How Do Golf GPS Watches Work?

With the improvement in technology and distances that golfers hit the ball, accurate measurement of your target for approach shots has become vital to drive your scores down.

There are many technologies available to determine the distance. In this article, we will provide information on the question – how do golf GPS watches work?

How do golf GPS watches work?

The application of GPS technology in golf was introduced shortly after US President Bill Clinton decreed in 2000 that GPS technology from American satellites could be used commercially.

Amateur golfers pounced on the opportunity to get accurate distance reading to assist them in reaching more greens in regulation.

This article will take a look at the technology behind GPS watches and how it can assist inexperienced golfers to get the most benefit from the technology.

💡 Golfible Tip: For information on one of the top GPS brands, you can read our Golfbuddy Voice GPS reviews

What Is GPS?

GPS is the acronym for Global Positioning System. This is a system of 30+ navigation satellites circling in space transmitting a signal to earth.

A receiver in your golf watch listens for these signals and calculates its position from four or more GPS satellites.

GPS is everywhere and can be accessed by any device that can tap into the signals transmitted by the many satellites.

For GPS to work you need 3 components.

Satellites to transmit data, a receiver to receive the data, and algorithms to synchronize location, velocity, and time data.

Although there is a constellation of 24 satellites in six earth-centred orbital planes, you only need information from 3 satellites.

A 4th satellite is often used to validate the information from the other three satellites and enables the calculation of the 3rd dimension or altitude of a device.

Information provided by the satellites is used to triangulate your position to within 10 yards.

For the accuracy required on golf courses a modification of GPS called “Differential GPS” is used. This requires an additional time signal which is broadcasted from a ground facility situated on the golf course itself.

📋 Keep in mind: A golf course that provides pinpoint accuracy will have a stationary broadcasting unit on-premises.

Some factors that can hinder GPS accuracy include:

  • Physical obstructions such as large masses like mountains, buildings, and trees.
  • Atmospheric effects such as Ionospheric delays, heavy storms, and solar storms.
  • Ephemeris or the orbital model within a satellite could be incorrect or out-of-date which rarely happens with modern technology.
  • Numerical miscalculations in the device’s algorithm. This is not a GPS problem as such but affects individual brands or devices.
  • Artificial interference through GPS jamming devices or spoofs.

There are five main uses of GPS:

  • Location
  • Navigation
  • Tracking
  • Mapping
  • Timing

How Is GPS Applied to Golf?

Course Selection

Golf course information is preloaded on some GPS devices and golf watches.

This includes the Golf GPS systems location of approximately 41,000+ courses around the globe.

When you travel your Golf GPS can compare your location to nearby golf courses and provide you with a list of courses to select from.

The location of the golf course is generally measured at the entrance of the clubhouse.

📢 Need To Know: When you arrive at the course your GPS watch can identify which course you are at and even the hole that you are on.

Hole yardage, hazard confirmation, and course layout

Golf course mapping accuracy is what sets the GPS devices apart. In general, devices use their proprietary database of location coordinates to generate the distances provided.

Representatives of golf GPS watch manufacturers, a third party hired by the manufacturer, or by an end-user often play and measure the golf course to confirm the accuracy of the yardages on every hole.

Yardages to the hole and hazards are calculated from your current location to the location information stored within the manufacturer’s database.

Other Golf GPS Features

Digital Scorecard

To keep a record of your score and other stats throughout the round, many golfing app available on the various app stores offer digital scorecards combined with their Golf GPS systems tracking.

Some devices offer scoring options for stroke play, Stableford scoring, skins and match play with adjustable handicaps.

Driving distance

GPS devices can track more than your score only.

Due to the accuracy of the information, it can now pinpoint how far you hit every club in your bag and even guide you in your club selection based on historical information.

Greens in regulation

Fairways hit, and greens in regulation are key measurements to show your progress and areas that require additional work.

Are Amateurs Allowed to Use GPS?

Governing bodies USGA and R&A have changed the rules on golf distance measurers to allow for the use of distance measuring devices by amateurs.

The option to block the use of such devices has been allocated to local golf club committees.

📋 Keep in mind: It would be prudent for you to check the course rules

What Golf GPS Watch Should I Buy?

Click here for our review on the best golf GPS watch to buy.

Conclusion On Golf Course GPS Watches

GPS has created a total industry based on its ability to identify a location accurately as well as to calculate the speed and direction of travelling objects.

I hope that this article provided you with a better understanding of how golf GPS systems work and the application of technology in golf. You can also find some of the top watch style Golf GPS navigation systems in our roundup review through the hyperlink.


Can I use a GPS watch in a golf tournament?

Golf distance measurement devices are allowed in golf tournaments under the rules of the governing bodies. However, this must be allowed according to the local rules in play for a tournament. This enables local committees to ban such devices for specific tournaments.

Is a golf GPS worth it?

GPS devices are an absolute winner when allowed to use. Golf is becoming a sport that requires accuracy to hazards and the pin. Having access to the distance to the front, middle, and back of the green enables you to select the best club depending on where the pin is located.

Which is the best golf watch to buy?

One of the best golf watches is the Garmin Approach S60 with its robust construction and Gorilla Glass 3 1.2” color touchscreen display. A more budget friendly option is the TecTecTec ULT-G that features Bluetooth connectivity to your smartphone for free course updates and automatic hole progression on the existing 38,000 courses.

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Charl is a full-time writer who has been with Golfible since 2019. He is an avid golfer and tech enthusiast. When not writing, he tries to squeeze in a round of golf or escape to the mountains.

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