Garmin is known for making premium GPS products across many industries. I've covered many of their golf products, and they are always creating innovations that help golfers make smarter strategic decisions on the course. Recently, I got the details on the Garmin Approach G80 and was very surprised by its features. It is a handheld GPS and a launch monitor - something that has never been done before.
I was able to test the unit and my main goal was to establish whether or not the launch monitor feature was accurate. While I was confident the GPS functionality would be top notch, I also wanted to see how it stacked up against other products.
The Garmin Approach G80 comes with a hefty price tag of $499. So my main question was does the dual functionality make it a bargain, or is it overpriced?
Is The Launch Monitor Actually Good?
When I first heard the announcement about the Approach G80 I thought the features sounded incredibly cool, but I worried that the launch monitor functionality would fall short. I assumed that Garmin nailed the GPS feature (this is their bread and butter), but it would not hold up to the competition as a launch monitor.
The Garmin Approach G80 will display the following metrics during your practice sessions:
- Club Head Speed
- Ball Speed
- Smash Factor
- Swing Tempo
- Estimated Carry Distance & Roll
I asked the team at Garmin which metrics they directly measure versus what is estimated. They told me that ball speed, club speed, back swing time, and downswing time are measured directly. From those, swing tempo, smash factor, and yardages will be calculated.
I have tested almost every single device on the market ranging from the $300 models all the way up to the most expensive ones like Trackman and Foresight. None of them are perfect and have different weak spots. Generally speaking though, the more you pay, the more accuracy and features you get.
At $500 the Garmin Approach G80 provides dual functionality that hasn't been done before. But for the value proposition to work, each side of the product had to perform well.
Testing It Out
For a launch monitor priced at $500 and below you can't expect too much. In my estimation, if you can get reasonably accurate carry yardages and the unit is easy to use, then it is worth the money. If you want extra features like spin rates, launch angle, and full ball flight simulation you need to set your sights on products like SkyTrak and commercial launch monitors, which start at $2,000.
I measured the Garmin Approach G80 against my SkyTrak launch monitor. If you read my full review on SkyTrak you know I'm a big fan of the product. Using high-speed cameras, it gives very accurate measurements of what your golf ball is doing and functions as a simulator. While SkyTrak is not perfect, it's an excellent tool to use as a control in this experiment because I know its data is comparable to more expensive brands like Trackman and Foresight.
Additionally, I have all of my yardages mapped out for every club in my bag so I know pretty quickly whether or not I'm getting accurate results.
I took multiple swings with several clubs in my bag having each launch monitor measure at the same time, and here are my averages for carry distance:
Overall, I was very impressed with what I saw. On short irons, the results were almost identical. I thought the Approach G80 was underreporting my yardages on mid to long irons a little bit, but they are still in the ballpark. That led me to believe it would struggle reading my driver swings, but to my surprise, it did an excellent job giving me similar numbers I see with SkyTrak and on the course.
The Garmin Approach G80 is not perfect, but in this category of launch monitors, these are very reasonable results.
If you are looking for a quality net to go along with the Garmin G80, we recommend reading our Spornia SPG-7 review.
Quick, Easy to Use, and Great Features
One of the key metrics I use to evaluate any practice tool is ease of use. If it takes too long to set up, and the technology itself is complicated to interact with, the product will likely start collecting dust sooner rather than later.
The Garmin Approach G80 excelled in this area. You just set it to practice mode, place it within a foot of your golf ball, and you'll get a reading of your shot almost immediately. You don't need to tell the unit what club you're hitting (other products at this price level do), which is a huge plus.
On top of that, they've built some nice practice features into the launch monitor. You can use it in warm-up mode, which will allow you to hit any club in your bag.
My favorite feature is the target mode. You can select one or two players and hit to a series of yardages you choose. You'll then be given scores based on how accurate you are. I love features like these that will help give your practice sessions a little more structure and purpose.
The Approach G80 also allows you to play a virtual round. You're able to load up the GPS map of just about any golf course in the world. You then are able to hit your tee shots and approach shots while the device "simulates" where you would land. Granted, it's not very fancy or detailed, but it does help you go through your bag randomly and give each shot more meaning.
Lastly, another feature I enjoyed was swing tempo training. Anyone who read my feature article on swing tempo knows that I'm a huge proponent of working on your swing tempo during practice.
Overall, Garmin has done a great job building a practice companion. The Approach G80 can hold its own versus the competition with accuracy. I also think it offers the best mix of practice features at this price level.
Let's Not Forget About the GPS
The Garmin Approach G80 is also a handheld GPS unit. It comes pre-loaded with 41,000 courses and the battery is rated to last up to 15 hours.
I'm a big fan of GPS devices that give you map functionality. As a course manager, you want to know your yardages to key distances on each hole and I strongly believe it can help golfers make smarter decisions.
Garmin has an excellent track record in this area since they are one of the top GPS companies in the world. I've tested many of their golf products, most notably the Approach S60 watch, which I still believe is the best GPS golf watch on the market.
The Approach G80 does a great job of displaying maps of each hole, and it allows you to pick specific spots to see yardages with zoom functionality. Mostly, it's a larger version of what the Approach S60 watch features. The display is very clear even in sunlight so you'll have no issues making out the maps.
You can move pin positions on each green, mark shots to see how far you've hit them, and it does estimate yardages based on elevation changes (which can be disabled in tournament mode). On top of that, you can keep score for up to four players, allowing for handicap adjustments and scoring formats like Stableford or match play.
The device is relatively small so that you can fit it in your pocket, but it might be best to attach it to your push cart, carry bag, or an electric cart (it does come with a mounting kit).
The GPS functionality is excellent. Its main competition at this price level is the newly-released SkyCaddie SX500, which I wrote about in this review. I would give the edge to the SX500 performance because the unit is a little more rugged, and it has enhanced map functionality and screen resolution. However, SkyGolf charges a yearly fee for access to their maps, and it only functions as a GPS whereas the Garmin Approach G80 has the value of the launch monitor built in.
Should You Purchase the Garmin Approach G80?
I'm giving Garmin two big thumbs up on the Approach G80. They've done something unique and managed to create a product with dual functionality that does not sacrifice performance on either end. I didn't think a product like this was possible, but every year technology keeps getting pushed further.
However, $500 is a lot to spend. If you are only buying the Approach G80 for the GPS functionality, the price tag might be a bit too steep. If you were looking to use it just as a launch monitor I would say the same thing. The Voice Caddie SC200 is $200 less and offers similar features and accuracy. Also, the SC300 was just announced, which offers several other features such as launch angle and a dedicated app. If that's not enough to make your head spin - I also just reviewed the Rapsodo MLM.
The value proposition is if you own neither a GPS or a launch monitor, but you want both. The Garmin Approach G80 can be a great practice companion during your sessions at home, or at the driving range. Additionally, the GPS will offer plenty of functionality that you would expect from other premium products out there. It's more of a bundle deal and removes the need to have two separate units. The Garmin Approach G80 is available for sale here.
If you're interested in reading other reviews for products in this space, here are some related articles I've written: