How does a Golf rangefinder work?

Woman with a rangefinder

Before you even start to check out what is a rangefinder, then continue reading.

There are three major kinds of rangefinders that we’ll discuss in this piece:

1. GPS rangefinders,

2. Laser rangefinders, and

3. Optical rangefinders.

All three work differently. Our scope for the discussion in this piece is going to be settled around golfing only. During a game of golf, you can use any of these rangefinders, though in many situations a rangefinder is going to be illegal. Some high-end models come with the relevant certification to be tournament-acceptable but in general, the rangefinder is largely used for practice and friendly games.

All rangefinders use batteries, so it’s usually a good idea to be backed up on that front in case you run out of juice during your game. Fiddling with a rangefinder that’s on the fritz in front of your friends is just downright embarrassing. For the best range finder, click on the link.

So, without further ado, let’s dive right into the workings of each of these types of rangefinders:


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A GPS rangefinder utilizes a satellite link to mark your position and look around you. It already has golf course data pre-programmed inside it. It then matches that data with your surroundings, scanning 100-150 meters around the targets like pins.

Before you head into a golf game with a GPS rangefinder, you’ll need to sync or download the relevant golf course’s data. You usually need a companion computer or smartphone where you can preload the targets. The rangefinder will make its connection with the satellite to receive a location feed and then it’s good to go – it will then calculate your distance to any flag or hole that you select.

A GPS rangefinder finds the relative distance of targets. In other words, it determines your distance to the various parts of the entirety of the green – like, for example, it tells you how far you’re from the front, the rear, and so on.

GPS rangefinders are pretty common but less popular. In case you stumble upon an obstacle or a tricky spot, your rangefinder won’t be able to calculate your distance to it simply because that particular target is not pre-programmed.

Though GPS rangefinding technology has grown substantially over time, there are only a few models that offer distinct service to golfers. That’s why most avid golfers prefer to trade their GPS rangefinder requirement with a laser rangefinder one, which is our next topic.


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A laser rangefinder is based on a simple concept in physics.

Many devices across industries work on the principle of figuring out the distance to a specific target by sending a pulse or beam of light (dubbed laser in the common tongue) to it and calculating the duration it takes to reach back at its source after bouncing off the target.

Using a simple formula, these devices find the distance. In the case of golfing and hunting rangefinders, the standard unit is yards.

Laser rangefinders are like compact, lightweight camcorders that you see through. They come with viewfinders, using which you can focus on a particular target. You need to keep your hands steady to make sure the device works. If not, then it won’t give any reading or a nonsensical reading. So, make sure your hands are perfectly steady before pulling the trigger.

There’s another angle at play when using laser rangefinder and it’s, well, the angle itself.

When you’re playing on a hilly golf course with elevations and depressions, then the rangefinder needs to compensate for the inclination or declination before giving a reading. Many basic laser rangefinders lack angle compensation and the accuracy of distance measuring breaks down in that case.

Many others, however, come with angle compensation, or “slope”  like Bushnell Tour V4

These allow the player to lock on a target compensating for the inclination or declination and give the “true yardage” distance to the target.


how does range finder works

An optical rangefinder is more basic in what it does. These are also like compact camcorders.

Optical rangefinders work through an in-built scale. The scale determines the height of the target, like a pin/flagstick, and then converts the data to calculate the distance.

Here’s the breakdown of its usage:

1. Use the viewfinder to focus on your target.

2. You get the height of the target using the scale.

3. Now, the sensor inside will calculate the distance based on the height reading and give it to you.

If I had to sum up optical rangefinders in one sentence, I’d probably go with “more basic and less accurate, but reliable nevertheless”.

Even though they’re less accurate than their peer technologies, optical rangefinders find a good amount of usage among professional golfers simply because sometimes, you don’t need all the bells and whistles that come along in a more sophisticated rangefinding package. Sometimes, you already pretty much know how to play out your shot, but you need to eliminate the remaining guesswork. Terrain conditions also affect optical rangefinders, therefore minimizing their usability.


Being able to focus on the target, like a hole, and getting an accurate reading is precisely what a rangefinder is supposed to do. Certain conditions, however, impact how much accuracy you can expect.

For example, temperature affects the traveling speed of a laser rangefinder’s sharp pulse. Now, that’s a huge concern while hunting but most games of golf are played on a normal temperature under a clear sky, so it’s not that big of a deal.

Slopes create many problems and that’s why angle-compensated rangefinders are all the rage in the golfing community. If you don’t know the true yardage through a slope, you’ll need to second-guess every decision that you make starting from which club to choose and how to play the ball.

A reliable rangefinder, in that case, can cut down on the guesswork. And that’s the primary reason why golfers pack rangefinders along with the rest of their golf gear.

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