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Archive for January, 2012

Expresso AG50

Expresso Satellite Navigation (ESN) has introduced the successor to the AG1, the AG50. The device features a 50-satellite receiver (thus the model name), and a 3.75″ color display. It comes with over 25,000 courses loaded onto the device, providing distances to the front, center and back of the green, along with pre-mapped target information. With a paid membership via iGolf.com (the same company that provides data for Bushnell XGC/XGC+ golf GPS devices), players will have access to full hole images and the ability to determine distances to any point on the course. Memberships are $34.99 per 50 courses per year.

The AG50 also can measure shot distances, keep scores and track statistics.

As with the AG1, the AG50 isn’t just a golf GPS device. It is equally a car navigation device, and includes text-to-speed, route planning, day/night modes, and points of interest. Automotive mapping data is provided by NAVTEQ, a name that will be known to many. And it doesn’t stop there – users can also listen to music, watch videos, and view photos. With its smorgasbord of offerings, it is a member of a unique category of golf GPS devices.

Retail price: $199.95
Three year total cost: $304.92
Amazon.com: Check price now
Golfsmith: Check price now


Expresso WR62 Watch

The Expresso Satellite Navigation (ESN) WR62 is essentially a sister product to the Bushnell neo+ golf GPS watch, adding limited hazard information to the front/center/back information available on the Bushnell device. The guts of the watches look to be essentially the same (down to the same font type and almost identical menus), but the external styling and watch bands differ, and there are a few functional differences as well. Let’s call them fraternal twins. The WR62 features a stainless steel bezel and buttons, giving it more of a diving watch look, and has a lock clasp band that has to be sized to the wrist of the user (we took it to a local watch repair store, which did it in about 5 minutes at a cost of $10). The Expresso WR62 utilizes the same iGolf course database used by Bushnell, and comes preloaded with 25,000 courses.

The Expresso WR62 provides distances to the front, center and back of the green, and up to two hazards per hole. While the additional hazard data is great in concept, the execution befuddled us, as we often found that the hazards that Expresso chose to include weren’t always the most relevant ones. It is never enough to give us what we want – we will just want more of it! We aren’t software coders, and appreciate the challenge involved in creating an algorithm to select the most important hazards on any given hole. Where we quibble is wondering why Expresso chose to use dedicated screens to show the distances to the “front” and “back” when these distances are already on the primary display (where they are shown along with “center”) – it seems that the better use of those screens would be for additional hazard listings.

Like its fraternal twin, the Express WR62 provides the hole number, par, and distance information on the main screen. It does offer shot distance measurement, but there is no ability to record scores or statistics, and the only additional features are an odometer, an alarm, and a stopwatch (which the Bushnell neo+ watch does NOT have).

In an interesting twist, the Expresso WR62 retails for $179.95 ($20 less than the Bushnell neo+ watch).

We love the ease of use of golf GPS watches, and the Express WR62 is a nice option in this category. We didn’t love the styling, and getting the watch band sized was a minor hassle, but if you want a little more data than the Bushnell neo+ watch provides, at an even more attractive price (the neo+ watch is already one of the most affordable golf GPS watches), the Expresso WR62 is worth checking out.

SCORE
89
GRADE
B+
Setup/Syncing
79
Course Availability
93
Ease of Use
98
Course Details
78
Features
81
Accuracy
90
Cost/Value
94

Pros:

  • Extremely easy to use
  • Exceptional course coverage
  • No fees to update courses

Cons:

  • No current ability to sync to update course maps
  • Distance information to fixed points at the front, center and back points on the green
  • Limited hazard information
  • No advanced features, such as scoring

Availability: Discontinued. Replaced by the Expresso WR67 GPS Watch
Retail price: $179.95
Three year total cost: $179.95
Amazon.com: Check price now


79 / C+

SETUP/SYNCING

The Good: Courses are already pre-loaded on the device.

The Bad: No wall charger is provided, so the only way to charge the device is by plugging the USB cable into your computer. The clip to attach the watch to the USB cable is a bit fickle. Despite the fact that the user manual states that the device can be synced with either a PC or a Mac for latest course updates, there is currently no driver available for the Mac. Oh, and syncing functionality isn’t available yet anyways, so you cannot update course maps (details, details!).

Details:

  • Required Steps. The only thing you need to do before heading to the course is ensure that the battery is charged. Note that we purchased the U.S./Canada version of the product – the International version is available with preloaded courses from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland. The instruction manual states that course updates are available through the iGolf web site – you must first register the device through iGolf, and then download a device driver (which, as mentioned above, is only available for PCs, no matter what the user manual says, so Mac owners are out of luck). We were then taken through a process for downloading a firmware update. Oh joy! But to top it all off, after all of this, we wound up getting to a screen that informed us that “Full Sync functionality is not currently available.” What the *@#!??? The only thing that kept us from giving the WR62 an even lower rating in this category is the fact that you technically don’t NEED to sync the device…at least until something changes on one of the courses in the database…which has no doubt already happened.
  • Time Required for Setup. Charging the battery takes approximately 3 hours, and uses a somewhat temperamental charging clip. The charging clip sometimes doesn’t completely latch on to the appropriate contact points on the watch, so don’t walk way until you see the charging/connected indicator on the face of the watch come on and stay on. The charging/connected indicator will read “FULL” and show a full charge meter when the watch is completely charged, but oddly enough, it won’t show the charge level before that. The setup process of downloading the drivers and updating the watch firmware took about 15 minutes, but we can’t tell you how long it takes to actually sync the device since, as indicated above, that functionality is not supported at the time of this review.

What’s in the Box: The Expresso WR62 golf GPS watch comes with:

  • Cable (USB-to-charging clip)
  • Quick Start Guide

Required Downloads:

  • You must download a device driver to your PC (available on the iGolf web site). Of course at this moment, that won’t actually do anything, since syncing isn’t currently available. Grrrrr….


93 / A-

COURSE AVAILABILITY

Critical Golf Test: Like the Bushnell neo+ (which has a different set of features than the Bushnell neo+ watch), which also provides hazard information, the Expresso WR62 watch leverages the course database from iGolf. Course coverage is 93%, which is what we expect from devices that provide fixed front-center-back of the green distance information and, in this case, only limited hazard information.

Manufacturer’s Claims: The WR62 comes with more than 25,000 worldwide courses pre-loaded on the device, which ranks it near the top of our course coverage comparison test .


98 / A+

EASE OF USE

The Good:The Expresso WR62 benefits from the watch form factor– just look at your wrist!

The Bad: More bulky than the standard watches we wear.

Details:

  • Buttons. The Expresso WR62 golf GPS watch has five buttons: front (which doubles as the power button), back, hazard/select, shot, and menu.
  • Screen. Though the screen viewing area is a mere 0.8 square inches, one of the smallest golf GPS screens available, the black and white screen is easy to read. There is no backlight for the screen, which is a difference from the Bushnell neo+ watch.
  • Form Factor. The Expresso WR62 has a black rubber and plastic body and, unlike its sister device the Bushnell neo+ GPS watch, is accented with a textured stainless steel bezel and a stainless steel clasp and buttons. The stainless steel adds to the weight a bit, as the WR62 comes in at 2.6 ounces, 0.7 ounces heavier than the neo+ watch. While the WR62 has more pizzazz to its design, it’s still pretty bulky, and the texture of the bezel tends to get snagged on long sleeves. As with other golf GPS watches, there is the advantage of being able to access readings with the simple turn of a wrist. The watch band must be custom sized to fit your wrist – in our estimation, the hassle of getting the band fitted far outweighed any improvement in the aesthetics.
  • Starting a Round. Click on “play golf” from the main menu, then, once the satellite signal has been acquired, select a course from a list of options within a 20-25 mile radius. If you don’t start on the 1st hole, the watch won’t automatically find the hole on which you begin, but advancing to the appropriate hole is a relatively painless process.
  • Battery Life. Expresso claims a battery life of about 12 hours on the course. During our testing the Expresso WR62 performed even better than that, as the battery meter showed half of the charge remaining after we had played two full rounds (we’re not sure whether to really believe it or not, but two rounds of battery power is pretty good in any event). On top of that, Expresso claims up to 1 year of battery life when the device is used exclusively as a watch. Note that we had one round where the battery only lasted 9 holes, but this was part of a session in which the device crashed twice, so it may have been a result of some bugginess in the firmware.

For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of golf GPS device features.


78 / C+

COURSE DETAIL AND MAPPING

The Good: The Expresso WR62 provides distances to hazards.

The Bad: The number of listed hazards is limited to two.

Expresso WR62 Golf GPS Watch

Click for more images

Details:

  • Views. The Expresso WR62 provides “hole view” screens for “front”, “back” and “center”, and secondary screens for hazards, shot distance measurement, battery level, and time.
    • Hole View – The primary Hole View screen displays the hole number, par, distances to center of the green (in largest text in the center of the screen), and front and back green points (in slightly smaller text at the bottom of the screen) points. The Back and Front buttons switch to displaying only the distance to the front or back of the green for approximately 10 seconds before returning to the main Hole View screen. These two additional screens seem superfluous, as all three distances are already provided on the main Hole View.
    • Hazard View – Pushing the Hazard button will bring up a screen showing distances to up to two hazards on the course. The hazards are identified with three-letter abbreviations, such as EOF for End of Fairway and RFB for Right Fairway Bunker. After approximately 10 seconds, the display will return to the main Hole View.
    • Shot Distance– Activated when the user presses the Shot button, this view displays the measurement of a particular shot. Users can’t toggle between views while continuing to measure shot distance.
    • Battery Level– To see the battery charge level you will need to toggle to exit your current round. This doesn’t result in the loss of any data since the WR62 doesn’t keep score anyway, but it’s a bit of a hassle to have to reacquire satellites when you want to get back to displaying distances.
    • Date/Time– Before you begin a round, this is the default view, showing the date and time (including seconds). You must exit your current round to get back to the full date/time view, but the time is still accessible during a round if you just push “Menu.”
  • Hole Information. The hole number and par are always shown on the main Hole view screen. Hole handicap is not available.
  • Custom Mapping. Users cannot add custom points to the course data, nor can they modify any existing map information.


81 / B-

FEATURES

The Good: Shot distance measuring, auto hole advance, and an odometer that will measure how far you have walked and how quickly. And it’s also waterproof to 30 meters! Go ahead, take a victory dive into the pond by the 18th green!

The Bad: No ability to track scores or statistics.

Expresso WR62 Golf GPS Watch

Click for more images

Details:

  • Shot Tracking. The Expresso WR62 watch can measure shot distances, though it does not have the ability to save this information nor link a measurement to a club to calculate average shot distances.
  • Score and Statistics. Not available.
  • Auto-advance. The Expresso WR62 automatically advances to the next hole during play (there’s no option to turn this off). On those occasions where the auto advance gets a little squirrely, manually changing holes is easily done through the use of the Menu button.
  • Miscellaneous. Expresso has included a few bonus features, including a stopwatch, a countdown timer, an alarm, an odometer, and (should you ever wander into uncharted lands in your search for a ball that you launched wildly out of bounds and need to identify your location to the Search and Rescue team) the ability to display your precise latitude/longitude coordinates.
  • Preferences. A limited number of adjustable settings are available on the Expresso WR62, including how the time is obtained (automatically by GPS or just manually set and whether or not there is an adjustment for daylight savings) and displayed (12 hour or 24 hour), sound (whether or not a tone sounds every time you press a button), and unit of measure (yards or meters). By default the time is determined by your longitude. Since time zones aren’t based on longitude, you may find cases where the incorrect time is shown and need to manually set the time or time zone.

    During play, there is the option to select whether you are playing from the men’s or women’s tee boxes. Befuddled about this, we made a trip to the user manual to learn that this affects the par that is displayed if there is a difference between the men’s and women’s par on a given hole. Interestingly, we’ve not seen this on any other GPS device – kudos to Expresso for sticking up for the ladies!

For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of golf GPS device features.


90 / A-

ACCURACY

In our on-course testing the Expresso WR62 watch generally provided readings within five yards of course marked distances. The distances to points continue to be shown throughout the hole, regardless of how far away you are from those points.

We did experience completely inaccurate mapping at one of our tested courses, where the device was rendered unusable. This is presumably an error by someone at iGolf who was mapping based on a satellite image, as not only were hole numbers incorrect, but tee boxes were paired with the wrong greens on certain holes.


94 / A

COST/VALUE

Retail Price: The Expresso WR62 watch retails for $179.95, making it one of the least expensive golf watches.

Fees for Access to Course Database: There are no additional fees for access to the course database through their partner, iGolf. Of course there is also currently no ability to sync to iGolf and update the course maps on your Expresso WR62…so you get what you pay for!

Three-Year Total Cost of Ownership: With no cost for access to the iGolf course database, the three-year total cost for the Express WR62 golf GPS watch remains $179.95, keeping it as one of the lowest-priced golf GPS devices in terms of overall cost over three years.

Value: The Expresso WR62 is affordable and by offering limited hazard information, offers a slight upgrade on other entry level devices. We aren’t enamored of the styling and the lack of syncing capability is a concern, but there’s no doubt that it’s one of the best values among available golf GPS watches.


Garmin Approach G6

The Garmin Approach G6, Garmin’s latest in its series of golf GPS devices, shows that the old adage understates things – sometimes GREAT things come in small packages. The Approach G6 is a completely different form factor than its G3 and G5 predecessors , and exemplifies the trend of putting all of the best features of previous devices into progressively more compact designs. The G6 maintains the same size color touchscreen of the previous generation of Garmin golf handhelds (2.6″ diagonal) in a sleeker design (0.8″ thick) that weighs in at a mere 3.4 ounces. The G6 is the smallest GPS device with a color screen on the market as of Spring 2012. As with the rest of the Garmin Approach line, the G6 provides preloaded courses with no additional yearly or per course fees.

The brightly colored maps include a high level of course image detail and are augmented with colored layup arcs that provide context on the hole’s layout. Touch any point on the map and the G6 will tell you the distance to that point, and the distance from that point to the middle of the green. The device also features a scorecard with multiple scoring options, statistics and club distance averages. The G6 adds two new buttons for quick access to the green view, the shot measuring function, and the digital scorecard. The rechargeable battery has a claimed life of up to 15 hours.

There are a few things we would change, the most notable being the arbitrary nature of when distances to mapped targets are displayed, the fact that the distance readings are positioned in a way that they may be blocked by your finger when you’re trying to tap a point on the touchscreen, and the inability to view your saved scores and statistics on a computer (they are only accessible on the device itself). In addition, the software had a few bugs, crashing when we tried to access data on our previous rounds.

That being said, Garmin keeps improving the Approach line of golf GPS devices in both form and function – we love how the G6 provides a tremendous feature set in a device that we can easily keep in a pocket during play. To quote that incredibly annoying ubiquitous song for a couple of years ago, “Now I’m feelin’ so fly like a G6…Like a G6, like a G6.”

SCORE
93
GRADE
A-
Setup/Syncing
97
Course Availability
99
Ease of Use
94
Course Details
90
Features
94
Accuracy
93
Cost/Value
93
Pros:

  • Smallest and lightest device tested that provides full hole views
  • Full set of features, including statistics tracking and ability to determine club distance averages
  • No fee for access to the course database

Cons:

  • Arbitrary nature of when distances are displayed to mapped targets
  • When touching the screen to determine a target distance, the distance to the targeted point may be difficult to see
  • We experienced minor bugs and crashes when trying to view scorecards on the device.

Retail price: $249.99 (reduced from $299.99 at initial release)
Three-year total cost: $249.99
Amazon.com: Check price now
Golfsmith.com: Check price now


97 / A+

SETUP/SYNCING

The Good: The Garmin Approach G6 is an exceptionally easy device to setup and sync, even when downloading the latest course updates. If only syncing every golf GPS device worked this smoothly!

The Bad: You don’t have the ability to select individual courses for updates, but instead must update all of them, which can take up to 20 minutes.

Details:

  • Required Steps. Though courses come pre-loaded on the G6, you’ll also want to download the Garmin “CourseView Updater” software to ensure you have the latest course maps. This process takes but a minute, as users don’t have to create a Garmin account – simply download the software, plug the device into your computer with the USB cable, look to see if Garmin indicates that course updates are available, select region(s) to update (Europe, Australia/New Zealand, and US/Canada) and start. We didn’t experience a single hiccup during this process – excellent!

    As an aside, you may still find references to the old WebUpdater software on the Garmin site. These references can be ignored – WebUpdater is the old software no longer used on any of the Approach family of GPS devices.

  • Time Required for Setup. It took us under a minute to get the software installed. Course updates took up to 20 minutes when we needed to install a large number of map updates across multiple regions.

What’s in the Box: The Garmin Approach G6 comes with:

  • USB cable
  • AC adapter
  • Manual
  • Belt Clip (actually, buyers in Europe, Australia and New Zealand get a carbiner clip instead – which raises the question – did Sansabelt slacks somehow get traction in those countries?)

Downloads:


99 / A+

COURSE AVAILABILITY

Critical Golf Test: Garmin continues to improve the number of courses it has mapped, and the G6’s is exceptional in our course coverage test, placing among the top devices. Good stuff, Garmin!

Manufacturer’s Claims: The Garmin G6 works worldwide, and the company claims to have 26,600 courses available around the globe, which places it in the middle of the pack in our course coverage comparison test. Within the United States and Canada, Garmin claims to have 18,000 courses in its database, which puts it at the top of the list.


94 / A

EASE OF USE

The Good: Wonderfully small and light form factor. Simple interface, including buttons and touchscreen, allows the user to easily access different features and enter information. Courses are all stored on the device.

The Bad: When using the touchscreen to target a desired point, your finger may block the view of the cross-hair and distance to the target. Garmin has lots of points pre-mapped, but there is no way to display them when you want.

Garmin Approach G6 Golf GPS Device

Click for more images

Details:

  • Buttons. The Garmin Approach G6 has three buttons. A power button on the left side of the device, and a Score/Measure button and a Green button on the front of the device below the screen. All other controls are accessed through the touchscreen. The interface on the touchscreen is intuitive, and the ways to access different functions are clearly labeled.
  • Screen. The color touchscreen is reasonably bright so long as the backlighting is kept at a relatively high setting.
  • Touchscreen Sensitivity. We liked the Garmin touchscreen, and had no issues targeting points, entering scores or navigating menus. Placing the flagstick on the green is much smoother than on the Approach G3 or G5. We did still have the occasional issue with the device accidentally advancing to new screens or new holes when jostled around in a pocket. You can avoid this by locking the screen, but the hassle of hitting the required 2-button sequence each time you want to lock or unlock it wasn’t worth the trouble.
  • Form Factor. Perfectly palm sized. We love this form factor! The G6 weighs a mere 3.4 ounces and enters the market as the smallest devices with color screen and full hole views (the Callaway upro mx is lighter, but as of Spring 2012 has still not been re-released). You won’t even notice it in your pocket.
  • Starting a Round. After powering up the G6 and waiting for satellites to be acquired (there is a chart that will show if they are not locked on yet), the user needs to select the desired course. Courses are listed in order of proximity to the current location. Once a course is selected, the device defaults to displaying the first hole – you will need to manually advance to the appropriate starting hole if you are playing the back nine or in a shotgun tournament.
  • Battery Life. The internal rechargeable battery is marketed as providing up to 15 hours of life, though how users decide to set the background and timeout will obviously impact the battery life. With no timeout and on full brightness, we were able to still get a full round in with juice to spare.

For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of golf GPS ease of use.


90 / A-

COURSE DETAIL AND MAPPING

The Good: Both pre-mapped targets and the ability to determine the distance to any point on the course. Users can also add their own custom points to a course. The view to the green will rotate based upon player position.

The Bad: Users don’t have the ability to determine when distances to mapped targets are displayed – Garmin decides this based on some combination of level of zoom and distance from the target – so while the targets are mapped, you can’t force the screen to display the distance to the targets.

Garmin Approach G6 Golf GPS Device

Click for more views

Details:

  • Views. The Garmin Approach G6 provides two main views during play: a “Hole View” that shows an overhead graphic of the hole, and a “Green View” that displays the green and surrounding area. The “Green” button toggles between the two views. The Green View is also accessible by tapping on the distance in the top right while in Hole View (this is a vestigial function from the prior Garmin devices that didn’t have a dedicated Green View button). Unfortunately, you can’t just swipe on the touchscreen to move around to see different parts of the hole.
    • Hole View – This view shows a graphic of the hole, and on par 4s and 5s, will display colored layup arcs at 100, 150, 200 and 250 yards (par 5s only) from the pin. Any user modification to the flagstick position in Green View (see below) will be reflected in the Hole View screen as well.

      The Approach G6 will automatically zoom, continuing to show the remainder of the hole through the green, as the user walks closer to the green, with up to 9 different levels of zoom. Distances to mapped points will continue to be shown until they are within approximately 10-20 yards. Curiously, the only way the user can manually zoom is by touching the screen, moving the cross-hair to the desired area, and then touching the “zoom” button, and there is only one level of zoom available when manually zooming. When zoomed in, distances to mapped targets and distance arcs are not displayed.

      When targeting a point with the cross-hair, the cross-hair and distance to the targeted point may be blocked by your finger. However, when you lift your finger from the screen both the cross-hair and distance will remain displayed until you push the “back” button to return to the original hole view. Note that you can avoid the problem in its entirety if you use a tee on the touchscreen instead of a finger.

      Initially, the distance displayed at the top right corner of the screen is to the center of the green, or, if you have moved the flagstick’s position within “Green View” (see below), to the flagstick. Once you’ve selected a target point, the number displayed in the top right will be updated to the total distance from your current location to the selected point plus the distance from that point to the flagstick.

      One of the biggest negatives of the Garmin G6 is the seeming randomness of when distances to mapped targets are displayed. Many times when we wanted distances to specific mapped target points (such as the yardage to clear a hazard, or to a point we had mapped in an earlier round) the G6 wouldn’t display them until we had advanced to a point where the distance to the target was no longer relevant. The solution is to use the touchscreen (and zoom, if necessary) to determine the distances on your own, but this seems unnecessary for points that are already mapped.

      Curiously, while the device is advertised as providing maps with tree coverage, there were times when we would be approaching a tree and it would simply disappear from the display. One moment it was there, and the next it was gone. It seems that the device is using the same logic (whatever that is!) to decide whether to show trees that it uses to decide whether to display target distances.

    • Green View – Shows the green and surrounding hazards, and allows the user to touch any point on the green to modify the flagstick position. Once the user changes the flagstick position it will continue to keep the new position when switching screens. If the user returns to the Hole View the distances will be relative to this updated flagstick location. Green View also shows the distance from the user to mapped points on and around the green. Once the user selects Green View, the view to the hole will not continue to rotate on-screen based on player position.
  • Hole Information. The hole number and par are visible on the Hole View screen. Hole handicap is available on the screen when entering hole scores.
  • Custom Mapping. With the Garmin Approach G6, users can save additional target points to an existing course map. These saved points will always be shown in Hole View as small red squares, though as with Garmin’s pre-mapped targets, distances to them will not always be displayed but rather shown at Garmin’s discretion. As mentioned above, as with pre-mapped targets, distances to user-mapped targets won’t be shown when the user gets within 10-20 yards of the target.

94 / A

FEATURES

The Good: All the features and personalized settings most players will ever need, in easy-to-access menus. And feel free to play in the rain – the Garmin G6 is waterproof!

The Bad: While the Garmin Approach G6 can record most of the statistics we really care about, and the individual scorecards are stored and viewable on the device or through the computer, we wish there was PC or web-based software to compile the data and track our progress (or lack thereof).

Garmin Approach G6 Golf GPS Device

Click for more images

Details:

  • Shot Tracking. The Garmin Approach G6 has a button that allows the player to quickly measure shot distances (and also enter scores and statistics). The user can leave the shot tracking screen to utilize a different feature and then return – the device will still continue tracking the shot distance. Players can also save their shot measurement data to calculate club averages, which are viewable during the round. Club averages update during the round as more shots are measured and saved.
  • Score and Statistics. The Garmin Approach G6 can hold all of the basics: score, putts, fairways hit and greens in regulation. One statistic we missed was sand saves (allow us to celebrate!). Users can view past rounds from the device itself or view on a computer, but there is no PC or web-based software to help show averages and trends. The Garmin can track scores for four players.
  • Auto-advance. The user can choose whether the G6 will automatically advance to the next hole or require the user to manually advance.
  • Course Storage. All courses come pre-loaded on the Approach G6, so there’s no need to worry if you forgot to download the course you are headed out to play. As mentioned before, you’ll still want to sync the device on occasion to ensure you have the latest course maps.
  • Preferences. The Garmin Approach G6 has a basic set of adjustable preferences: measurement unit (yards vs. meters), clubs in the bag (for use in tracking average club distances), and backlighting preferences. Preferences can be modified during the round.

For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of golf GPS device features.


93 / A-

ACCURACY

Device Accuracy: We tested the Garmin Approach G6 on a variety of courses and found readings to be within 3-4 yards of sprinkler head markings and our laser readings. We appreciate that the Garmin G6 continues to show distance readings all the way to the green in Green View, which can provide an additional level of comfort in the accuracy of the device.

Mapping Accuracy: Though the maps are generally accurate, we found that the courses aren’t updated quite as often as we would like. And even if the Garmin website says that a course is “Updated”, it still may contain old map information from years ago (tsk tsk, we are docking points for this!). We saw examples of this for a number of courses renovated between 3 and 5 years ago.


93 / A-

COST/VALUE

Retail Price: The Garmin Approach G6 has a retail price of $249.99, coming it at the low end of price points for devices featuring full hole views, and down from its $299.99 price at time of initial release.

Fees for Access to Course Database: As with the other products in the Approach line, the Garmin G6 has no fees for access to Garmin’s course database. Good times, good times.

Three-Year Total Cost of Ownership: With no cost for access to the course database or updates, the three-year total cost of ownership of the Garmin Approach G6 remains at $249.99 (the cost of the device itself), making it one of the least expensive devices featuring full hole graphics in our cost comparison of golf GPS devices.

Value: The Garmin Approach G6 comes in at a reasonable price point, and with no additional fees it remains very competitively priced. Its size, color screen, full hole graphics, and ability to determine distances to any point on the course make it a compelling value, and will undoubtedly make this a popular device.


Bushnell Pro 1M

The Bushnell Pro 1M joins the lineup of the “#1 Rangefinder on Tour” with minor enhancements to the prior generation Bushnell 1600 Tournament Edition. Like the 1600 Tournament Edition, the Pro 1M is legal for tournament play, as it does not provide slope-adjusted distances. The biggest change from the prior product is the introduction of Bushnell’s “Vivid Display Technology,” which displays distances and other information in the viewfinder in red, as opposed to the previous black LCD display. The improved display, the 7x magnification and the large field of view are the device’s strengths. The Pro 1M is horizontally-held, like a pair of binoculars.

We were disappointed to see that the Pro 1M only has a limited ability to pan across objects to receive multiple distance readings instantly. The Bushnell Pro 1M comes with “PinSeeker” mode (which assists in locking in on targets) always activated, and users can pan for a short period of time and receive updated readings, but only if they continue to pan to targets closer to them. One additional downside is that the Pro 1M is the largest and heaviest device in our tests.

The Pro 1M is a well-made product (it’s even waterproof!), but the steep price tag (a suggested retail price of $499.99) is enough to make you think twice.

SCORE
91
GRADE
A-
Ease of Use
95
Features
91
Obtaining Readings
93
Cost/Value
88

Pros:

  • 7X magnification is the highest available
  • Readily locks onto flagsticks from approach distances

Cons:

  • Large and heavy
  • One of the highest price points in the category
  • Limited ability to pan across targets and receive updated distances

Retail price: $499.99
Availability: Discontinued. Replaced by the Bushnell X7 JOLT
Amazon.com Check price now
Golfsmith: Check price now

Editor’s note: Consumers looking for a laser rangefinder that additionally provides slope-adjusted distance information may want to consider the Bushnell Pro 1M Slope.


95 / A

EASE OF USE

Bushnell Pro 1M

Click to enlarge

Our sometimes unsteady hands always prefer the ease of using horizontally-held laser rangefinders, which are becoming increasingly rare. The Bushnell Pro 1M is styled primarily in black and white – the black sections are rubber and the white sections are a harder plastic, and both are textured to provide better grip. The downside is the weight of the device, which comes in at more than 20 ounces (yup, that’s 1 1/4 pounds). The carry pouch alone weighs more than some competing rangefinders! Bushnell provides a fanny-pack like carry pouch (the two ends of the strap are wrapped around the top of your bag and then buckled together) that features both a zipper to close the bag and a magnetic latch for faster access to the device. While the strap secures the carry pouch reasonably well, we still favor the good old-fashioned simplicity of attaching a rangefinder to the bag with a clip. That’s right – we roll old school!

Bushnell Pro 1M

Click to enlarge

The display of the Bushnell Pro 1M is exceptionally clear and easy to read, with a slight tint to help reduce glare. The 7x magnification is the highest among all rangefinders tested, and makes a noticeable difference in aligning targets. Tapping the power/laser button wakes up the device, and pressing the button again will fire the laser to generate a distance reading. The Pro 1M displays the distance to the target below the aiming circle (which has cross-hairs surrounding it when the laser is being fired), with the battery level indicated to its left. To the right of the distance is a flagstick icon that is part of the PinSeeker indicator – when the device has locked on to a target, a circle will surround the flagstick.

PinSeeker mode is always on in this latest generation of rangefinder, which we find unfortunate. While we like the assistance of PinSeeker, the fact that you can’t turn it off means that there is no longer the “automatic scanning” mode found in prior Bushnell devices, which allowed you to pan across whatever targets you wanted and receive continually updated distances. Once the Pro 1M locates the closest target, you can’t pan to receive a distance to a target that is farther away. The Pro 1M gives a fair amount of leeway when it picks up a target (the object doesn’t need to be within the crosshairs on the display), and the result is that you can lock onto the object closer to you fairly easily. We much prefer rangefinders that can freely provide any distance while panning, such as when you want to target not only target the flagstick, but also the face of the bunker in front of and certain points behind the green, or alternately to target multiple bunkers on a fairway to determine the safest shot distance.

The Pro 1M has an adjustable eyepiece (+/- 2 diopters) that is smooth and easy to focus. It is the only golf laser rangefinder tested that has a twist-up eyepiece, which improves the usability of the device by shielding off extraneous light while targeting objects. For those without glasses, it is best used in the fully extended position, and for those with glasses, the eyepiece should be left down to be able to see a full field of view. A lens cap (the Pro 1M is the only laser rangefinder to provide one) is attached to the device through a short string – the trade off for the extra protection is that it’s an extra step to remove the lens cap (of course you can always just leave it off).

There are only two buttons on the Bushnell Pro 1M. The power/laser button, located on the top of the device, is used to turn the device on, as well as to fire the laser. The mode button, on the front left side of the device, can be held down for a few seconds to pull up a setup menu, from which settings for brightness and unit of distance (yards or meters) can be adjusted. There is no ability to change crosshair style.

The Bushnell Pro 1M uses a single CR123 3-volt battery that inserts through a twist cap at the front of the device. Bushnell recommends replacing the battery once every six months.

For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of laser rangefinder ease of use.


91 / A-

FEATURES

The Pro 1M features Bushnell’s new Vivid Display Technology, which displays data in red, making it easier to read against dark backgrounds. While there are four different level of brightness of the display, we found ourselves only using the two brightest levels regardless of lighting conditions.

The Bushnell Pro 1M has just one mode: PinSeeker only. Despite its name, PinSeeker mode will lock on to any target, not just flagsticks. PinSeeker mode is designed to identify the closest object within the aiming circle and to ignore the background targets, such as trees, even though they may be larger and have stronger reflective signal strength. PinSeeker worked well at picking up targets, and in the cases where it did “miss” the target initially, continuing to fire the laser would quickly result in locking on to the appropriate object. Our sense was that the Pro 1M was better overall than the prior generation Bushnell 1600 Tournament Edition at locking on to the relevant target.

The maximum amount of time the laser can be fired is in the range of 5 to 10 seconds. To conserve batteries, the display will only show the last distance measurement for 10 seconds after the laser is done firing. The distance smoothly updates in 1-yard increments, unlike competing devices, which either blink distance updates, and/or provide ½ yard increments. The 7x magnification and large field of view are what help set the Bushnell Pro 1M apart from other devices.

Additionally, the device is waterproof and has a rain-guard coating on the lens to help shed the drops (we’ll let you all test the efficacy of that feature – we are fair-weather players!).

For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of laser rangefinder features.


93 / B+

OBTAINING DISTANCE READINGS

Bushnell claims a range of 5 to 1,760 yards for the Bushnell Pro 1M under optimal conditions.

Ease of Locking on a Target:

The Pro 1M is quick to lock onto pins at approach distances of up to 200 yards. After 200 yards, it starts to become gradually more difficult to pick out pins, though it still does so reasonably well through 300 yards (we were successful more than 50% of the time on the first fire).

Given how readily the Pro 1M locks onto the closest target (even if it is not within the aiming circle), you are best served by aiming high at your targets so you don’t pick up points that are closer to you. And if you want to try panning, which the Pro 1M allows for a very short amount of time while across points closer to you, start on the farthest target and then move down to the ground.

Distances displayed generally update at the same rate regardless of distance from the target. The only slight (and we mean very slight) delay seems to occur at extreme distances.

Speed Test:

In its PinSeeker-Only Mode, which is always on, the Bushnell Pro 1M was one of the faster devices in our speed test, stacked up against the competition in their panning mode, pin-seeking mode, or toggling between modes.

Check out our laser rangefinder speed test to see how the full details on Pro 1M stacks up against the competition.


88 / B+

COST/VALUE

The Bushnell Pro 1M will take a sizable $499.99 chunk out of your bank account, which makes it one of the higher priced laser rangefinders we’ve tested. Though it doesn’t have all the functions found on some rangefinders, it has most of what users need. With the Pro 1M you are paying for 7x magnification, an excellent ability to pick out flagsticks, a large field of view, and a crisp display. It’s a close call on whether those benefits are enough to balance out the always-on PinSeeker mode and hefty weight – reasonable minds can differ.


Bushnell Tour Z6

You might assume that the Bushnell Tour Z6 is essentially the same as the prior generation Tour V2, but if you did, you’d be selling the new device significantly short. The Tour Z6 introduces higher magnification (6x), Bushnell’s new Vivid Display Technology (which is also found on the Bushnell Pro 1M and Bushnell Pro 1M Slope), faster readings from 5-125 yards with ½ yard accuracy and distances displayed down to 1/10th of a yard, and a waterproof shell. All of this, plus a better-looking design, for a mere $50 over the original price of the Tour V2. Not too shabby…

The Bushnell Tour Z6 measures distances from 5 to 1,300 yards (900 yards to trees and 450+ yards to flagsticks), and has a wider field of view than the Tour V2 and a number of competing devices – a nice benefit that Bushnell doesn’t really tout in its marketing materials.

The one shortcoming that will stand out to advanced laser rangefinder users is that the Tour Z6 does not have an “automatic scan” mode, a feature that enabled users to hold down the power/firing button, pan across multiple points and instantly receive distances to whatever is targeted (Bushnell seems to have decided to do away with “automatic scan” in 2012’s product offerings). With the Tour Z6’s always-on “PinSeeker” mode, users can only receive updated readings for an extremely brief period of time, and even then only when continuing to pan to sequentially closer targets.

SCORE
90
GRADE
A-
Ease of Use
90
Features
90
Obtaining Readings
88
Cost/Value
90

Pros:

  • New display with red aiming circle and yardage display
  • Wide field of view
  • Can display to 1/10th of a yard at under 125 yards
  • 2 year warranty

Cons:

  • Firing button requires a very firm press to activate
  • Limited ability to pan across targets and receive updated distances

Retail price: $399
Availability: Discontinued. Replaced by the Bushnell Tour Z6 JOLT
Amazon.com: Check price now
Golfsmith: Check price now


90 / A-

EASE OF USE

The Tour Z6 is certainly a sharp-looking device. It is vertically oriented, with the main portion of the body encased in textured black rubber (for easy gripping) and smooth white aluminum trim extending at the front and back. The Tour Z6 weighs 7.9 ounces on its own and 11.6 ounces with the included carry pouch. A swiveling plastic clip on the back of the carry pouch clips the pouch to a bag, and the pouch features both a zipper (to completely stow away the rangefinder) and a magnetic latch (providing less security, but quicker access during play).

Bushnell Tour Z6

Click to enlarge

The display of the Bushnell Tour Z6 is clear and easy to read, with a slight tint to help reduce glare. The 6x magnification is the standard for rangefinders, but the field of view is the widest among rangefinders in our test. Players need to firmly press the power/firing button to turn the device on, then press the button again to start receiving distance readings. When we say “firmly” press the button, we really mean FIRMLY – the firing button of the Tour Z6 requires more effort to press and continue to keep depressed than any other device we’ve tested – who wants to join us in our class action against Bushnell for carpal tunnel syndrome? We kid, we kid…unless there’s actually a lawyer willing to take on the case.

The Tour Z6 displays the distance below the aiming circle (cross-hairs are displayed around the aiming circle when the laser is being fired), with the battery level indicated to its left. To the right of the distance is a flagstick icon that is part of the PinSeeker indicator – when the device has locked on to a target, a circle will surround the flagstick.

PinSeeker is always on in the latest generation of Bushnell rangefinders. What this means is that there is no longer the “automatic scanning” mode found in prior generation Bushnell devices, which allowed users to hold down the power/firing button, pan across multiple points and instantly receive distances to whatever is targeted. Once the Tour Z6 locks on a target, users can’t pan to a point farther from them and receive an updated distance. This makes it a bit of a pain when you’re trying to determine distances to carry multiple bunkers for a tee shot, or determining bunker faces and flagstick distances when attacking the green. In these cases you need to target a point, wait until a distance is returned, then re-fire, as opposed to simply holding down the fire button and panning across.

The Tour Z6 has an adjustable eyepiece (+/- 2 diopter) that is easy to turn (so easy, in fact, we accidentally twisted the eyepiece on several occasions when either putting the laser back into or removing it from its case).

There are only two buttons on the Tour Z6. The red power/laser button, located on the top of the Bushnell Tour Z6, is used to turn the device on and to fire the laser. The mode button, on the left side of the device (blending so much into the design you may not realize it is a button), allows the user to access the setup menu, from which preferences for brightness (we prefer the top two brightness levels) and unit of distance (yards and meters) can be adjusted. Users can’t change the style of the aiming circle/crosshairs.

The Bushnell Tour Z6 uses a single CR2 3-volt battery that inserts through a twist cap below the viewfinder. Bushnell recommends replacing the battery once every six months.

For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of laser rangefinder ease of use.


90 / A-

FEATURES

The Tour Z6 includes Bushnell’s new Vivid Display Technology, which provides display information in red, making it easier to read against dark backgrounds. There are 4 different level of brightness of the display, though we found ourselves only using the two brightest levels regardless of lighting conditions.

As mentioned above, the Bushnell Tour Z6 features just one mode: PinSeeker. Despite its name, PinSeeker mode will lock on to any target, not just flagsticks. PinSeeker mode is designed to identify the closest object within the crosshairs and ignore background targets, such as trees, that may be larger and have stronger signal strength. PinSeeker is pretty tried and true technology for Bushnell, and was excellent at locking in on the appropriate target.

The user can continuously fire the laser for between 4 and 8 seconds, and when the user releases the power/fire button, the distance will continue to be displayed for 8 seconds.

The distance smoothly updates on the display, without any of the annoying blinking found on some competing devices. Bushnell states that at closer than 125 yards, the Tour Z6 has the capability to show distances down to 0.1 yards. We weren’t able to discern a distinct pattern on when the device would get down to that level of granularity. Our experience showed that regardless of whether PinSeeker was activated or not, there were times when the device would display down to 0.1 yards, and times when it wouldn’t. Go figure.

If foul weather can’t keep you from the course, rest assured – the Bushnell Z6 is waterproof and has a rain-guard coating on the lens to help shed the drops.

For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of laser rangefinder features.


88 / B+

OBTAINING DISTANCE READINGS

Bushnell claims a range of 5 to 1,000 yards to most objects under optimal conditions, with the ability to lock onto flags at up to 450 yards.

Bushnell Tour Z6

Click to enlarge

Ease of Locking on a Target:

As with many rangefinders, the Tour Z6 had difficultly picking out pins on the first try in our test. The first distance returned was usually a more reflective object behind the flagstick, such as a wall of trees, but then PinSeeker will kick in (the Tour Z6 continues to update distances while the firing button is held down) and lock in the distance to the flagstick. We found that the best practice is to aim at the flag instead of the stick. Aiming at the base of the flagstick is another way to avoid trees in the background, but PinSeeker may start returning closer objects (such as the ground) rather than the stick itself.

When we aimed at flags, we were able to obtain accurate readings at nearer distances, with the percentage of accurate readings dropping to 60% as we reached 200 yards and farther.

Speed Test:
PinSeeker-Only Mode
As mentioned, the Tour Z6 only has a PinSeeker mode available. In this mode the Tour Z6 fared well against all other devices, in their panning or PinSeeker mode, in our laser rangefinder speed test.

Check out our laser rangefinder speed test to see how the full details on the Bushnell Tour Z6 stacks up against the competition.


90 / A-

COST/VALUE

The Bushnell Tour Z6 is priced at a $399, average among retail prices for laser rangefinders without slope adjusted distance capability. In this range it does have direct (and stiff) competition from the Leupold devices (less so the Laser Link Red Hot) at the same price point. It has the feature set required to go head-to-head with these devices, and we suspect your decision will likely come down to whether you prefer the Bushnell display, always-on PinSeeker mode, and design.


Leupold GX-3i

The Leupold GX-3i is the next progression in the family of laser rangefinders from Leupold. Like the Leupold GX-3, the GX-3i features a rugged aluminum body and form factor that we love, a red OLED display that makes distances easy to read against any background, pin-targeting, prism lock, and the ability to scan across targets while receiving updated distance readings.

The Leupold GX-3i provides 6x magnification and a crisp display (albeit with a slight green tint), and only weighs 7.7 ounces. Enhancements to the device include an improved laser for accuracy within 6 inches and faster distance readings.

Even though distances are now displayed down to 1/10 of a yard, we found it both slightly more difficult to lock on to flagsticks, and the blinking of the bright OLED display while panning across multiple targets was a more distracting interface than the previous Leupold GX-3 (though relatively less so than the Leupold GX-4i, which also blinks additional information provided on slope-adjusted distance and angle in the display).

SCORE
91
GRADE
A-
Ease of Use
93
Features
95
Obtaining Readings
90
Cost/Value
90

Pros:

  • Good looks
  • Red OLED display makes yardages easily readable
  • Accuracy to within 6 inches, if Leupold’s press release is to be believed

Cons:

  • High price tag
  • More sensitive to targeting objects such as flagsticks and trees
  • Distracting blinking distance readings

Retail: $499.99
Availability: Discontinued. Replaced by the Leupold GX-3i2
Amazon.com: Check price now
Golfsmith: Check price now

Those interested in the Leupold GX-3i but are looking to add slope-adjusted distances and club selection assistance will want to check out the Leupold GX-4i, which provides all the features of the Leupold GX-3i and more.


93 / A-

EASE OF USE

 Leupold GX-3i and GX-4i

Click image to enlarge

We have appreciated the form factor and good looks of Leupold laser rangefinders since their initial release, and this holds for the Leupold GX-3i. The GX-3i is a hair smaller than its brother, the Leupold GX-4i, and while both are two of the heavier vertically-held rangefinders in our tests, the difference between all of the devices is little more than an ounce. The vertically-oriented device is easy to hold – the aluminum body has a rubber exterior that provides a solid grip. The included carry case has a slot through which a belt or strap can be threaded, but we still miss the simple clip to attach the device to our bag. A magnetic latch keeps the case closed but the GX-3i easily accessible.

Leupold GX-3i

Click image to enlarge

The 6x magnification of the Leupold family is the average magnification provided by golf laser rangefinders (the Bushnell Hybrid is at 5x, and the Bushnell Pro 1M line and Leica Pinmaster 2 are at 7x). The user focuses the display by twisting the eyepiece, though the Leupold GX-3i is slightly more difficult to focus with a single hand than competing devices.

The Leupold features two buttons – one located on the top of the device that powers the device on/off and fires the laser, and the other on the left side of the device that allows the user to modify settings. To modify settings, the mode button is initially held for one second, then is pressed repeatedly to cycle between different functions. The power/laser button is then used to toggle between settings for a specific function. The Leupold GX-3i allows the user to select either yards or meters as the standard unit of distance and to turn on and off fog mode (which toggles the distance algorithm to select the first/last targets).

Leupold GX-3i Laser Rangefinder

Click image to enlarge

The red OLED display is easy to read against dark or shadowy backgrounds and bright targets alike – distances appear below the crosshair along with battery life remaining. The viewfinder has a slight greenish tint, which is noticeable but not distracting, though we do prefer rangefinders without any tint to the display (such as those on the Bushnell Pro 1M and Leica Pinmaster 2 rangefinders).

The Leupold GX-3i’s “panning” mode enables the user to scan the course to obtain distances to different points while holding down the power/laser button. The device rapidly updates distance readings when panning across new targets. The speed that the distances are updated will vary slightly depending on target, but are extremely rapid in any situation. We found the blinking distances while panning more distracting than the steady display found in previous Leupold devices, slightly exacerbated by the fact that the distances are shown to an additional digit (0.1 of a yard). As mentioned, this is less distracting on the GX-3i than on the Leupold GX-4i, as the GX-3i doesn’t include slope-adjusted distance and angle information. We’ll let you decide whether your game is at a level where you benefit from seeing distances down to 0.1 of a yard.

The Leupold GX-3i takes one CR-2 Lithium battery. A battery meter is positioned in the lower center of the viewfinder.

For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of laser rangefinder ease of use.


95 / A

FEATURES

The Leupold GX-3i has a pin-locating feature, which Leupold calls “PinHunter”, that makes it easier to determine the distance to specific targets such as flagsticks by filtering out readings from larger more “reflective” objects (like trees) in the background. It’s a great feature to have, but we found that the Leupold GX-3i has slightly less room for error before the device starts picking up objects in the background, often providing background distances when the target tree trunk or pin is still within a portion of the target cursor. The advantage to this is that it is easier to purposely target background objects when you have little room around tree trunks or branches (true, we aren’t always in the center of the fairway…it happens), but overall we would prefer that “PinHunter” give a bit more precedence to targets in the foreground.

Leupold GX-3i Laser Rangefinder

Click image to enlarge

Leupold uses its pin-locating mode all of the time, including while the user is panning across multiple objects, instead of requiring the user to switch back and forth between a panning mode and a “pin-locating” mode. The GX-3i also includes a “Fog Mode” that can be turned on and off to improve performance in fog and rain to screen out false readings, essentially turning off the “PinHunter” mode.

To make obtaining distances to flagsticks with reflective prisms even easier, the GX-3i features “Prism Lock,” a feature that is always enabled when scanning at distances over 30 yards. When the Leupold identifies a flagstick equipped with a reflective prism, it will emit an audible beep (you can turn this off), show brackets around the cursor and then freeze the display at the measured distance. It makes locking on to flagsticks with prisms at a distance so easy you’ll wonder why more manufacturers don’t have this functionality, and why more courses don’t have flagsticks with prisms.

Leupold GX-3i Laser Rangefinder

Click image to enlarge

Players can select from three different crosshair/aiming reticle options (see image to the right).

For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of laser rangefinder features.


90 / A-

OBTAINING DISTANCE READINGS

Leupold’s marketing materials state that the GX-3i is rated to provide distances to flagsticks and reflective targets at up to 450/800 yards under optimal conditions. Distance readings will continue to be displayed on the OLED for approximately 8 seconds after the firing button is released. The Leupold GX-3i allows users to continuously fire the laser for over 2 minutes, long enough to scan across all the targets you like.

Ease of Locking on a Target:

  • At distances up to 175 yards, the Leupold GX-3i, like most of the competition, easily picked out flagsticks.
  • At more than 200 yards well up to 300 yards, the Leupold GX-3i continued to perform well in picking up flagsticks against a dark background (90%+ of the time). In the high 200s the Leupold begins to have slightly more difficulty (though still picking out the flagstick at over 70% of the time), and at the very longest distances to pins without prisms it has slightly less success than the Bushnell 1600 Slope Edition, perhaps due to slightly lower magnification.

While we do not test to reflective targets/prisms, on-course experience revealed that the GX-3i easily and quickly locks onto prisms (see Prism Lock detail, above) at distances well in excess of 300 yards – a fabulous feature to have available.

Speed Test:

The Leupold GX-3i updates distance readings extremely rapidly. The device doesn’t update distances at a fixed speed, but rather updates will vary slightly depending on target. While it updates rapidly, it didn’t necessarily have the fastest times due to taking slightly longer with flagsticks to be comfortable that it was an accurate reading during our tests.

  • Panning Mode: When we compared the Leupold in its one mode (since it always has panning and pin-locating available) against other devices in their “panning” modes, we found it to be about average among devices tested.
  • Pin-Locating Mode: When we compared the Leupold in its one mode against other devices that have “pin-locating” modes, it was the faster devices – this is due to the benefit of the faster panning mode that it is quicker to scan across multiple targets.
  • Using Both Modes: The Leupold also finished as one of the faster devices tested when using both panning and pin-locating modes together (which, in the case of other devices, required pushing buttons to cycle between modes).

For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison for ease of obtaining distance readings.


90 / A-

COST/VALUE

At $500 retail, the Leupold GX-3i falls at the high end of our cost comparison of laser rangefinders that are USGA-compliant (i.e. ones that don’t show slope information). It has less magnification than other devices with high price tags (the Leica Pinmaster 2 and Bushnell Pro 1M), but its price isn’t unreasonable for what it provides – a nice OLED display in a solid form factor.

Those who are looking for slope-adjusted distances and club recommendations may want to consider the Leupold GX-4i, which retails for nearly $200 above the Leupold GX-3i.


Bushnell Pro 1M Slope

The Bushnell Pro 1M Slope Edition joins the lineup of the “#1 Rangefinder on Tour” with minor enhancements to the prior generation Bushnell 1600 Slope Edition. The biggest change is the introduction of Bushnell’s “Vivid Display Technology,” which displays distances and other information in the viewfinder in red, as opposed to the previous black LCD display. The improved display, the 7x magnification and the large field of view are the device’s strengths. The Pro 1M Slope is horizontally-held (like a pair of binoculars) and is the largest and heaviest device in our tests. Because it is capable of providing slope-adjusted distances, the Bushnell Pro 1M Slope is not USGA-compliant (even though that feature can be turned off).

Our disappointment came from the convoluted process involved in obtaining slope adjusted distances. One must hold the fire button down for 2 seconds, at which point the display will show the line of sight distance, and then release the fire button, at which point the device will alternately flash the angle to the target and the slope-adjusted distance underneath the line of sight distance. Why not provide line-of-sight distance, slope-adjusted distances and slope angle at the same time?

We were also sad to see that the Pro 1M Slope only has a limited ability to pan across objects to receive multiple distance readings instantly. The Bushnell Pro 1M Slope comes with “PinSeeker” mode (which assists in locking in on targets) always on, and users can pan for a short period of time and receive updated readings, but only if they continue to pan to targets closer to them.

The Pro 1M Slope is a well-made product (it’s even waterproof !), but its steep price tag keeps it from getting separation from some of the other top laser rangefinders with slope.

SCORE
91
GRADE
A-
Ease of Use
93
Features
93
Obtaining Readings
89
Cost/Value
87

Pros:

  • 7X magnification is the highest available
  • Readily locks onto flagsticks from approach distances

Cons:

  • Large and heavy
  • Highest price point in the group
  • Users have to release the firing button and then wait for the Pro 1M Slope to alternate between displaying the slope angle and the slope adjusted distance
  • Limited ability to pan across targets and receive updated distances

Retail price: $599.99
Availability: Discontinued. Replaced by the Bushnell Pro X7 Slope
Amazon.com Check price now
Golfsmith: Check price now

Editor’s note: Consumers looking for a laser rangefinder they can use in tournaments may want to consider the Bushnell Pro 1M, which does not provide slope-adjusted distances.


93 / A

EASE OF USE

Bushnell Pro 1M Slope

Click to enlarge

Our sometimes unsteady hands always like the ease of using horizontally-held laser rangefinders, which are becoming increasingly rare. The Bushnell Pro 1M Slope is primarily black and white – the black sections are rubber and the white sections are a harder plastic, and both are textured to provide better grip. The downside is the weight of the device, which comes in at more than 20 ounces (yup, that’s 1 1/4 pounds). The carry pouch alone weighs more than competing rangefinders! Bushnell provides a fanny-pack like carry pouch (the two ends of the strap are wrapped around the top of your bag and then buckled together) that features both a zipper to close the bag and a magnetic latch for faster access to the device. While the strap secures the carry pouch reasonably well, we still favor the good old-fashioned simplicity of attaching a rangefinder to the bag with a clip. That’s right – we roll old school!

Bushnell Pro 1M Slope

Click to enlarge

The display of the Bushnell Pro 1M Slope is exceptionally clear and easy to read, with a slight tint to help reduce glare. The 7x magnification is the highest among all rangefinders tested, and makes a noticeable difference in aligning targets. Tapping the power/firing button wakes up the device, and pressing the button again will fire the laser to generate a distance reading. The Pro 1M Slope displays the line-of-sight distance below the aiming circle (which has cross-hairs surrounding it when the laser is being fired), with the battery level indicated to its left. To the right of the distance is a flagstick icon that is part of the PinSeeker indicator – when the device has locked on to a target, a circle will surround the flagstick. As discussed above, when the user releases the power/fire button, the line-of-sight distance will continue to be shown, and the display will then alternately show, in slightly smaller text, the angle of slope and the slope-adjusted distance below the line-of-sight distance. Our preference would be to see all three pieces of data concurrently.

PinSeeker mode is always on in this latest generation of rangefinder, which we find really unfortunate. What this means is that there is no longer the “automatic scanning” mode found in prior generation Bushnell devices, which allowed users to pan across whatever targets they want and receive continually updated distances. Once the Pro 1M Slope locates the closest target, users can’t pan to receive a distance to a target that is farther away. The Pro 1M Slope gives a fair amount of leeway when it picks up a target (the object doesn’t need to be within the crosshairs on the display), and the result is that you can lock onto the object closer to you fairly easily. We much prefer rangefinders that can freely provide any distance while panning, such as when you want to target not only target the flagstick, but also the face of the bunker in front of and certain points behind the green, or alternately to target multiple bunkers on a fairway to determine the safest shot distance.

The Pro 1M Slope has an adjustable eyepiece (+/- 2 diopters) that is smooth and easy to focus. It is the only golf laser rangefinder tested that has a twist-up eyepiece, which improves the usability of the device by shielding off extraneous light while targeting objects. For those without glasses, it is best used in the fully extended position, and for those with glasses, the eyepiece should be left down to be able to see a full field of view. A lens cap (the only laser rangefinder to provide one) is attached to the device through a short string – the trade off for the extra protection is that it’s an extra step to remove the lens cap (of course you can always just leave it off).

There are only two buttons on the Bushnell Pro 1M Slope. The power/laser button, located on the top of the device, is used to turn the device on, as well as to fire the laser. The mode button, on the front left side of the device, can be pressed quickly to turn off slope information, or held down for a few seconds to pull up a setup menu, from which settings for brightness and unit of distance (yards or meters) can be adjusted. There is no ability to change crosshair style.

The Bushnell Pro 1M Slope uses a single CR123 3-volt battery that inserts through a twist cap at the front of the device. Bushnell recommends replacing the battery once every six months.

For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of laser rangefinder ease of use.


93 / A-

FEATURES

The Pro 1M Slope features Bushnell’s new Vivid Display Technology, which displays data in red, making it easier to read against dark backgrounds. While there are four different level of brightness of the display, we found ourselves only using the two brightest levels regardless of lighting conditions.

The Bushnell Pro 1M Slope Edition features two modes: PinSeeker only, and PinSeeker with slope and adjusted distance information. A tap of the mode button cycles the user from PinSeeker only to PinSeeker with slope mode. When powered off, the device will retain the previously selected mode.

Despite its name, PinSeeker mode will lock on to any target, not just flagsticks. PinSeeker mode is designed to identify the closest object and to ignore the background targets, such as trees, even though they may be larger and have stronger signal strength. PinSeeker worked well at picking up targets, and in the cases where it did “miss” the target initially, continuing to fire the laser would quickly result in locking on to the appropriate object. Our sense was that the Pro 1M Slope was better than the prior generation Bushnell 1600 Slope Edition at locking on to the appropriate target, although that’s hard to quantitatively substantiate in an uncontrolled environment.

Bushnell Pro 1M Slope

Click to enlarge

PinSeeker with slope mode adds the slope angle and slope-adjusted distances (longer for uphill shots, shorter for downhill shots) to the PinSeeker mode described above.

Keep in mind that toggling the Bushnell Pro 1M Slope into PinSeeker only mode (with no slope information) does not make it USGA-compliant. Any device with slope capability is by definition non-compliant, whether the player uses the functionality or not. Users likely would select this non-slope mode only if they didn’t want to be distracted by the additional information provided, or to simply put themselves on a level playing field with their playing partners (but who wants to do that, especially if money is on the line?).

In either mode, the maximum amount of time the laser can be fired is in the range of 5 to 10 seconds. To conserve batteries, the display will only show the last line of sight distance measurement for 10 seconds after the laser is done firing, and if in slope mode, will toggle between slope angle and slope-adjusted distance 4 to 5 times while continuing to display the line of sight distance.

The distance smoothly updates in 1-yard increments, unlike competing devices, that either blink distance updates, and/or provide ½ yard increments. The 7x magnification and large field of view are what help set the Bushnell Pro 1M Slope apart from other devices. Our reviewers tested the Bushnell on courses that generally ranged up to +/- 6 degrees, and the adjustment for this slope accurately helped reviewers judge the compensated distance to play. While not USGA-compliant, it’s a useful tool to learn how to properly adjust for uphill or downhill approach shots.

Additionally, the device is waterproof and has a rain-guard coating on the lens to help shed the drops (we’ll let you all test the efficacy of that feature – we are fair-weather players!).

For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of laser rangefinder features.


89 / B+

OBTAINING DISTANCE READINGS

Bushnell claims a range of 5 to 1,760 yards for the Bushnell Pro 1M Slope under optimal conditions.

Ease of Locking on a Target:

The Pro 1M Slope is quick to lock onto pins at approach distances up to 200 yards. After 200 yards, it starts to become gradually more difficult to pick out pins, though it still does so reasonably well through 300 yards (we were successful more than 50% of the time on the first fire).

Given how readily the Pro 1M Slope locks onto the closest target (even if it is not within the aiming circle), users are best served by aiming high at their targets to they don’t pick up points that are closer to them. And if you want to try panning, which the Pro 1M Slope allows for a very short amount of time while across points closer to you, start on the farthest target and then move down to the ground.

Distances displayed generally update at the same rate regardless of distance from the target. The only slight (and we mean very slight) delay seems to occur at extreme distances.

Speed Test:

PinSeeker with Slope Mode
The Bushnell Pro 1M Slope was one of the slowest devices in our speed test for obtaining slope-adjusted distance readings, stacked up against the competition in their panning mode, pin-seeking mode, or toggling between modes. This is due to the fact when firing at each target, the player has to first get the correct line of sight distance (which can take a bit longer than other devices due to PinSeeker always being active), then release the fire button and then wait for the display to cycle through first the angle of slope to the target, and then to slope-adjusted distance.

PinSeeker-Only Mode
With slope information turned off, the Bushnell Pro 1M Slope fared well against the competition across the different modes. However, if you are springing extra for the slope edition, you probably won’t turn off the slope information too often.

Check out our laser rangefinder speed test to see how the full details on Pro 1M Slope stacks up against the competition.


87 / B+

COST/VALUE

The Bushnell Pro 1M Slope will take a sizable $599.99 out of your bank account, which makes it one of the higher priced laser rangefinders tested. Though it doesn’t have all the functions found on some rangefinders, it has most of what users need. With the Pro 1M you are paying for 7x magnification, an excellent ability to pick out flagsticks, a large field of view, and a crisp display. Those benefits might be enough to balance out the always-on PinSeeker mode and hefty weight for some, but we aren’t so sure.


Leupold GX-4i

The Leupold GX-4i is the next progression in the family of laser rangefinders from Leupold. Like the Leupold GX-4, the GX-4i features a rugged aluminum body and form factor that we love, a red OLED display that makes distances easy to read against any background, pin-targeting, prism lock, and the ability to scan across targets while receiving updated distance readings. With the yellow faceplate attached, the device provides slope-adjusted distances, can factor in temperature and altitude, and even provide club recommendations. Given the Leupold GX-4i has these capabilities, it is not approved for tournament use by the USGA.

The Leupold GX-4i provides 6x magnification and a crisp display (albeit with a slight green tint), and only weighs 8.0 ounces. Enhancements to the device include an improved laser for accuracy within 6 inches and faster distance readings.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But despite these changes, the device doesn’t feel like it has stepped forward from the prior version. Even though distances are now provided down to 1/10 of a yard, it’s slightly more difficult to lock on to flagsticks, and the bright OLED display rapidly blinks the distances as they are updated, creating a rather distracting interface (imagine the time on your digital clock blinking every time the seconds change).

SCORE
88
GRADE
B+
Ease of Use
88
Features
97
Obtaining Readings
87
Cost/Value
88

Pros:

  • Good looks
  • Red OLED display makes yardages easily readable
  • Loaded with features – will even recommend a club!
  • Accuracy to within 6 inches, if Leupold’s press materials are to be believed

Cons:

  • Highest price tag in its category
  • Distracting blinking distance readings
  • More sensitive to targeting objects such as flagsticks and trees

Retail: $624.99
Availability: Discontinued. Replaced by the Leupold GX-4i2
Amazon.com: Check price now
Golfsmith: Check price now

For those who don’t require slope-adjusted distances or club selection assistance, the Leupold GX-3i provides the other features of the GX-4i in a slightly smaller package at a lower price point.


88 / B+

EASE OF USE

 Leupold GX-3i and GX-4i

Click image to enlarge

We have appreciated the form factor and good looks of Leupold laser rangefinders since their initial release, and this holds for the Leupold GX-4i. The GX-4i is just a hair larger than its younger brother, the Leupold GX-3i, and while it is one of the heavier vertically-held rangefinders in our tests, the difference between all of the devices is little more than an ounce. The included carry case has a slot through which a belt or strap can be threaded, but we still miss the simple clip to attach the device to our bag. A magnetic latch keeps the case closed but the GX-4i easily accessible, and a small zippered pouch at the bottom of the case stores the unused faceplate (see below for a discussion on the GX-4i’s removable faceplates).

The vertically-oriented device is easy to hold – the aluminum body has a rubber exterior that provides a solid grip. The GX-4i’s bright yellow faceplate lets others know that the player has access to slope-adjusted distances and club recommendations. The yellow “Smart Key” faceplate is swappable for a chrome faceplate that removes the additional functionality, though the USGA has rejected use of the GX-4i for tournaments even with chrome faceplate attached.

Leupold GX-4i

Click image to enlarge

The 6x magnification of the Leupold family is the most common magnification provided by golf laser rangefinders (the Bushnell Hybrid is at 5x, and the Bushnell Pro 1M line and Leica Pinmaster 2 are at 7x). The user focuses the display by twisting the eyepiece, though the Leupold GX-4i is slightly more difficult to focus with a single hand than competing devices.

The Leupold features two buttons – one located on the top of the device that powers the device on/off and fires the laser, and the other on the left side of the device that allows the user to modify settings. To modify settings, the mode button is initially held for one second, then is pressed repeatedly to cycle between different functions. The power/laser button is then used to toggle between settings for a specific function. The Leupold GX-4i allows the user to select either yards or meters as the standard unit of distance. In addition, the GX-4i provides settings for the user to turn on fog mode and slope-adjusted distances/club recommendation mode, and to manually input the altitude and temperature (for slope-adjusted distance calculations). When slope-adjusted distances (TGR) is turned “on”, club recommendations will always appear after firing the laser.

The red OLED display is easy to read against dark or shadowy backgrounds and bright targets alike. The viewfinder has a slight greenish tint, which is noticeable but not distracting, though we do prefer rangefinders without any tint to the display (such as those on the Bushnell Pro 1M and Leica Pinmaster 2 rangefinders).

The Leupold GX-4i’s “panning” mode enables the user to scan the course to obtain distances to different points while holding down the power/laser button. The device rapidly updates distance readings when panning across new targets, providing updated slope-adjusted distances, line-of-sight distances, and the angle of slope. The speed that the distances are updated will vary slightly depending on target, but are extremely rapid in any situation.

As mentioned earlier, we found the display distracting due to the combination of a rapidly blinking line-of-sight distance, slope-adjusted distance, and slope angle readings, exacerbated by the fact that the line of sight distance displays an additional digit (0.1 of a yard). With the chrome faceplate on, and thus no slope adjusted distances updating above the crosshair or angle information, we found the blinking distance reading slightly less distracting. We’ll let you decide the benefit of showing distances to 0.1 of a yard – it reminds us of Tom Watson’s irritated question as his caddy was providing multiple distances to him: “Well, which is it…143 or 144?” Perhaps today’s pros want to know if it’s 143.1 or 143.2?

The Leupold GX-4i takes one CR-2 Lithium battery. A battery meter is positioned in the lower center of the viewfinder.

For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of laser rangefinder ease of use.


97 / A+

FEATURES

The Leupold GX-4i has a pin-locating feature, which Leupold calls “PinHunter”, that makes it easier to determine the distance to specific targets such as flagsticks by filtering out readings from larger more “reflective” objects (like trees) in the background. It’s a great feature to have, but we found that the Leupold GX-4i has slightly less room for error before the device starts picking up objects in the background, often providing background distances when the target tree trunk or pin is still within a portion of the target cursor. The advantage to this is that it is easier to purposely target background objects when you have little room around tree trunks or branches (true, we aren’t always in the center of the fairway…it happens), but overall we would prefer that “PinHunter” give a bit more precedence to targets in the foreground.

Leupold uses its pin-locating mode all of the time, including while the user is panning across multiple objects, instead of requiring the user to switch back and forth between a panning mode and a “pin-locating” mode. The GX-4i also includes a “Fog Mode” that can be turned on and off to improve performance in fog and rain to screen out false readings, essentially turning off the “PinHunter” mode.

To make obtaining distances to flagsticks with reflective prisms even easier, the GX-4i features “Prism Lock,” a feature that is always enabled when scanning at distances over 30 yards. When the Leupold identifies a flagstick equipped with a reflective prism, it will emit an audible beep (you can turn this off), show brackets around the cursor and then freeze the display at the measured distance. It makes locking on to flagsticks with prisms at a distance so easy you’ll wonder why more manufacturers don’t have this functionality, and why more courses don’t have flagsticks with prisms.

Leupold GX-4i Laser Rangefinder

Click image to enlarge

The GX-4i features “TGR” (“True Golf Range”) functionality, which displays the adjusted distance based on the slope between the user and the target (to the nearest yard, unlike the line-of-site distances that are provided to the nearest 1/10 of a yard), and will adjust distance based on temperature and altitude that is manually input by the user. If desired, the unit can provide recommended clubs for each shot – users input their average shot distances for 3 clubs (8-iron, 6-iron and 4-iron; or simply enter an average 8-iron distance and the Leupold will estimate the 6 and 4-iron distances) along with the altitude and temperature for these averages, and then the Leupold works its magic. When users have activated the club selector to provide recommendations, the GX-4i will display the adjusted distance alone while the “fire” button is depressed, and then, only after the button is released, display the recommend club.

Leupold GX-4i Laser Rangefinder

Click image to enlarge

We like that the display of the Leupold GX-4i shows slope-adjusted distance above the crosshair (there are three crosshair styles to choose from – see image to the right) while in “TGR” mode, while continuing to show line-of-sight distance and the angle of slope in the bottom right. We were also happy to see that Leupold fixed the glitch with the GX-4, where the device continued to display a negative angle when panning from negative to positive angled targets.

For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of laser rangefinder features.


87 / B+

OBTAINING DISTANCE READINGS

Leupold’s marketing materials state that the GX-4i is rated to provide distances to flagsticks and reflective targets at up to 450/800 yards under optimal conditions. Distance readings will continue to be displayed on the OLED for approximately 8 seconds after the firing button is released. The Leupold GX-4i allows users to continuously fire the laser for over 2 minutes, long enough to scan across all the targets you like.

Ease of Locking on a Target:

  • At distances up to 175 yards, the Leupold GX-4i, like most of the competition, easily picked out flagsticks.
  • At more than 200 yards well up to 300 yards, the Leupold GX-4i continued to perform well in picking up flagsticks against a dark background (90%+ of the time). In the high 200s the Leupold begins to have slightly more difficulty (though still picking out the flagstick at over 70% of the time), and at the very longest distances to pins without prisms it has slightly less success than the Bushnell 1600 Slope Edition, perhaps due to slightly lower magnification.

While we do not test to reflective targets/prisms, on-course experience revealed that the GX-4i easily and quickly locks onto prisms at distances well in excess of 300 yards – a fabulous feature to have available.

Speed Test:

The Leupold GX-4i updates distance readings extremely rapidly, and the speed with which the device updates does not appear to be impacted by whether slope-adjusted distances are also provided. The device doesn’t update distances at a fixed speed, but rather updates will vary slightly depending on target. While the distances are updated quickly, the long times in our tests were due to the GX-4i’s struggle to lock onto the pin, hopping between flagstick and background readings.

  • Panning Mode: When we compared the Leupold in its one mode (since it always has panning and pin-locating available) against other devices in their “panning” modes, we found it (as with the other Leupold devices) to be in the slower half of those tested.
  • Pin-Locating Mode: When we compared the Leupold in its one mode against other devices that have “pin-locating” modes, it finished in the faster half – this is due to the benefit of the faster panning mode that it is quicker to scan across multiple targets.
  • Using Both Modes: The Leupold also finished in the faster half of the speed test against other devices that were allowed to use both modes together (which, in the case of other devices, required pushing buttons to cycle between modes).

For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison for ease of obtaining distance readings.


88 / B+

COST/VALUE

At $625 retail, the Leupold GX-4i maintains Leupold’s history of premium pricing, ranking as the most expensive laser rangefinder with slope-adjusted distances at time of testing. The GX-4i provides functionality that no other device offers, but its ease of use could be improved.

Those who don’t require slope-adjusted distances and club recommendations may want to consider the Leupold GX-3i, which costs nearly $200 less.


Why Are So Few Small Manufacturers On The Golf Digest 2012 Hot List?

Though Golf Digest Senior Editor Mike Sachura remarked in the Golf Digest 2012 Hot List podcast that “…plenty of small companies…are on the Hot List this year”, while referencing SeeMore (mSeries Private Reserve) and SCOR (SCOR4161 wedge), we would say this is a bit of a stretch. Only these 2 products from smaller manufacturers were selected out of 98 total clubs on the Hot List (see table at right), which doesn’t quality as “plenty” in our book.

2012 Golf Digest Hot List Results by Category

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We estimate that 35% of the 286 total clubs submitted for the 2012 Hot List submissions came from smaller manufacturers (see table below), with 2% making the list. While few made the list, it’s great to see this level of participation (and Golf Digest sharing the list of submissions), especially when you consider that for a samller OEM, the cost of providing clubs for evaluation to can be significant. A putter manufacturer could, for example, be giving up a couple thousand dollars in sales by sending 4 heads for evaluation.

2012 Golf Digest Hot List Results by Manufacturer

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What can we take from this? Some options:
1. Smaller companies, not able to compete with the R&D spending from large manufacturers, put out inferior products in comparison
2. The Hot List criteria favor large manufacturers
3. Golf Digest selects companies for the Hot List based on their advertising spend in the magazine
4. The Golf Digest judges (on their own and/or with feedback from scientists, retailers and players) either consciously or subconsciously favor larger manufacturers when scoring

I contacted over a dozen smaller manufacturers (both those that have been/are on the Hot List, and those that have never been selected) to get their impressions. Most all that I spoke with agreed that smaller companies get the short end of the shaft, so to speak. This isn’t surprising, however, given that “Demand” is one of the categories. The good news for smaller companies is that Demand contribution to the total score has declined over time, but as Senior Editor and judge Mike Stachura points out in a Golf Digest podcast discussing the 2012 Hot List and scoring, “literally we are arguing…about tenths of a point, it is that close.” The result is, with Demand making up 5% of the total score, this category alone can tip the scale in favor of the larger companies (see our discussion of Hot List criteria).

It’s a shame then that smaller manufacturers creating great clubs won’t get the same level of exposure on the Hot List as the major manufacturers. And these smaller companies aren’t fly-by-night manufacturers, they are well-known companies such as Bettinardi, Fourteen, Miura, Piretti, Scratch, Super Stroke, T.P. Mills…the list goes on. Some might argue to strip Demand out as one of the categories, but given that many players make their purchase decisions based on brand name and reputation more than performance, this score, and really the entire Hot List, provides value to that player. It’s unfortunate, though, that great clubs will get overlooked by most consumers as a result.

You may have read online comments about players’ displeasure with the Hot List and speculation that manufacturer advertising influences who makes the Hot List. I shouldn’t have been surprised, then, to hear the comments from smaller manufacturers with whom I spoke. Here’s a sampling: “It’s the same each year…In my opinion the Hot List is just to satisfy the major advertisers”, “the major manufacturers will win out every time because they have all the marketing dollars to create the “buzz”…”, “obviously [they] have to back the people that are paying for marketing in their magazine…”, and it “definitely makes you wonder if your [advertising] dollars get you anywhere.” These smaller manufacturers talk to each other, and while a number felt that participation isn’t worth it unless you are advertising in the magazine, many who can afford to participate continue to do so in the hope that they will make the Hot List and have their visibility jump considerably.

One manufacturer was bold enough to share with the public (the only one we know of to do so) that for two consecutive years they sent clubs in for Hot List evaluation, only to have them returned without ever having been hit. For those looking for an interesting and honest read from a insider, check out his Hot List experience. As his experience with clubs being returned unhit was from a number of years ago, I was ready to write this off an a isolated incident. That was until I talked to another manufacturer who told us that they participated recently and some of their clubs (of a few sent) were returned in the original plastic wrap, unopened. Maybe Golf Digest had already hit limits in terms of what clubs they were deciding to evaluate, but what are the odds they passed over evaluating a number of clubs sent by a major manufacturer? Discuss amongst yourselves.

How could the process be improved? It would be useful to readers and manufacturers alike for Golf Digest to provide the detailed scoring information. That’s right – don’t think that we as readers of the magazine are the only ones left in the dark. Manufacturers don’t see the Hot List until the same time as the rest of us. And manufacturers don’t receive any additional information beyond the magazine results (gold or silver ratings). They never know their scores by category, or even total score.

But so it is with a Hot List. And it does have its place. What would I like to see? I’d love to see a Performance and Quality List. A review of those clubs that perform the best (turn them over to Iron Byron and show us some TrackMan data), which have the highest level of craftsmanship, and a discussion of which are made of high-quality materials. Too impersonal? Take the clubs and mask all of the brand and model information before evaluation. Provide the specs on the clubs and manufacturing process to the scientists without the brand information first, get their feedback, then hand over the clubs and solicit additional information. As an aside, we do appreciate that some objective data has crept in to the Hot List: Golf Digest is now providing driver-impact audio (thanks for taking our recommendation!).

Any smaller manufacturers that would make your Performance and Quality list? Let us know!

Do Not Confuse the Golf Digest Hot List with a Performance List

With the release of the yearly Hot List, there are immediately lots and lots of posts with people griping about the products on the list and what their perception of the Hot List evaluation process is. To alleviate any confusion, let’s get one thing out of the way to start. The 2012 Golf Digest Hot List is, just as in previous years, a Hot List, not a Performance List. You may wish to use the 2012 Hot List as a starting point to determine what clubs might fit your game, but it won’t tell you the best performing clubs.

Yes, “Performance” is listed as one of the criteria for the Hot List (and is 45% of the total score), but this is based upon Hot List player panelist perceived performance as opposed to actual performance – no launch monitor is used to capture objective data during the evaluation process. Each player panelist evaluates performance information, such as whether the trajectory is where they think it should be, if the club is providing distance in an exceptional way, and how their worst hits fare. The player then relays the comments to the judges (there are 4 judges for the Hot List, and one is with every two players during the evaluation), who later collectively decide on the Performance score. This same process is used for the Look/Sound/Feel scoring process. Likewise with the scientists, who provide judges with their opinions to help form the Innovation score, and the retailers, who provide their thoughts on the enthusiasm and demand for a product that the judges then consider in determining the Demand score. So for those players who get worked up about the clubs on the list not being the “best” in their mind, just remember that it’s a list generated by subjective scoring in four different categories by four judges, nothing more.

Given that the Hot List is subjective, Golf Digest can use any scoring criteria and put any clubs on the Hot List that they like. If they want the amount of advertising dollars a manufacturer spends on their magazine to be a component of the score, well, they can do that if they want. Although if you think about it, with Demand as one of the categories contributing to the Hot List, that is happening already. How is enthusiasm and excitement around a product produced? Based on marketing dollars more than anything else, and golf equipment manufacturer advertising spend in Golf Digest (at least for the large companies) is one unavoidable component. I don’t believe that any manufacturer directly pays to get on the Hot List, but their advertising dollars spent with Golf Digest have an impact on their Demand score (heck, if it didn’t, the manufacturer wouldn’t advertise in Golf Digest). Perhaps the clubs used on tour or in a particular player’s bag will drive some demand independent of marketing, but the majority of us will only know what these clubs are based upon advertising that highlights this information. It is true that “Demand” makes up only 5% of the total score, but as Hot List judge Mike Stachura notes, there only tenths of a point separating clubs, so the “Demand” score can definitely have an impact in determining who makes the list and who doesn’t.

It’s interesting to hear Mike remark in the Hot List podcast that “…if I just said that whoever advertises we will just make them the winner…I think that is a misconception that is frustrating and I think we’d like to do everything possible to answer those questions and we are happy to do so at any time.” One of the best ways to answer these questions about what influence advertising has on the scoring would, of course, be to provide a breakdown of numerical score in each category for all the clubs tested, including comments from the player panel, scientists and retailers. It’s a bit confounding to hear the judges say that they don’t like the comments that the Hot List is bought and paid for…but when you have a selection process that isn’t open for review (such as showing the scoring for all clubs evaluated, TrackMan launch data, etc.), you quickly open yourself to this type of criticism.

So do you want the hottest equipment, or the clubs that best perform the best for you? Maybe in some cases they are one and the same…but you won’t know from just the Hot List – to get the full story it’s best to get fit for clubs by a professional to make sure you find the right match for your game. The Hot List certainly has its place, but don’t misconstrue it for the end all and be all of what equipment to purchase.

2012 Golf Digest Hot List Player Panel: How Do You Compare?

Winter is here, and for many that means little or no golf for a number of months. But that’s no reason to get down! Buck that seasonal affective disorder by building a roaring fire and curling up with a cup of hot chocolate and good book. You may substitute “build a fire” with “turn on the gas-powered fireplace with your remote”, “hot chocolate” with “Starbucks double tall non-fat latte picked up on the way home from work”, and “good book” with “iPad with the tablet edition of the Golf Digest 2012 Hot List“.

With the holiday lull in golf news, the 2012 Hot List is great way to pass the time. And though golf season may still be months away, with the Hot List you can get a jump on figuring out which of the latest clubs will take your game to the next level in the upcoming season.

It’s useful to note how your game stacks up against the Hot List panelists so you can determine which player comments are the most relevant to your level of play. Unfortunately there isn’t any information on the 19 players on the panel beyond sex, age and handicap (there is no information at all on age and handicap for the 6 scientists, 7 retailers, 2 player teaching pros; index is provided for the 4 Golf Digest writers on the panel) to help you figure out how you compare. Just comparing your handicap index to the panel isn’t going to tell you whether you have the same swing, and will have the same experience as a panelist for a particular club. For example, perhaps your handicap is slightly above the USGA average…you’ll fall into the section of observations on the Hot List with players that have “high” handicaps (this grouping consists of 4 men with handicaps of 15 or 16 with ages between 51 and 69) – which may or may not be the best comparison group if you are in your 20s with a high swing speed, for example. Handicaps are a reasonable proxy, though – I can only imagine the complexity of trying to categorize panelists by “type” of swing instead of handicaps…

So on to the comparison. First comment goes to the ladies: sorry – there are no women included on the player panel. There is one female teaching instructor, one retailer and one Golf Digest writer, but no average Janes. Bummer! Quantcast.com estimates that 37% of the visitors to golfdigest.com are women, so it’s a shame there aren’t women included in the player panel, though I have to believe this will change in the future.

As for the men, the average Golf Digest player panelist has an index of between 9 and 10, with 16 as the highest in the bunch. Compare this to the USGA handicap statistics, which show an average index of approximately 14.5 (as reported by GHIN). While Golf Digest “low” handicappers (0-4) in the testing process represent 7% of USGA handicaps they making up a whopping 25% of the panel (!). “High” handicappers (15+) make up 48% of the USGA players but only 18% of the panel (at handicaps of 15 and 16 only). There are still 35% of players that have an index higher than 16, and it’s unfortunate that this group isn’t represented in the Hot List testing process. Our guesses are that either Golf Digest finds that its readers are on average more likely to have lower handicaps than those included in the USGA statistics, and/or that Golf Digest believes players with extremely high handicaps, such as in the high teens (yes, I’m kidding here…I don’t consider that a high handicap), either can’t consistently evaluate clubs, or the equipment matters far less to these players. As an aside, 3 of the writers took 1-2 points off of their index last year (did you think we wouldn’t notice?). We can only assume it was due to clubs that were Editor’s Choice on the 2011 Hot List!

2012 Golf Digest Hot List Panel Handicap Index Chart

Click image to enlarge

One last note: the Hot List may help narrow down the list of clubs you want to consider for purchase (or not, if you only consider the major manufacturers anyway), but whatever you select, and even if you have already decided on your club of choice, we firmly recommend that all players have a professional clubfitting. The opportunity to test clubs from a number of manufacturers to see what feels and fits your eye best under the watchful eye of the clubfitter (preferably with a TrackMan launch monitor) will be a great help in determining the clubs that perform best for you. If you don’t know where to begin, check out our experiences with a number of clubfitters.

Any comments on the 2012 Golf Digest Hot List player panel? Let us hear about it!