A rangefinder is a device you use to measure the distance between you and a target. Although rangefinder technology is pretty widespread in its usage, having applications in military scenarios (where the prices could easily reach hundreds of thousands of dollars) to bowhunting beyond 20 yards, we’re specifically talking about golf rangefinders here.
During a game of golf, your knowledge of the distance between you and the flag (or another target) is critical in taking the right shot. However, rangefinders might be illegal in most games. Golfers often use rangefinders in practice games and friendly matches.
The distance is called the yardage. There’s another term that you’re likely to come across: true yardage. True yardage means the number of yards compensated for the angular deviation (like the yardage between you and a flag that’s uphill, in contrast to a flag that’s on the same horizontal plane as you). Check the second section for more.
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HOW DOES A RANGEFINDER WORK?
There are two major kinds of rangefinders: GPS and laser.
GPS rangefinders come with preloaded golf course data and tell the golfer the distance of particular targets from the front, the back, and the center of the green. They don’t measure the distance from your point to something.
GPS rangefinders work on … well, how do I put it? GPS. I guess you figured that much out.
The Global Positioning System comes with its limitations. For example, if you happen to face a tricky pin or a big tree as an obstacle, you can’t measure your distance from your spot to it, as these details are not pre-programmed into the device.
If you want to see our full guide on how rangefinder works.
Laser Golf Rangefinders give you more freedom and cost more.
They are independent of any pre-programming. You can literally make your own golf course and measure distances there. Stand at a point, look into the viewfinder, and focus on the target in question. It’ll give you a reading of the yardage (or true yardage) so that you can make up your mind on how to go about taking the shot.
The mechanics of a laser rangefinder are simple.
It shoots a narrow beam of light towards your target and calculates the amount of time it takes for it to hit back. Using a simple formula, it then determines the distance.
The faster the detector component and the sharper the laser pulse, the more accurate your reading is going to be. In certain hunting rangefinders, you can also get the speed of a moving target using the Doppler effect.
WHAT ABOUT SLOPES? DO RANGEFINDERS
COMPENSATE FOR ELEVATION AND DEPRESSION?
Not all of them do.
Many laser rangefinders offer angle compensation to figure out almost-accurate distance, dubbed the true yardage, between you and a target uphill or downhill. They cost more.
You’ll also find the term “rangefinder with slope”. Well, although almost all rangefinders offer a curvy, slopy grip, a rangefinder with slope doesn’t have anything to do with the exterior build.
It means that the rangefinder can work with slopes; that it’s angle-compensated. On many golf courses, angle compensation is critical even if the difference between yardage and true yardage is less than a couple of dozen yards. But at the same time, angle-compensated rangefinders are more likely to be considered illegal even in perfectly normal situations.
ARE RANGEFINDERS SAFE FOR MY EYES?
GPS rangefinders pose no threat. Laser rangefinders depend on shooting a beam of light. And direct contact with that beam of light is not recommended. You should always make sure that there is no creature in your line of sight.
Generally speaking, there are four classes of laser rangefinding equipment. The military ones are high-class and have a huge range and impeccable precision. The consumer rangefinders, like the ones used for golf or hunting, for example, BUSHNELL TOUR V4 or SIG SAUER KILO 850, often fall into the Class 1 or 2.
These classes are eye-safe according to the energy levels, but still, you should always avoid direct eye contact with the laser.
WHAT IS THE PRICE RANGE FOR A TYPICAL GOLF RANGEFINDER?
They usually fall in the $100-$400 range.
Under $200, you can get some reliable laser rangefinders for golfing but I’m not too sure about how long will they keep working. The $200-$400 is the Goldilocks zone. Amazing specs, reliability, precision, and just the right number of features.
Above $400, you’ll get some truly high-end products that offer more control and accuracy. The displays are premium, the ratings are tournament-legal, there’s target-locking that you’ll love, and so on.
As a general rule of thumb, the higher the range and accuracy, the costlier the rangefinder. Some also come with more bells and whistles and that costs more too, for example, waterproofing, slope measurement, flag-lock, scanning for hazards, pin-sensors, vibration on target lock, stabilization, and so on.
WHAT ARE THE OTHER THINGS THAT I CAN USE MY RANGEFINDER FOR?
I like to classify these easily accessible consumer-grade rangefinders as “sports rangefinders.”
Hunting with bows or firearms is also a sport. And it’s incomplete without rangefinders.
For example, without a proper rangefinder, it’s hard to hit the target, even with the best calculative mind, targets that are over 25 yards away while using a bow.
THAT SUMS UP THE SUBJECT WHAT IS A RANGEFINDER.
There are two major reasons for using a laser rangefinder in a game of golf:
- Calculating the yardage between you and a target like a flagstick.
- Picking the right club and knowing how far should you be playing the ball when you know the inclination or declination.
Uphill or downhill situations create ample opportunities for guesswork. A good angle-compensated rangefinder will help you there.
Rangefinders are very accurate, especially the high-end ones, and help golfers clear doubts.
And before we wrap up, always pay attention to the form-factor and the weight. You want your rangefinder to be compact and lightweight so that you can use it for hours on end, though it’s not that important in hunting because you’re not going to use it for a long period of time per hunt.
Written by Scott Ferguson
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