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How Do Golf Rangefinders Work?

March 2018

Golf Rangefinders or Distance Measuring Devices (DMD) have been gaining popularity over the past few years and can offer a great benefit on the golf course.

But like any technology, it requires the correct use in order to see the full benefit.

So how do golf rangefinders work?

Golf Rangefinder Technology

Determining Distance to the Flag (Pin-seeking)

The basic purpose of a golf rangefinder is to measure the distance from where you are standing to a target as accurately as possible.

Using one of your eyes as you would when looking through any type of scope, a golf rangefinder magnifies the target and shoots a laser beam at it in order to determine the exact distance.

The target in question that you would use a rangefinder to determine the distance to can be anything.

The pin is the most obvious and the best rangefinders use technological systems to accurately pick up the very thin flag against anything in the background to ensure you get the correct yardage.

Bushnell rangefinders use a technology called PinSeeker with JOLT and this picks up the flag pole and the device then vibrates once it measures the distance to the pin.

Other brands require some sort of reflecting material on the pin to pick up the distance. Leupold rangefinders will beep when they pick up this reflecting material.

If you have a rangefinder that doesn’t feature some sort of pin-seeking technology the best way to determine the distance to the pin is to aim at something just to the side of the pin and determine the distance. Then hover the rangefinder laser over the pin and see whether you are given a shorter distance. If so, this will be the exact distance to the pin.

Determining distance off the tee and to hazards

Rangefinders are great at also determining how far you need to hit your shots in order to avoid hazards.

From the tee on longer holes you may use it to see how far it is to water hazards or to clear bunkers or even trees.

Approaching greens you might want to know the distance to clear greenside bunker lips or to see the slopes on the green from further away.

Determining slope

Certain rangefinders feature slope measurement, which takes into consideration how far above or below the target is to where you are standing.

These devices calculate the difference in distance to give you even more accurate readings, but are illegal for usage in competition.

As such, many of the brands have produced rangefinders that can be switched between slope reading or not, for example the Bushnell Tour V4 Slope.

Rangefinders in Tournaments

Tour professionals have always used rangefinders or DMDs in practice rounds before tournaments to make sure their course management is precise for the rest of the event. In more recent times certain tours have allowed DMDs during the actual tournament rounds to determine whether this will speed up play or not.

Apart from offering more accurate distances to targets, golf rangefinders are effective at speeding up play, as it means you don’t have to get to your ball and then only start looking for yardage markers on the golf course and relying on pin sheets to calculate the distance to the pin. Again this is especially effective on tee shots when hazards are in play.

While rangefinders are preferred by some golfers, there are various other DMDs available that don’t require the physical act of looking through a scope to find a target.

Rangefinder Alternatives

GPS systems are an alternative technology that has become increasingly popular.

GPS systems give the yardage to the front, middle and back of a green of a course that is preloaded into the software of the device.

Devices include handheld min-GPS computers (think TomTom SatNavs), to smart watches and phone apps.

Golf GPS smart watches are particularly popular, with companies like Garmin leading the pack in terms of golf GPS technology.

There is no doubt that digital technology is making an impact on golf and even rangefinders seem to almost be an old technology. However, they certainly play a role in speeding up a round and adding some precision to your game.

About the author 

Jason Mylroie

Been hooked on golf since I was 12 and lived on a golf estate while at school. Began to work in Golf Industry during university and spent a year on the Sunshine Tour as a media operator. Subsequently became deputy editor of Compleat Golfer in South Africa for 5 years, specializing in equipment and travel reviews. After that I became a consultant to a major golf chain, testing and reviewing all equipment. Also a Callaway custom fitter and play off a 2 handicap when actually getting the chance to play!

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