There are two types of golf range finders, also known as distance finders. A writer for Golf.com says that as of 2011, over 30 percent of avid golfers owned a range finder. "Rangefinders have been the hottest selling item in an otherwise down golf economy and competition is fierce," wrote Gary Van Sickle. If you are searching for a range finder, you have a choice between a laser device and a GPS device. Both have advantages and disadvantages.
Laser Rangefinder Advantages
Laser range finders work by using a laser beam that hones onto the pin. Just point it at the pin from your ball position and you will the get precise yardage for your next shot. As "Golf Digest" explains, "laser range finders excel at one important thing: providing accurate measurements to the flagstick." They are superior to the best GPS range finders in this respect.
GPS Range Finder Advantages
You get more detail from a GPS range finder, which uses a satellite mapping system and previously recorded or mapped locations to provide distances to various locations on a hole. The best GPS devices show you color displays with yardages to any point on a hole. That can be invaluable when you are looking to place your shots in the optimal position and avoid bunkers and other hazards. Some GPS devices show the contours of the greens as well as yardages to different portions of the green.
Laser Range Finder Disadvantages
As the Yardage Range Finder sites notes, laser devices don't give you enough information to play "smart" golf. "Smart golf is about playing to the right parts of the greens and fairways." Since laser range finders just give you the distance to the pin, you'll be guessing about the correct areas to land your tee shots and shots into the green, especially if you are playing an unfamiliar course.
GPS Range Finder Disadvantages
Relying on satellite technology can be dicey. If the course you are playing hasn't been mapped, you're out of luck. If satellite reception is weak or non-existent at the course, you're also out of luck. Significant numbers of trees may interfere with your GPS, blocking the satellite connection. Some GPS companies impose an annual fee to use their mapping services.
Some range finders are capable of taking into account wind speed and direction, slope and elevations changes. USGA Rule 14-3 prohibits using these types of range finders in competition or for handicap purposes. However, the USGA supports local rules that allow range finders for measuring yardages, since there already are a number of ways to calculate distance on the course, including yardage books and distance stakes or markers.