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Distance Measuring Devices - How they can help your game
March 2012

Today’s golfing DMDs embrace a wealth of technology from laser-based rangefinders to GPS devices sporting a variety of graphics, interactive features and game analysis gizmos to play with both during and after your round. We invited Roehampton assistant club pro, Richard Weeks, to take some of the latest models for a test drive and offer up practical tips on how to make the most of both types of device. Following that, equipment editor Dominic Pedler guides you through a glossary of the essential technical terms

1. How Distance measuring devices can help your game
2. Distance measuring devices terminology
3. Reviews

Thanks to a welcome loophole in the Rules of Golf, Distance Measuring Devices (DMDs) have become the fastest growing category of golf equipment in recent years.

Whether its laser-based rangefinders that you ‘point and shoot’ or geo-positional based units displaying instant yardages via satellite technology, DMDs have caught on with all levels of club golfers. On tour, they’re used by players and caddies (at least in practice rounds) and by on-course analysts and TV commentators.

Admittedly, Rule 14-3(b) only allows their competitive use by virtue of a special clause giving jurisdiction to the golf club, or relevant authority, to allow them under a local rule. But its adoption is increasingly widespread right up to EGU events and on the EuroPro Tour while, in the recent PowerPlay event at Celtic Manor, use of the official Nikon laser was actively encouraged throughout.

And while DMDs are not allowed in top tour events, pros and their caddies can often be seen with their Bushnells and Nikons during practice rounds, while expert course mapper Dion Stevens’ legendary yardage books used in tournaments by many tour stars are painstakingly prepared with his Nikon Laser 1000AS. In this way the great DMD debate has moved on from whether they should be allowed at all to what system is best and what features are genuinely ‘game improvement’ for golfers.

As the following glossary and instruction guide from our guest pro show, there are no easy answers. It ultimately comes down to your individual priorities regarding the type of data, features, convenience and ease of use.

But understanding the technology involved and practical ways to incorporate it into your game is the first step to making the choice between Laser and GPS (while, for those that want the best of both worlds, the new Bushnell Hybrid even combines the two technologies in one unit).


Roehampton assistant club pro, Richard Weeks, brings you practical tips on how to make the most of both GPS and laserbased technologies.

1. How far do you really hit each club?

As a golf teacher I’m often amazed at how most pupils have no real idea how far they hit each of their clubs. This is such an important part of your game – if you can’t match up the distance you have remaining to the green with the right club in your bag then what hope do you have?! Knowing your own distances in practice really is a pre-requisite for getting the most from your DMD, some of which help directly with this task. For example, for my driver through to my 9-iron, the ‘mark’ feature on the Skycaddie SGX is superb for working out distances while I’m actually out on the course. I simply hit the shot, press the ‘mark’ button and then walk to the ball. The unit then gives me an instant yardage as if I’ve paced it out.

As an R&A survey has confirmed, most golfers imagine they hit the ball much further than they actually do, and once you get a true picture of your average distances with each club it will hugely improve you confidence in choosing the correct club when faced with the approach shot yardages from your DMD unit.

Be sure to check how far your irons carry rather than merely total distance; while, over time, you should refine your ‘master sheet’ to note variations according to different weather conditions and types of terrain – all of which can have a significant effect.

When it comes to those vital wedge numbers, I suggest a different approach using a laser-based rangefinder. Hit 10 shots and then walk out and place a flagstick roughly in the middle of the bunch of balls. Walk back to your original position and aim the rangefinder at the stick for the exact yardage. In my test I used the Nikon Laser 350 which, for shots inside 100 yards, gave me a reading to one decimal place.

Try this exercise with all your wedges and you’ll soon see whether you have any inconsistent ‘gaps’ between them. For example, if you hit your pitching wedge 115 yards, your sand wedge 70 yards and your lob wedge 50 yards, any shots of around 100 yards could become a real issue for you. This type of DMD feedback tells you it’s time either to learn to hit a reduced distance shot with your pitching wedge or to look at getting the lofts adjusted to produce more evenly spaced distance gaps.


Assessing ‘Risk Reward’ situations

The main function of any DMD is obviously to tell you how far you have to the green – or ideally the flag itself – for your approach shot, allowing you to match the club according to your own distances you have now compiled. But the wealth of information offered by a good GPS system can dramatically improve your assessment of risk/reward situations.

The short par-four 4th hole at Roehampton (right) provides a great example of how different standards of golfer would use such a unit in different ways.

An average golfer who typically hits his drive 210 yards should immediately note the yawning bunker specified on the GPS at 208 yards and realize that, while he could get past with his best shot, he has very little to gain from doing so given the hole is only 269 yards in total.

A safe 3-wood off the tee to an unguarded part of the fairway will leave him with only a wedge – or 9 iron at most – with the on-screen image of the whole hole confirming that the potential reward from finding a safe spot beyond the trap does not justify the risk.

Meanwhile, as a better player, I’m considering driving the green and I note the GPS figure of 258 yards to the front edge, along with distances to each bunker. On the Sky- Caddie SGX, for example, I also have the option to move the graphic of the flag around on the screen to give me a more accurate distance from the edge of each bunker to the flag.

While I’m tempted, the GPS clearly helps me appreciate how the green is plagued with bunkers making the shot particularly risky if I went offline. Yet the same technology helps me easily see my alternative strategy of a lay-up in front of the first bunker with a 195 yard 4-iron, leaving me 68 yards – a smooth lob wedge for me – to the middle of the green.

Having this type of knowledge to hand on every hole allows you to assess the various options and will greatly improve your course management skills.

Compensating for elevation changes

Laser rangefinders have a defining advantage of offering yardages to the flag position prevailing that day, which many golfers will prefer over the more general ‘middle of the green’ figures offered by GPS (even if these can be tweaked manually by choosing ‘virtual’ flag placements).

One rather special laser feature is in respect of the Slope Edition models that offer more accurate calculations for approach shots involving elevation changes – which, as any student of Pythogoras will know, can affect the distance significantly.

For example, the 16th at Roehampton is a sharply uphill par four that often catches me out with my second shot as I’m never sure how much the elevation will affect my distance. The answer lies with the Bushnell Tour V2 Slope Edition laser whose built-in accelerometer-based inclinometer registers the exact slope angle from -20 to +20 degrees of elevation.

After registering the standard yardage, the unit will then calculate the ‘play-as’ distance by taking the slope angle into account, as clearly displayed in the digital viewfinder.

While other laser units (and indeed GPS) will measure the distance as if I was on the same level as the flag (in this case 142 yards), the Bushnell Slope Edition is recommending I use a club that is going to travel 152 yards to compensate for the extra distance implied by the elevation.

As a result, I’m grateful to be taking a smooth 7-iron instead of an 8.

As explained in Dominic’s following glossary, Slope Editions are not formally allowed under the Rules of Golf but, clearly, they are fantastic for casual play and will gradually teach you to compensate for elevation changes when using a conforming version in competition. Ideally you’d have both!

Dealing with doglegs

Laser rangefinders lose out to GPS devices in certain situations – most notably blind holes and doglegs where the best GPS devices offer a complete overview of the hole – and, in the case of the Callaway uPro and Sonocaddie V500+, short ‘flyover’ footage of the entire hole.

The tee shot on the 18th hole at Roehampton is a sharp dogleg to the right where, from the tee, I can either play safe to the corner with a long iron, or go for broke and attempt the carry over the corner. In both cases I need to know specific distances.

I could ‘laser’ the tops of trees – but not many golfers know how high (and at what distance) their ball reaches the peak of its trajectory – or I could try and pick out one of the trees on the far side of the fairway to give me a ‘run-out’ distance.

But GPS offers a far simpler assessment and in my test I used the GolfBuddy World for its touch screen facility giving me a distance to any point on the hole, thereby helping me with both of my strategic options: Tapping the screen on the corner of the dogleg tells me I have 210 yards – for me a 3- iron or hybrid for the lay up – while tapping the screen in the ideal landing area tells me the carry distance over the corner if I ‘go for broke’ and exactly how far before I run out of room and reach the trees on the far side.

In these typical situations it’s vital you know a variety of distances, especially if it’s a course you’ve never played before. And, here, GPS is your saviour giving you a clear picture of an otherwise blind challenge.

Advanced green reading: calculating distances to ridges and tiers

Greens sporting extreme ridges and multitiered sections present their own special challenge but certain sophisticated DMDs can help greatly.

The 11th green at Roehampton sports a pronounced double tier with at least a 5 feet change in height between the levels. I know from experience that if I land on the wrong level it’s an almost certain three putt, while a first time visitor could certainly use some guidance (see page 136, top photo). Standing in the fairway it is possible to make out the different tiers, but the crucial distance to top of the slope is hard to gauge – either with a laser or a GPS whose figures are confined to ‘front, middle and back’.

This is where the IntelliGreen Pro function on the SkyCaddie SGX comes into action. By tilting the device to the right it brings up a close-up graphic of the green showing slopes, contours and yardages to different points, while depicting the slope in a special shade that helps you see it in relation to the rest of the green. It also gives me the option of moving the flag around on the screen to match the top or bottom pin position in operation that day, while automatically adjusting the yardages to any given point.

While much of the time this feature will be a superfluous luxury, on this type of hole where mis-clubbing is fatal, it is a highly useful – yet only available on the SkyCaddie who map courses on foot (as such topography currently cannot be mapped from aerial photography).

The only downside is the tilting action required on the SGX as I found the screen can quickly jump back to another function if you don’t get it completely horizontal. But I’m sure I’ll get the knack with practice!

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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