Investing in a golf GPS watch is a great way to slash your handicap, and we couldn't imagine going back to guessing which club to choose without the data to back it up.
It's not just GPS watches and glorified range-finders, either. Systems like Game Golf, Arccos and Zepp are helping golfers get more out of their practice time, and both systems claim to offer insights into your game – and most importantly, actionable information to become a better golfer.
But with smartwatches now prevalent it's now increasingly hard to justify a single use golf watch, which you may only use one a week (if you're lucky). Read our thoughts on the latest offerings, which we've tested on the course.
Best golf GPS watches
We've tested a host of golf watches over the last few years, and it's still Garmin that rules the roost. Increasingly, golf watches are about more than just the 18 holes, with fitness tracking and other sports features now built in. And just to keep you in the loop, we're currently awaiting samples of the all-new Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45 Golf Edition, which adds a new golf app to the smartwatch.
Garmin Approach S40
Buy now: Amazon | $299.99
Screen size: 1.2-inch (128 x 128) | Multi-sport: No | Courses: 40,000 | Activity tracking: No | Shot detection: Yes| Notifications: Yes
The new Approach S40 sits S60 and S10 golf watches, offering users a design akin to the Forerunner 645 range. It's a big visual step up from Garmin's recent budget golf watches, and there's a boost in terms of smarts too.
As well as distances to the pin and hazards automatic shot detection, measurement of shots and the ability to tag clubs used means it's capable of providing loads of analysis about your game – if you put the work in to log every shot.
There's a 1.2-inch colour touchscreen, and a full range of smart features including notifications.
In terms of golf, it packs all the usual accurate distances to hazards, doglegs and also to the front, middle and back of the green. However, there are also advanced features such as AutoShot Game Tracking, which keeps tabs on all your shot distances and offers much more detailed feedback after your round. All of that data is fed into the Garmin Golf app.
The choice around buying the Approach S40 revolves around that extra data. If you're looking for insights into your average club distances then it's a stellar purchase, which negates the need for expensive systems. However, if all that seems too much like hard work, stick to one of Garmin's cheaper devices.
Read our Garmin Approach S40 review.
Garmin Approach S10
Buy now: Amazon | $149.99
Screen size: 1-inch (128 x 128) | Multi-sport: No | Courses: 41,000 | Activity tracking: No | Shot detection: No | Notifications: No
The Garmin Approach S10 is the company's latest full-factor golf watch – and the cheapest Garmin has released to date. While it's lighter on the wallet, this does mean a leaner set of features, for those who just want basic on-course information.
You get access to 41,000 courses, without the need to pre-load data, and when you're on the course you'll get distances to the front, back and middle of the green, as well as lay-ups and hazards.
There is also on-watch scoring, although only stoke play – so there's no Stableford scoring or recording of putts, tee-short spread or penalties. All that data is recorded in the Garmin Golf app, which isn't a brilliant experience, nor that nicely presented. However, it's a decent way of keeping track of your past rounds.
All in all, the Approach S10 is an easy to use golf watch that doesn't break the bank – and will suit those who just want solid and accurate distance information. It still offers more detail on hazards and dog-legs than basic Apple Watch golf apps, which means that for now at least, there's still good reason to plump for a specialist golf watch – and the Approach S10 is a fine example.
Read all about it: Garmin Approach S10 review
Garmin Approach X10
Buy now: Amazon | $169
Screen size: 1-inch (160 x 68) | Multi-sport: No | Courses: 41,000 | Activity tracking: No | Shot detection: No | Notifications: No
With distance and hazard data for 41,000 golf courses worldwide, the X10 eschews the more complex features found on the likes of the Approach X40.
The design is more like a traditional fitness band – thin and unisex, but gone are features like swing analysis, swing tempo and integrations with Garmin TruSwing. You don't get shot tracking and recording of shots, and activity tracking features, heart rate and smartwatch notifications are also surplus to requirements.
But all the key things you need for your round are still here. Distance to the pin, hazards including key lay-ups and dog-legs are all displayed – and you still get the exact shape of the green, where you can place the flag for exact distances. In 2019 golf watch terms these are basic features, but we rarely use more than this, and have apps such as Hole19 and GolfShake we prefer using for scoring and tracking rounds.
With a simpler feature set you pay less too. The Garmin Approach X10 is one of Garmin's cheapest golf watches, and comes recommended.
Full verdict: Garmin Approach X10 review
Hole19 – iOS and Android
Free, iOS/Android, hole19golf.com
One for users of Apple Watch and Wear OS smartwatches, Hole 19 is a Wareable favourite. It turns your Apple Watch or Wear OS smartwatch into a golf watch, either using your phone's data or GPS built into the device. Since its early days the Hole 19 smartwatch app has become far more reliable and responsive, and now can rival the performance of a dedicated watch. However you don't get distances to hazards or shot measuring, so it's still advantage golf watch for now.
But beyond turning your smartwatch into a golf GPS device, the smartphone app is also well worthy of a mention. The scorecard (which can be input via the watch) is fantastic, and there's an awesome golf community where you can post photos of your rounds plus add your regular playing buddies and keep track of how they're doing.
Tag Heuer Connect 45 Golf Edition
Buy now: Tag Heuer| $1,850
A bit of a weird hybrid this entry but bear with us. Tag Heuer launched the Connected Modular 45 Golf Edition (above) smartwatch at Baselworld – a special edition of its smartwatch built for golf.
The watch itself has a fabric sports strap and 1-18 etched onto the bezel, which corresponds to the information on the special Tag Heuer Golf app that comes included – which seems to be a rebadged version of the FunGolf app.
The app itself is fantastic – the best golf app we've ever used in terms of extras. However, even that isn't going to attract many people to the enormous $1,850 price tag of the Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45 Golf Edition.
But the app is actually available for smartphones free of charge and you can have it on your Apple Watch for a $39.99 subscription, which offers yardages to the pin, hazards, on-wrist scoring and round insights all on the wrist.
But it's the brilliantly crisp and clear 3D renders of 39,000 global courses which really won us over, and gives Hole 19 a big run for its money despite the price tag.
Check out our full Tag Heuer Connect 45 Golf Edition review.
Garmin Approach X40
Buy now: Amazon | $249.99
Screen size: 1-inch (160 x 68) | Multi-sport: Yes | Courses: 40,000 | Activity tracking: Yes | Shot detection: Yes | Notifications: Yes
There are a lot of Garmins on this list, but the company is turning out golf wearables and they're all very different. The Garmin Approach X40 doubles as an all-day fitness tracker and offers GPS run tracking, bolstered by 24/7 heart rate tracking that will match any Fitbit.
Back to golf, it comes pre-loaded with data for 35,000 courses, which includes pin position details and hazards. It's surprisingly easy to navigate on the small touchscreen display and there's also a mode for measuring your drives.
The Approach X40 will also track your shots – if you turn the feature on – and will subtly prompt you to tag which club you used. We found this slightly superfluous and easy to ignore, though real data golfers will no doubt love the feature. On-watch scoring is nicely implemented, and you can also benefit from smartwatch notifications delivered from your phone.
All-in-all the Garmin Approach X40 is a fantastic golf watch and so much more. If you're a passionate golfer whose active lifestyle extends beyond the course, it's a fantastic buy.
Read our full Garmin Approach X40 review.
Garmin Approach S60
Buy now: Amazon | $399.99
Screen size: 1.2-inch (240 x 240) | Multi-sport: No | Courses: 40,000 | Activity tracking: Yes | Shot detection: Yes | Notifications: Yes
The Garmin Approach S60 apes the all-singing Fenix 5, to bring maximum features into one device. In terms of golf, it packs in the advanced technique and swing analysis (SwingTempo and TempoTraining) of the ageing Garmin Approach S6, and pairs it with the distances, hazards, scoring and shot detection.
New features include PlaysLike, which offers distances that take elevation into account, pairing with the TruSwing sensor and GPS sports tracking with a full roster of sports. It's essentially a Fenix 5 that puts golf first, and just as bulky, which will put some golfers off – especially women.
It's an incredible feature set, which in all fairness, is too much for most golfers. Most won't want to start fiddling with SwingTempo based on the watch, and to be honest, even as experienced golfers we're a little confused about what the stats mean, and more importantly, how to fix them.
Some golfers will love getting their hands on all this data – and you certainly pay for the privilege. As regular golfers ourselves, the Approach S60 simply offers too much for too much cash, but if you want the best there's little out there to match it.
Garmin Approach S20
Buy now: Amazon | $169.99
Screen size: 0.9-inch (128 x 128) | Multi-sport: No | Courses: 40,000 | Activity tracking: Yes | Shot detection: Yes| Notifications: Yes
Designed to be worn away from the golf course, as well as providing GPS distances on it, the Approach S20 offers fitness tracking and smartwatch notifications. On the golf course, there's support for 40,000 worldwide courses with distances to front, middle and back displayed next to a map of each green.
You can call up hazard and lay-up distances for any hole through the context menu, keep score on the watch using a super nifty tracker, and the watch claims to record every shot you take on the course – although we found that hit and miss to say the least. You'll get two big rounds of golf from the battery, and up to eight weeks as a standard smartwatch.
The Approach S20 hasn't been treated to GPS tracking for workouts, nor does it boast a heart rate monitor, so it's slightly less versatile than the excellent Approach X40. But if you prefer the watch format to the fitness band, it's still a top golf device.
Check out our full Garmin Approach S20 review for more details.
Golf Buddy WTX
Buy now: Amazon | $179.99
Screen size: 1.2-inch (240 x 204) | Multi-sport: No | Courses: 38,000 | Activity tracking: Yes | Shot detection: No | Notifications: Yes
We were really surprised with our testing of the Golf Buddy WTX – its bright and vibrant screen is really clear out on the course. Distances were easy to read, and you can swipe through a host of useful stats, from hazard distances to lay-ups.
It's also bustling with GPS features for running – although don't expect the kind of post-run analysis and top integrations of a "proper" running watch. Our only major gripe was battery life, as you'd be hard pressed to complete two rounds with the Golf Buddy WTX.
It's a decent golf experience, and did a good job of showing the right data at the right time, plus the full colour touchscreen makes it easy to flick between screens.
We'd recommend the Golf Buddy WTX – but given it's the same price as the impressive Garmin Approach X40 and S20, we'd probably edge towards those devices on balance. Those just nail the golf experience a little better, with manual scorecard inputs, automatic shot detection and longer battery life.
Bushnell Excel GPS
Buy now: Amazon | $199.99
Screen size: 1.2-inch | Multisport: No | Courses: 35,000 | Activity tracking: Yes | Shot detection: No | Notifications: No
While Garmin and TomTom dominate the golf wearables market, Bushnell has been in the game even longer. The Bushnell Excel GPS is a pretty feature packed watch, with a digital touchscreen, 35,000 courses and a dedicated companion app. It works well and we had no beef with the accuracy, but the design of the interface is harder to read than its rivals, and the buttons on the side aren't as responsive, which makes it a bit of a faff to use. If it was a more budget watch it would be a great option – but it's hard to justify over a Garmin Approach S20 at a similar price.
Best swing analysers
Supplement – or try and replace – a professional coach with a swing analyser, which quantifies the biomechanics of your swing, helping you make those slight adjustments. Here are the ones we've reviewed.
Zepp 2 golf sensor
Buy now: Amazon | $149
Zepp 2 is a clip-on device that attaches to your glove when you're on the course or hitting on the range. The array of sensors notes everything from the speed of your hands to the tempo of your forward and backswing, before showing your data in the app which flashes up less than a second after you've hit the ball.
You can then review the data, look at visual charts of your shots, and even compare them to professional's swings to see where you're going wrong. There are also heaps of tuition videos from pros tailored to the area of your swing you're struggling with.
When paired with a smartphone, the app will even use the built-in accelerometer to track hip movements: a crucial element of a consistent swing and the Achilles heel of many a weekend golfer.
Check out our full Zepp 2 Golf review.
Buy now: Amazon | $149.99
Garmin's swing sensor takes a different tack to Zepp, and is positioned on the club shaft, rather than the glove. The steady position makes it a little more accurate, and it picks up a host of data, from shaft angle, lean, club speed, club plane – everything you need to build up a picture of your game.
But is it any good? This is quite a nuanced decision, so bear with us. In terms of raw data we found the Garmin TruSwing to be a fantastic swing tracker, but is much better if used with a regular coach.
The app isn't nearly as good as Zepp with its traffic light system of swing analysis, and the raw data can be quite impenetrable. Comparing swings isn't nearly as easy, but if you pair it with the Approach S20 or the Approach X40, you can get data on your wrist, which is infinitely better than fishing out your phone to check your swing plane.
In short, if you're working with a coach pick the Garmin. If you just want to fix your swing down at the range, the user-friendly Zepp 2 is a much better bet.
In-depth: Garmin TruSwing review
Best golf shot trackers
Buy now: Amazon | $179
Taking the fight to Game Golf is the impressive Arccos Golf package, which uses club-top receivers to track every shot on the course. Unlike its big rival (below), however, you don't need to physically tap before taking every shot, with shots automatically detected by your smartphone. In return you get handicaps derived from each aspect of your game, showing you where you can pick up shots, as well as average distances for every club.
It's not perfect, and in our testing not every shot was recognised, but it blends into the background allowing you to get back into your game.
Game Golf LIVE
Buy now: Amazon | $299
Game Golf is brimming with professional endorsements with Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell and some bloke called Barack Obama all using it. If that wasn't enough, Game Golf even boasts design by Yves Behar, the creative director of Jawbone and Hive's smart home products.
Game Golf comes in two parts: a wearable sensor which mounts on your belt, and a series of sensors that mount onto the top of your club. When you're about to play a shot just touch the club element to the sensor, then play. When you get home Game Golf shows every shot and the success rates in each part of your game, so you can identify the areas you need to work on.
It's a decent system, but we've never managed to incorporate it into our game. We get so engrossed into the round – be it playing well or badly – that we forget to tap, and for our money, it's a bit too much like hard work. But if you're willing to build Game Golf into your pre-shot routine, the well-designed app and array of data can add valuable information to your game post-mortems.
Wareable verdict: Game Golf Live review
Cobra Connect driver range
Buy now: cobragolf.com | From $350
The Cobra Connect drivers features the above Arccos technology built into the shaft, and connects to your phone via Bluetooth. You use the same app, but without having to buy the full set of screw-in sensors.
While you don't get a map of every shot you take on the course, the Cobra Connect drivers enable you to track your driving accuracy, which is a manageable way to get started. One paired with the smartphone app, the driver recognises a shot and plots it on the course map. When you take your second shot with a sensorless club, the app uses your phone's microphone to detect the resulting shot being taken, and plots the second GPS position.
This should start to demystify your driving and provide real data on your bad shots. Are they predominantly left or right? What percentage make the fairway? For many golfers, the reality is far different from the perception.
The Cobra King LTD is $450 and available at American Golf now, while the Cobra King F7+ is $400 and Cobra King F7 is $350.
Author: James Stables