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How to buy the best activity tracker or fitness watch

How to buy the best golf watch

By Alison Potter

Article 3 of 3

Looking to improve your game with a golf GPS watch? Should you go for TomTom or Garmin? We will help you to select the best golf watch.

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The best golf watch will give you valuable information about the green, as well as help you to track and analyse your technique. So how do you sort the best golf watches from the worst? Read our expert golf watch advice to find out.

Offerings from the likes of Garmin, TomTom and Bushnell may differ in appearance, but in general the majority of golf watches all have the same functionality, which is to act like a digital caddie when you’re on the course.

While golf wearables may have some features in common with fitness trackers and smart watches, they also have a number of standalone attributes specific to the sport. Golf watches use GPS and satellite technology to give you accurate fairway information, as well as the yardage to lurking sand and water hazards. Many have automatic scorer systems, which keep a record of your shots along the fairway for post-round data analysis.

If you’re thinking about investing in a sports’ watch to improve your golf technique and knowledge of the course, take a look at our fitness watch and activity tracker reviews to find the device that best suits your needs and budget.

How much will a golf watch cost?

A decent golf GPS watch offering proper course management and automatic scoring will set you back somewhere between £100 and £200. In this price bracket most watches will have a greyscale screen, show precise yard readings at a glance and feature at least 30,000 pre-loaded golf course maps.

If you’re after a really top-end device with a glove-friendly colour touchscreen, the price tag will be closer to £300.

Buying the best golf watch

If you’re playing a game of golf with a gadget on your wrist, it’s vital that it’s as unobtrusive as possible, otherwise it could completely disrupt your downswing. Most golf GPS watches are lightweight and slim, with soft rubberised straps to ensure it doesn’t move around when you play. Selected devices offer different strap sizes, so it’s worth visiting a high street electronics shop, like Currys, or a specialist golf shop, to try on a few to find one that sits securely.

As well as providing golf-related data, some golf watches also feature step counters, sleep monitoring and smart notifications. Smart notifications enable you to read texts and emails without having to get your phone out of your bag, which is very handy if you’re in the habit of spending all day on the green.

Currently golf watches do not have the capability to select which club you should use. But some watches will allow you to tag the club used for each shot in the app, which is useful for post-game analysis.  

Golf watch vs fitness watch

Fitness GPS watch

Some fitness watches offer multi-sport tracking, so you can use the device to analyse your golf game, as well as track your running, cycling and swimming. If you regularly participate in a number of different sports it would make more sense to invest in a general fitness watch. 

While it won’t have as many features as a dedicated golf wearable, they still offer the same functionality in terms of downloadable golf course maps, measuring distances and tallying hole number and par. They also use the same apps for post-game analysis.

  • Pros: Tracks more activities and can be worn swimming, includes a heart rate monitor.
  • Cons: Slightly more expensive, bulkier, no automatic scoring system or the ability to track in-depth stats while on the green (putts per round, greens and fairways hit, average distance).

Golf GPS watch

If you want advanced tracking of your golf performance on the green, it’s worth investing in a dedicated golf watch. They have a built-in motion sensor and gyroscope for automatically recording the location and distance of each shot. 

In general golf watches offer a more detailed analysis of your golf technique, so if you play regularly you will find it really boosts your game. Golf wearables are also generally slimmer and lighter than fitness watches so they will have less effect on your swing.

  • Pros: Great course support and management, automatic shot detection, less intrusive to wear
  • Cons: Not suitable for other sports, can’t measure heart rate, casual golfers may find it shows you too much information

What makes a good golf watch?

If you’re looking for a golf watch that will slash shots off your handicap, consider investing in one that has the following key features to get the most out of wearing it:

Accelerometer – This measures the speed of your swing and helps to smooth out any GPS blips when calculating distance.

Battery life – In GPS mode most golf watches will last for 11-15 hours, so they’re suitable for a full day or even a weekend of golfing. When the GPS is turned off, the lithium-ion battery will last for a few weeks before needing a charge.

Pre-loaded courses – You can check if your preferred courses are available before you buy your golf watch and you can request one to be added if it isn’t there. On average, most golf watches have 30,000-40,000 course maps worldwide and this number is ever increasing.

Course updates – Look for golf watches that provide daily course updates at no extra charge so you can ensure you have the latest information and don’t encounter any sudden surprises on the green.

Green distances – Having accurate distance information to the front, middle and back of the green helps you to choose the right club for each individual shot.

Green-view graphics – As well as distance information, some watches provide a basic visual aid so you can see the lay of the green and know what approach to take.

Hazard detection – This feature helps you to avoid sand bunkers and areas of water with precise distances to the front and back of every hazard.

Automatic shot detection/automatic scorecard – Shows you at a glance how far you’ve hit the ball and tracks your score digitally along the fairway for post-game analysis. It means you don’t need to take a pencil and paper and manually note down the number of shots taken.

Bluetooth – Most golf watches wirelessly sync to your phone using Bluetooth Low Energy, which shouldn’t run down your phone battery too quickly. Be aware that some watches have a shorter Bluetooth range than others, which means if you’re too far away from your phone it won’t connect properly. This is something we’re going to test in the lab.

Shot history analysis – Each brand of golf watch has a corresponding app where you can study your previous golf rounds, enabling you to understand past performances and take note of the parts of your game that need improving.

Water resistance – Typically a golf watch is rated 5 ATM for water resistance. This means it will withstand pressures equivalent to a depth of 50 meters, so playing golf in wet weather shouldn’t be a problem.

Anti-glare – Look for a device that has anti-glare to ensure that’s its legible and easy to read even in bright sunlight.
Smart notifications – If you want to spend all day on the green, but still be easily contactable, choose a watch with smart notification capabilities. This enables you to read texts and emails without having to get your phone out of your bag.  

Operating system – All golf GPS watches work with iOS and Android, but only some models are compatible with Windows OS.

Customisable straps – If there are different-sized straps available, it’s worth checking which is the most comfortable and fitted for you to wear.

Screen – In general most golf watches have a greyscale screen and buttons to navigate through the menus, but more premium models will feature colour touchscreens. Some touchscreens are described as glove-friendly, which means they can be operated even if you’re wearing a golf glove.

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