively getting the yardage book, which is handy for a place you'll rarely play, particularly if there are a lot of blind shots. It's good to know the lay of the land so that your ball doesn't magically get swallowed up by a suddenly appearing hazard.
So Why Not Both?
Of course, budget is a factor, too. Laser rangefinders are an investment, even value brands that still come in right around $170. Standalone GPS units can run from $70 to well over $200. However, if you're a laser rangefinder user and still want that yardage-book feel, maybe the way to go is scantily using an app you download from your phone's app store. As mentioned, there are plenty of good ones out there, from Golf Logix to Golf Shot to Swing by Swing, to ones provided by the likes of Arccos Golf and Game Golf that are free to use whether or not you own their hardware. You can bust out the app when you're playing somewhere new and otherwise save the battery life for avoiding phone calls, texts and emails.
In the end, picking a distance-measurement tool for golf is a personal decision, but, by and large, a good GPS unit or app is the way to go.