Golf Rangefinder Buying Guide

It seems like every day; there are more golf rangefinders to choose from. Finding the best rangefinder for your game will require a bit of knowledge of the features and functionality and an understanding of how you will use it in practice and play.

What should I look for when buying a golf rangefinder?

The most important features to look for in a golf rangefinder are accuracy, usability, and value. A secondary level then should focus on build quality, longevity and functionality.

Let’s dive into each area.

Accuracy

There are two factors that determine how accurate a golf rangefinder is in practice. The first factor we term ‘factory accuracy’.

Factory accuracy

Factory accuracy is the number that the manufacturer provides for the average level of accuracy in an ideal testing situation, usually ±1-yard or ±0.5-yards on more expensive models. This is determined in static, indoor testing with a fixed target/screen.

However, factory accuracy doesn’t tell the full story. There are lots of factors that might lead to you getting an incorrect figure when using the rangefinder on the golf course.

Functional accuracy

Functional accuracy is arguably just as important as factory accuracy and isn’t often measured or mentioned. This references the average error (mean value) and spread of readings (standard deviation), when using rangefinders in real-life situations from known distances.

We currently test on the setup below where we have a flag situated 6-yards in front of a backdrop of trees and bushes. We find this really separates the rangefinders that are accurate and consistent on the golf course vs those that aren’t.

functional rangefinder testing

We test 20 times with each rangefinder to minimise the effect of variance and human error, but we must stress this will never be as valid as lab-based testing. However, we find this really gives a good indicator of how rangefinders perform on the course.

The best functional accuracy we have seen is ±0.5 yards which is very impressive in this setting, the worst is ±3 to 4-yards off between 50 and 200 yards. Manufacturers that claim factory accuracy of one yard may have true functional accuracy of 2 yards or more. 

We estimate this error/accuracy is linked to the software used to detect the flag and the strength and frequency of the signal sent out and received by the device.

Speed

Rangefinders speed up the pace of play. Not having to pace out your yardages will undoubtedly help to encourage a faster round of golf. However, some rangefinders, especially those with advanced features and functionality, can take time to load up. 

When reading rangefinder reviews try to find out two factors:

  1. How quickly a yardage displays.
  2. How quickly pin-lock/pin-seeker mode takes to kick in.

From our testing we find many rangefinders show the correct yardage quickly, but then take an extra 0.5-second to buzz and confirm this is the pin. A little delay is fine, but a sluggish rangefinder should be avoided, it becomes surprisingly annoying over time.

The Shotscope Pro L1 was one of the quickest we’ve tested for locking on to its target.

ShotScope L1 Pro rangefinder in black and blue

Features

Some of the most important features in a golf rangefinder include pin locking, slope, display configurations, an adjustable diopter (focus), and magnification. In most cases, max yardage isn’t something you should worry about (unless you are a long drive champion). 

The slope technology is something that almost all golfers can benefit from, but you must find a rangefinder that allows you to turn the slope on and off. Rangefinders fixed on slope mode are not legal in tournament play. 

Slope functionality is not nearly as expensive as it used to be, and from our experiences doesn’t vary in accuracy between $200 and $500 models. So your key buying questions should be:

  1. Does it have slope mode?
  2. Can slope mode be turned on/off?

Visuals & optics

GolfBuddy LV10 rangefinder display

Most golfers overlook how important the visuals and optics are on a rangefinder. You are correct if you think it’s hard to spot a pin 250 yards away with a blurry and unstable rangefinder. Companies like Nikon and Bushnell invest significant sums of money to ensure that looking through the rangefinder scope is like looking through a camera lens. 

Rangefinders also vary in how much and how they display all the data. The graphic above shows the GolfBuddy LV10 – this is about the maximum amount of graphics you’ll want before they start to get in the way.

More expensive rangefinders tend to have slightly clearer visuals, but if you pick wisely, you can still find a good budget rangefinder with clear visuals (check out our best budget rangefinders here).

Usability

Most rangefinders have pin locking technology that makes it easier to scope out the pin and pick the proper golf club. Look for a rangefinder that fits well in your hand and allows you to get one-handed yardages at times. 

Another factor to consider here is the distance that the pin-locking technology kicks in. Some rangefinders will lock with the pin when they are 100 yards and in, others 200 yards and in. This tends to be an attribute that correlates well with the price you pay – more expensive rangefinders lock in quick and from further away with fewer errors.

Build quality

The more money you pay for your rangefinder, the more durable it will be. This is like any other golf tool or piece of equipment – what is your intended use, how often will you use it and how long are you wanting to keep it for?

Mid and high-price rangefinders can be used for 10+ years if they are well looked after, so it is a tool worth investing in if you are a regular golfer.

Value

Rangefinders from $100 up to $500 can all be very accurate, if used with a lot of care. The cheaper ones just tend to throw in more errors when you don’t have a steady hand, or when there is a background close behind your target.

More expensive rangefinders get the correct number quicker, with less precision required from the user.

Along with accuracy, we tend to see build quality shift with price too. However, functionality and features are surprisingly similar across a range of prices.

Our top tip would be – if you play golf more than 10 times a year we’d suggest you spend more than $100, if you really are a casual golfer then feel free to dip below this mark.

Rangefinder buying guides

What should you prioritise?

The most important thing to prioritise is a rangefinder with high levels of accuracy, followed by speed and usability.

Don’t get distracted by the fancy features and extras of these rangefinders, try to remember the goal of this tool is to give you an accurate yardage so you can hit a great golf shot. 

Summary

Finding the best golf rangefinder takes a bit of time and research. We hope this guide has been of use. Feel free to click the links throughout to jump to our round-up articles on the best rangefinders for your budget.

Happy golfing.

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Britt Olizarowicz is a former teaching and Class A PGA professional with more than 25 years spent with a golf club in her hand. Britt is a small business owner, author, and freelance golf expert that knows this game inside and out. She lives in Savannah, GA, with her husband and two young children.

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