Bobby Jones, co-founder of The Masters Tournament and winner of nine majors, once said: “Golf is the closest game to the game we call life. You get bad breaks from good shots; you get good breaks from bad shots, but you have to play the ball where it lies.” That may be true, but we can all use a little help every now and then—in life and on the course.
Technology has revolutionized the game of golf more than any other sport. The equipment is always being improved in hopes that newer, better clubs or balls will knock a few strokes off a golfer’s handicap. The world of golf gadgets is no different, with even below-average players seeking out a device to get an edge on the competition.
We compiled a list of the top golf gadgets that encompasses different types of products, from training aids to use in the back yard to GPS-guided range finders and launch monitors. Our list includes items for every budget and type of player, from the weekend warrior to scratch golfer, and could be just the tools needed for success to “play the ball where it lies.” On the course, that is.
The Eclipse is so compact, you’ll hardly notice it clipped to your bag or belt loop. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in convenience, durability, and price.
It helps you pick the correct club by giving a GPS-accurate distance to the front, center, and back of the green. Pre-loaded with more than 30,000 courses, the Eclipse can also tell you distances to doglegs and hazards. It also has an impressive memory capacity for storing scores and putts per round. We took the Eclipse out for 18 holes and discovered a solid, reliable device for golfers who want accurate, easy-to-read information on the course.
Have you found yourself far from the clubhouse and in desperate need of a ball marker? Or a groove cleaner? This device, which has 10 separate functions, is thin enough to fit in your pocket and durable enough to withstand even the roughest elements. In fact, we used the retractable repair tool to freshen up the tough January turf throughout our round.
In addition to the classic golf-related features, which include a tee punch and ball marker, the tool also comes with tweezers, a bottle opener, and scissors—another feature that came in handy when we were on the course.
Light and compact, the new Approach G80 is about the size of a smartphone, with a sleek, understated look. It comes preloaded with more than 41,000 courses and requires minimal setup.
Out on the links, it provides GPS-accurate distance to the green, as well as Touch Targeting, allowing us to get precise yardage to any point when we took it for a nine-hole spin. And the PlaysLike Distance feature automatically adjusts target range for any spot on the course based on the player’s elevation.
The most impressive feature is the launch monitor, which calculates club speed, ball speed, swing tempo, smash factor, and estimated distance for every shot. The individually tailored data allows the golfer to pinpoint and correct any swing-related issues, saving valuable strokes on the fairways and tees.
Designed specifically to attach to your golf bag and hold your recording device, this clip system is easy to set up and adjust. We tried one out recently at the driving range and it was assembled and holding our phone in minutes. It’s lightweight and small, but felt sturdy when we recorded a few dozen drives. Best of all, it adjusts to fit any cell phone or GPS and can clip to any golf bag.
The Soundchuck Mini Bluetooth Speaker is small—just a little more than four inches long—but packs a loud punch. It connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth and the convenient carabiner allowed us to clip it to our golf bag and enjoy some music while we played a solo round.
The speaker and cord are covered in a protective silicone casing, making it especially durable and flexible, and it comes in three bold colors—Puma Black, Vibrant Orange, and High Risk Red. The Soundchuck’s rechargeable battery is billed as having about six hours of life, but we used ours for more than eight hours before it needed a charge.
The Rukket Lightweight Swing Trainer is the perfect tool to improve your swing and the length of your drives. It’s portable enough to take with you for warm ups before each tee shot, and its fiberglass design is light enough that it won’t add too much extra weight to your bag. The counterweighted design adds strength to your swing, as well as flexibility to the wrists and core, translating to longer, more accurate drives.
This sensor is possibly the most high-tech golf gadget on the market today, and is priced accordingly. It instantly provides precise data for your swing to your tablet, smartphone or computer and, despite the extensive amount of data it collects, the information is broken down and displayed in an easy-to-read, user-friendly way.
The real-time 3D model replay of the wrist motion is the most unique feature of this sensor; it pinpoints even the smallest issues with your swing. It also allows the user to set and work towards goals for wrist angle and club face position, resulting in straighter shots and lower scores.
The Pressure Putt Trainer is designed to improve your play on the green by using a unique curved construction to ensure only the best putts hit the target. One of the most helpful features of this trainer is that each good putt is returned the exact distance it would have traveled past the hole if it missed, important feedback for those of us whose putting skills aren’t world-class.
The trainer’s collapsible design allows it to fold up and fit into most golf bags. We took it for a round and found it helpful in warm ups and during a break at the turn. A bit frustrating is the trainer’s “micro-target,” which is so small that the ball will drop only if it rolls at a perfect angle at a perfect pace. But that’s putting, we suppose.
The Excel GPS watch is perfect for golfers who don’t want to carry another device but want accurate distance readings for greens, hazards, and doglegs for more than 35,000 preloaded courses. The watch fully integrates with your smartphone via the Bushnell Golf app, which allows users to watch 3D flyovers of each hole, keep score, and even book tee times.
Simple-to-use bonus features like a fitness step tracker, auto course recognition, and automatic hole advance mean that using the Excel will probably be the easiest part of your round.
The SX500 is big and it’s pricey, but you get a lot for your money, including a huge 5-inch color touchscreen and water-resistant construction. What separates it from other products is its built-in features, including Auto Course Selection, Auto Hole Advance, and Auto Zoom, which SkyCaddie bills as making it touch-free “from the parking lot to the 19th Hole”. We found that claim to be pretty accurate, although we did need to take it out and interact with it a few times during a round.
The SX500 also comes preloaded with the new Dynamic HoleVue program, which recalibrates the display to show the entire hole from the golfer’s point of view from anywhere on the course. Factor in the IntelliGreen technology, which gives golfers a detailed, bird’s eye view of each green, and the SX500 is a device that shaved a stroke or two off our game.
The Verdict: Best Golf Gadgets
We’re big fans of the Approach G80 Handheld GPS + Launch Monitor. It’s packed with useful features, and its versatility gives any golfer a full toolbox to tackle any situation out on the links. It’s a bit expensive, so if price is a consideration, we also loved the Bushnell Excel GPS Watch. The Excel is a sturdy, less pricey alternative, but still brings a ton of features, accuracy, and convenience to the table. Or the tee.
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