Why Rangefinders Aren't for Everybody

The GPS and the Rangefinder have helped make things a little easier for us on the golf course. They have taken a lot of the guesswork out of knowing our yardages, and have definitely helped out our games.

Personally I think it’s time that the PGA tour & USGA allow everyone to use them during tournament play. That’s a whole other conversation though about tradition and technology.

I myself use this GPS device, which I absolutely love. If I had to make a suggestion to most golfers, I would go with the GPS unit because I think the information it gives you is more valuable for your course management than what a rangefinder has to offer.

I wrote this article about why I think golfers should stop using the pin as their target on their approach shots. I believe most players are unnecessarily putting themselves in harms way when they take aim at the flag, especially when it’s situated towards the trouble areas of the hole.

When you use a rangefinder you are getting the distance to just the pin, and subconsciously this could make you think that's your target. Additionally, it will probably make you choose your club for the distance to the flag, and not other yardages on the green.

I think this is a bad idea for one main reason, and I’ll use a hypothetical situation to prove my point.

Let’s say you have a par 3 with a green that is about 35 yards deep. There is trouble towards the front of the green with some really difficult bunkers. The yardage to the front is 135, and the back is 170 (which you probably wouldn’t know).

You shoot your distance, and it’s 142 because the pin is closer to the front of the green. You choose your 7-iron, which you usually hit about 140-145 on a good strike (are you being honest?). You haven’t really given much thought to the fact that if you went a little long you have plenty of green to work with because your mind fixated on that 142 number.

You go to hit your shot…uh oh, you didn’t catch it, and it lands short in the bunker. Now you’ve short-sided yourself, and are looking at bogey at best.

If you were using a GPS device you would have known that the front of the green was 135, the center was 152, and the back was 170. A smart course manager would think to themselves that if they hit the 6-iron they will most likely have taken those nasty bunkers out of play.

This is the exact reason why I think knowing the distance to the front, center, and back of the green is more important than knowing your distance to just the pin.

Tour players want to know their exact yardages to the pin because their margin of error on their distance control is amazingly low. They have the ability to place their irons within a couple of yards of the pin. Unfortunately you don’t.

You could argue that low handicap players also should be concerned with exact pin distances, but even for them I still believe knowing all yardages on the green is more important in most situations.

I see a lot of golfers using rangefinders, and to be honest I’m not sure it’s the appropriate choice of device. They are getting the convenience of not having to walk off the yardage, but I think it’s unnecessarily making them fixate on a yardage that might be the wrong play.

If you can just glance down at your watch, then you immediately know the whole picture. I think golfers sometimes forget that greens are quite large, and can offer upwards of 3 club possibilities depending on how deep they are. When you can consider all of the yardages on the green it will help remind you that you might want to take an extra club, or one less club depending on the situation.

While I am not completely against using a rangefinder, I think these are some thoughts to consider if you are in the market for one of these devices. If you own one already, don’t throw it away! It can still be an extremely useful tool, just keep in mind that your distance to the pin is not the whole story.

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