How Do Golf Rangefinders Work?

Over the last few years, there has been a drastic rise in the popularity of rangefinders.

If you’ve ever been on a course for the first time, you know how frustrating it can be not knowing how far away specific targets are.

Rangefinders can be a huge help when you’re making your club selections on the course and they certainly beat using a golf yardage book

image of a golf course explaining how golf rangefinders work.

In this article, we will explore the technology of both GPS and laser rangefinders and answer the question of what a golf rangefinder can do to help your game and what golf rangefinder most golfers use

Golf Laser Rangefinders

Laser rangefinders work by sending a laser beam towards a target. The laser then reflects off the mark and back to the rangefinder, where a sensor detects the time it took the laser to return from the reflection point.

They are like a scope, or golf binocular, focusing on the target and reflecting a reading to the user.

Laser rangefinders are incredibly accurate and quick, sensing distance and giving a reading accuracy within 1 yard in mere seconds.

📋 Keep in mind: They are great for times when you have a clear view of the target and play on courses that may not be uploaded into a GPS database.

Some laser rangefinders have more advanced capabilities than others. But even relatively inexpensive options will get the job done simply and effectively.

Things to consider when exploring your laser options are extra features. Some rangefinders cannot calculate slope on a course whereas some are.

A 100-yard approach shot on a downhill grade plays much closer than 100-yards uphill.

📢 Need To Know: Some laser rangefinders have technology that detects slope and adjusts the distance accordingly.

How GPS Rangefinders Work

GPS, the other popular rangefinder option, works by using GPS coordinates. GPS uses numerous satellite pings to determine the location of basically anything on the planet.

GPS systems are incredibly accurate these days and can pinpoint to within a couple of feet.

With GPS rangefinders, there are a few notable considerations to keep in mind.

The GPS rangefinder will only work for courses that are uploaded into the database.

That means that if you’re playing a lesser-known course, it may not be on the database, making the GPS rangefinder obsolete for that course.

On the other hand, if you’re playing a course on the database (which most registered golf courses are), you will have an accurate reading of all distances on the course.

GPS will calculate the distance from your position on the map and the target as it was recorded into the system. 

GPS rangefinders do not generally adjust for slope unless you’re willing to pay a little more.

📋 Keep in mind: Some GPS rangefinders can provide real-time updates on weather conditions.

Laser Rangefinder or GPS Rangefinder: What’s Better For Your Game?

Here are some of the significant advantages and disadvantages of using either a laser or GPS rangefinder and which may be best for you.

Laser Rangefinders

  • Accurate and quick readings
  • Can be used on any golf course/no need for pre downloads
  • Some models can adjust for slope
  • Slightly more challenging to use
  • Need to have a steady hand and view of the target
  • Various levels of technological capabilities
  • Wide price ranges

GPS Rangefinders

  • Highly accurate distance readings
  • Tens of thousands of courses available on most GPS rangefinders
  • Additional metrics and course information included with downloads
  • The course needs to be downloaded onto your device
  • The course needs to have been mapped and uploaded to the web
  • Some models don’t have accurate updates
  • May need to pay an ongoing subscription
  • Easier to use than laser

The golf optical rangefinder is a third option, but due to less user-friendliness and a higher margin for error, it isn’t considered here.

How does an optical rangefinder work?

Optical rangefinders work using built-in scales to measure a target’s size based on your distance from it. It requires the user to know how to focus the lens properly to calculate the scale accurately.

What Should You Look For In A Golf Rangefinder?

Both GPS and laser rangefinders are highly accurate devices and can provide detailed distance readings from you to the target.

The standout point between the two is that laser rangefinders are highly manual, while GPS devices are more automatic. GPS are slightly more popular at this time due to the lack of manual work involved.


If you want to have more control over the readings and manually adjust for specific conditions, a laser may be best.

You can find some rangefinders with a little more technological capability than others.

You should be looking for a laser rangefinder that can provide accurate data very quickly.

📋 Keep in mind: The higher quality technology in the device, the more precise and quick the readings will be.


If you’re playing well-known courses and want a wide variety of metrics available from an extensive database, then a GPS rangefinder may be best for you. 

Often, GPS rangefinders will have all the distances to various hazards and layouts of the course.

They may not have up-to-date information if you’re dealing with a lower-end product, however.

So with GPS, you get what you pay for in terms of technology and capability.

The difference between GPS and laser rangefinders can be simmered down to whether you want more manual control over your readings (laser) or simply uploaded information sent to your device (GPS).

💡 Golfible Tip: Finding a suitable rangefinder is really about understanding how much depth of information you want. If you want super accurate, up to date info, don’t be afraid to shell out a little more.

Concluding Thoughts

Any further questions or comments about the best rangefinders and how the technologies work can be left in the section below.


What do you see through a golf rangefinder?

Rangefinders display the distance to the target (flag or hazard aimed at) in the measurement of your preference (meter/yard) and the distance calculated using the slope if the slope function is enabled. Hybrid rangefinders can also display the distance to the front, center, and back of the green.

Do you aim a range finder at the flag or the hole?

For the best results, you must aim the rangefinder at the flag as the software is designed to identify the shape of the flag. Some golf courses have added some materials to the top of the flag making it easier to lock onto the flag for increased accuracy.

Can you use a rangefinder on the green?

Distance measuring devices such as rangefinders are designed to provide distances to the flag or specific hazards. However, there is no rule in golf to prevent you from using a rangefinder on the green but you are unlikely to gain any benefit from that.

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