Golf: a game of frustration. One minute you hit an amazing shot that fires down the heart of the fairway; the next you shank it into a farmer’s field. Golfers, of any handicap, are always after ways in which to improve their game.
And boy, is there a load of tech to help you do just that. From gadgets that analyze your swing – down to the finest detail – or wearables that show you exactly how far away from the green (and even what club to use), there’s a clubhouse full of cool tech that can help you finally spend less time in the sand than the Team GB volleyball team. Here are our favourites…
The virtual caddies
Golf watches and rangefinders can be invaluable fairway companions. These ones are top of our leaderboard…
1) Best budget golf watch: SkyCaddie SW2 (£130)
It might be an entry-level golf watch, but the SkyCaddie SW2 has enough features to help you chip away at your handicap and save time on the course.
There’s the usual GPS tracking, which means you can measure not only the distance from tee-to-green, but also how far you’ve bombed your drive. And it also pairs with the SkyCaddie mobile app (iOS and Android) to give you expanded views of the course on your smartphone’s screen.
Of course, the main benefit of a watch is that you don’t have to faff around with your smartphone, so its automatic detection of courses, holes and pin distances is particularly handy. It’ll even act as a basic fitness tracker too, counting your distance, speed and calories burned to help you justify that trip to the 19th hole.
Buy the SkyCaddie SW2 here from Golfonline
2) Best GPS golf band: Garmin Approach X40 (£200)
If you like the sound of a golf-themed fitness tracker, the X40 could be for you.
It offers the features of a top-notch golf GPS watch, with 40,000 courses are pre-loaded and an ace auto-shot tracking feature. And it also acts as a fine cake-justification tool, collecting daily readings of your calories burned and even your heartrate, in case you want to see how nervous you were on that all-important matchplay putt.
With ten hours of battery life, it’ll easily last two rounds on a single charge too. Well, unless you end up in that lake again.
Buy the Garmin Approach X40 here from Amazon
3) Best premium golf watch: Garmin Approach S6 (£350)
Yep, it’s another Garmin, but this really is the best on-course partner short of an actual caddy.
At the heart of this light, slim watch is a high-res color screen with CourseView, which means you can get the layout of a hole at the touch of a button. If your course likes to play around with pin positions, Green View also lets you tell the watch exactly where the flag is for more accurate yardage.
Found yourself with a blind shot from your favorite spot, the deep rough? The handy PinPointer function gives you a (not at all patronising) directional arrow pointing to the green. And it’ll even coach your swing, with SwingTempo and SwingStrength helping to improve your tempo with audible beeps.
Buy the Garmin Approach S6 here from Amazon
What about the Apple Watch Series 2?
If you’ve already splashed out on an Apple Watch Series 2, you might be hoping that it can act as your golf watch. Well, it can – to an extent.
You can’t yet get all of the same features, such as swing analysis, as dedicated devices. But there are some cool golf apps for the Apple Watch Series 2 that use its built-in GPS to give you readouts on distances, and help it act as your digital scorecard.
One of the best so far is Golfshot (£29), which also offers dynamic 3D flyovers on your smartphone and some cool coaching videos. Another solid option is Hole 19 (£free + IAP) which gives you a number of GPS tracking features and on-course shot tracking, though the latter is a $50 per year pro feature.
4) Best laser rangefinder: Bushnell Pro X2 rangefinder (£439)
Lasers aren’t quite as widespread as sci-fi promised, but we can at least use them on golf courses to find exact yards to the pin. Okay, it’s a small consolation prize, but we’ll take it.
Handheld laser rangefinders tend to be much more accurate than their GPS equivalents, and give you the added accuracy of being able to hone in on an exact pin location, which the Pro X2 confirms with a little vibration.
This rugged Bushnell is accurate to half a yard, which means you have no real excuse for missing the green. There’s also some cool slope-reading tech, so you can get added accuracy on uphill and downhill shots. It’s probably overkill for the crazy golf course, mind.
Buy the Bushnell Pro X2 here from Golfonline
The swing improvers
Still hooking drives into people’s gardens? These training tools could help…
5) Zepp Golf 2 (£130)
This small fluorescent sensor attaches to your gold glove, giving you readouts of all kinds of swing data. Pair it with the Zepp app and you’ll get your hand speed, swing speed, back swing position, hip rotation and your swing plane – all represented in a glorious 3D representation of your golf swing.
The app also analyzes your swing, giving you tips on how you can improve. And a new Course Mode handily lets you analyze on-course statistics from round-to-round, so you can see just how consistent (or inconsistent) you are on the track.
Buy the Zepp Golf 2 here from Amazon
6) SkyCaddie SkyPro (£100)
Stick this device on your club’s shaft, pair it with the SkyPro Swing Trainer app (£free, Android and iOS) and prepare to binge on swing data. You’ll get speed, plane, and even the, um, shaft angle at address.
You can compare your swings or even compare your ball striking with pro golfers. Oh, and this not only works with full swings, but with putts as well, meaning you can get some not-at-all infuriating data on why you’re missing those crucial clutch putts.
Buy the SkyCaddie SkyPro here from Amazon
7) Garmin TruSwing (£130)
Similar to the SkyPro, the TruSwing is a sensor that attaches to the shaft of your golf club. But what we particularly love about this one is that you can see your data immediately on a compatible Garmin golf GPS watch.
Sure, you’ll have to buy one, but it means you don’t need to take your smartphone out of your pocket to get some analysis during your practice sessions. It all means you can concentrate on your game, with fewer distractions (other than that golf cart that’s flying towards you).
Of course, you get shed loads of data, including some pretty detailed readouts on face angle to target, shaft lean at impact and loft. Like the Zepp Golf 2, you can see a 3D representation of your swing in the app too. Followed by a 3D representation of you hurling the club at a tree.
Buy the Garmin TruSwing here on Amazon
The shot trackers
These smart trackers will supply all the data you need for your 19th hole, post-round inquest…
8) Game Golf Live (£169)
Game Golf was the original on-course shot tracker. It works via a GPS device that you strap to your belt or bag and a series of ‘tags’ that screw in to the top of each club.
Using the online app, you quickly assign the tags to your clubs and then you’re good to go. When you’re out on the course, before each shot, tap the tag on the main unit and it’ll track all of your shots on the course.
With the new Game Golf Live, you can not only see your stats on your computer when you’re back from a round, but also on-course during your round. Oh, and if you forget to tap the device with your club, NFC shot tracking does a pretty good job of automatically filling in the blanks.
Buy Game Golf Live here on Amazon
9) PIQ Robot (£230)
The PIQ Robot system combines shot tracking with GPS rangefinding and swing analysis. It consists of a glove-mountable unit, complete with an LED display, which helpfully weighs less than 10 grams and tells you your distance to the green.
This also analyzes your swing data, including the likes of tempo, swing speed, club head speed. And it comes with 18 tags as well, meaning you can analyze where you hit your shots on the course. All of this adds up to a rather nifty device that can give you suggestions on what club to use. Think of it as a personal electronic caddy, doing everything apart from carrying your bag and absorbing your post-shot rage.
Buy the PIQ Robot
10) Arccos 360 (£249)
The Arccos 360 is another tag-based, shot-tracking system, doing everything automatically and reporting back to the smartphone app in real-time.
Stick the tags in the end of your clubs and get out on the course. As you go, you can check your distances and shot types on-course and make adjustments as you plan your round.
Once you’ve finished criss-crossing around the course, you get tour-level analytics on your game, showing everything from average driving distance to greens in regulation and average putts per round. Oh, and post-round pints consumed, of course.
Buy the Arccos 360 here
And the ultimate toy for scratch golfers…
11) Trackman 4 ($18995)
Okay, take a deep breath – this golf training aid costs more than a family saloon. But it is the choice of pro golfers worldwide and trumps laser rangefinders by using radar systems.
It tracks everything from club face speed to plane and distance, showing your shot instantly on a screen or iPad. Ever wondered how Sky Sports creates those fancy ball flight graphics on its live golf coverage? All the data comes from Trackman’s radar tech.
With the vast amount of trackers available at a fraction of the cost you may wonder why it’s worth it, and for most golfers it isn’t. But for professionals wanting perfectly accurate data it’s the only option – and if you pocket $1 million prize money on offer for a PGA Tour win, it’s chump change anyway.
Buy the Trackman 4 here from Trackman