What are the different types of Golf rangefinders? How They Work?

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By The Golf Rangefinder Team


There are mainly three types of golf rangefinders: Laser Rangefinders or Optical Rangefinders, GPS Rangefinders and Hybrid Rangefinders, and they employ different technologies to accomplish this task. Golf rangefinders work by precisely measuring the distance between the golfer and a specific point on the golf course, typically the flagstick or other notable landmarks.

Understanding the Basics

Before we dive into the specifics of rangefinder types and functionality, let’s establish the fundamental principles they all share. Rangefinders operate on the basis of measuring the time it takes for a signal to travel to the target and back. This signal can be in the form of light, sound, or radio waves. By knowing the speed of the signal and the time it takes to return, rangefinders can calculate the distance accurately.

Different Types Of Golf Rangefinders

1. Laser Rangefinders / Optical Rangefinders

Laser Golf Rangefinder
  • How They Work: Laser rangefinders operate by emitting a laser beam towards the target and measuring the time it takes for the laser to bounce off the target and return. They use this time measurement to calculate the distance accurately.
  • Emitting a Laser Beam: Laser rangefinders work by emitting a focused laser beam towards the target, such as the flagstick on the golf green.
  • Time of Flight Measurement: The rangefinder measures the time it takes for the laser beam to travel to the target and bounce back to the device. This measurement is known as the “time of flight.”
  • Distance Calculation: By knowing the speed of light and the time it took for the laser to return, the rangefinder calculates the distance to the target accurately. This calculation typically happens within a fraction of a second.
  • Accuracy: Laser rangefinders are known for their high precision, often providing distance readings within a yard or meter of the actual distance.
  • Advantages: Laser rangefinders are known for their high precision and quick distance readings. They are suitable for various targets on the golf course, including flags and hazards.
  • Limitations: One potential limitation of laser rangefinders is that they require a steady hand to ensure accuracy. Also, they may not provide as much course information as GPS rangefinders.

2. GPS Rangefinders

GPS Golf Rangefinder
  • How They Work: GPS rangefinders use satellite signals to provide accurate distance measurements. They often come with pre-loaded course maps, offering not only yardages but also a comprehensive view of the hole layout. Golfers do not need to aim at the target; they simply glance at the device to obtain yardage information.
  • Using Satellite Signals: GPS (Global Positioning System) rangefinders rely on signals from a network of satellites orbiting the Earth.
  • Pre-loaded Course Maps: These devices are pre-loaded with maps of golf courses. The GPS receiver in the rangefinder determines your position based on the signals received from these satellites.
  • Yardage Calculation: Using your current location and the coordinates of notable course features (like the flagstick), the rangefinder calculates the distance to these points and displays it on the device’s screen.
  • Additional Information: GPS rangefinders often provide additional information such as distances to hazards, bunkers, and the front, center, and back of the green. Some advanced models can even give recommendations on club selection based on your position and the hole layout.
  • Accuracy: While GPS rangefinders are generally accurate, they may have a slight lag in yardage updates due to the time it takes to communicate with satellites. They are typically accurate within a few yards or meters.
  • Advantages: GPS rangefinders are user-friendly and provide valuable course information. They can give yardages to various points on the hole, including hazards and bunkers. They are also beneficial for golfers who prefer a broader view of the course layout.
  • Drawbacks: Some GPS rangefinders may have a slight lag in yardage updates. Additionally, they may not offer the same pinpoint accuracy as laser rangefinders.

3. Hybrid Rangefinders

Hybrid Golf Rangefinder
  • How They Work: Hybrid rangefinders typically incorporate both laser and GPS technologies into a single device. This means they can provide distance measurements through laser precision, while also offering valuable course information through GPS capabilities.
  • The Best of Both Worlds: Hybrid rangefinders combine the precision of laser measurements with the convenience of GPS features. This means golfers can enjoy accurate distance readings while also having access to course maps and additional information.
  • Accuracy: One of the standout features of hybrid rangefinders is their laser accuracy. They excel at providing precise distance measurements to specific targets, such as flagsticks or hazards.
  • Advantages and Considerations: Hybrid rangefinders offer a holistic view of the course, making them popular among golfers. However, they tend to be on the higher end of the price spectrum. Golfers who value both accuracy and course information often find hybrid rangefinders to be an ideal choice.

4. All Other Types Rangefinders

  • Slope-Enabled Rangefinders: Some rangefinders have slope measurement capabilities, which factor in the elevation changes between the golfer and the target. They provide adjusted distances that take into account uphill and downhill shots.
  • Tournament-Legal Rangefinders: These rangefinders are designed to comply with golf tournament rules and regulations. They disable features like slope measurement and offer only basic distance information to ensure fair play in competitions.
  • Handheld Rangefinders: These are traditional rangefinders that you hold and aim manually at the target. They are compact and easy to use, making them popular among golfers.
  • Wearable Rangefinders: Wearable rangefinders come in the form of watches or glasses. They provide distance information directly on the golfer’s wrist or field of vision, allowing for quick access to yardages without having to retrieve a separate device.
  • App-Connected Rangefinders: These rangefinders connect to smartphone apps via Bluetooth. The app may provide additional course information, aerial views, and other features to enhance the golfer’s experience.


In summary, golf rangefinders, whether laser or GPS-based, provide golfers with accurate distance measurements to help them make more informed decisions about their shots. The choice between the two types often comes down to personal preference, the level of detail desired, and budget considerations.

We have written detailed article on choosing the right golf rangefinder if you want to read.

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