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Garmin Approach S2 Watch

Garmin continues to add to its family of golf GPS watches with the introduction of the Approach S2. Garmin has made the curious decision to have three models with relatively slight feature differences. Unfortunately for the Approach S2, it takes the spot of the awkward middle child in the family, without the advanced features found on the S3, but priced at $70 above the S1.

Each model builds on the feature set of the previous model, starting with the entry-level S1. The S2 adds the ability to keep score on the watch and obtain distance information to layups and doglegs, but does not have the S3‘s touchscreen, ability to position the flagstick on the green for a precise distance, or ability to add custom target points.
Unfortunately, we’ll have to hold our breath and wait for future model to get statistics tracking, distances to pre-mapped hazards, or syncing of scores to an online golf portal.

The Garmin Approach S2 is a good-looking watch (although we could do without the “S2” logo emblazoned under the face in a font which may have been stolen from 80s hair band S1 and the S3 (why else would the product names have evolved in the way they did), but the launch of the S2 is concurrent with the introduction of a number of lower-priced watches with similar (though not identical) feature sets, such as the Skycaddie WATCH, the IZZO Swami Watch and the Bushnell NEO-X watch. The fact that we ultimately rated the S2 lower than the S1 isn’t a statement on the quality of the device, but rather is reflective of its pricing among an increasingly crowded and competitive field.

SCORE
89
GRADE
B+
Setup/Syncing
98
Course Availability
99
Ease of Use
98
Course Details
75
Features
80
Accuracy
92
Cost/Value
87

Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • Excellent course coverage
  • No fees to access course database

Cons:

  • No pre-mapped hazards and no ability to add custom points
  • Relatively expensive
  • No online portal

Retail price: $179.99 (down from $199.99 at launch)
Three year total cost: $179.99
Availability: No longer manufactured but still available; replaced by the Garmin Approach S3 watch
Amazon.com: Check price now
Golfsmith: Check price now


98 / A+

SETUP/SYNCING

The Good: Courses worldwide preloaded. Charging clip is easy to use (it shares the same charging clip as the S3, which is much better than the one for the S1). The entire process from download and installation of syncing software to updating course maps went perfectly.

The Bad: If we want to be picky, the time to install the courses is a bit long.

Details:

    Garmin Approach S2 Charging Clip

    Click to enlarge
  • Required Steps. Courses are preloaded on the device, so to begin play all you need to do is ensure that the battery is charged. For future course updates, you will need to download the free “CourseView Updater” application from Garmin’s web site. No registration is required.
  • Time Required for Setup. Charging the battery takes up to 3 hours, and an icon will appear on screen to indicate that the device is charging. You should sync the device on occasion to ensure that you have the latest course maps – we noted that during this process, there is a slightly longer-than-usual delay before the Garmin CourseUpdater software recognizes the S2, so be a little patient. During our initial setup, the Garmin software alerted us to map updates in all three regions (North & Latin America, Europe, and Australia & New Zealand). Downloading updated maps takes a minute or two, and the installation process takes about 10 minutes.

What’s in the Box: The Garmin Approach S2 comes with:

  • Cable (USB-to-charging clip)
  • Getting Started Manual
  • Safety and Product Information

Recommended Downloads:

  • CourseView Updater (for firmware and course updates)


99 / A+

COURSE AVAILABILITY

Critical Golf Test: The Garmin Approach S2 golf GPS watch uses the same map database as the rest of the Garmin Approach family of devices, with near perfect 99% coverage in our course coverage test.

Manufacturer’s Claims: The S2 watch comes preloaded with 30,000 courses worldwide, placing it above average among GPS devices tested.


98 / A+

EASE OF USE

The Good: The watch form factor is very useful, and navigating through the device’s screens is easy.

The Bad: When all layups/doglegs drop from view as players near the green, the watch defaults to “time view” instead of “hole view”

Garmin Approach S2 GPS Watch

Click to enlarge

Details:

  • Buttons. The Garmin Approach S2 has four buttons: power/backlight, up, down, and menu.
  • Screen. The black and white screen, which is 1″ in diameter, is easy to view. The available backlight will remain on for approximately eight seconds after activation – there is no ability to modify the default time the screen remains backlit.
  • Form Factor. Garmin continues to make incremental changes to each Approach watch, and this is our favorite so far. The watch has a smooth rounded plastic body and comfortable rubber band. The band pivots to comfortably fit your wrist (the face of the watch and the watch band are no longer a single molded piece as is the case with the other Garmin watches), and is styled with perforations. These holes, in addition to making a fashion statement, also provide 17 different sizes to accommodate the width of your wrist. The keeper loop also has a small rubber protrusion that locks into the nearest hole.

    The device is the same size as the S1 and S3 (a smidge thicker than most watches), and at 2.0 ounces (as tested), is 0.2 ounces heavier than the S1 (although Garmin lists them at the same 1.8 ounce weight) and 0.1 ounces lighter than the S3, but the weight differences are completely unnoticeable. The watch may appear slightly larger than the S1 or the S3 due to the larger bezel around the watch face. And if you are bored with the traditional black color, the S2 comes in white as well as white/purple options.

  • Garmin Approach S2 GPS Watch Color Options

    Click for color options
  • Starting a Round. Starting a round is as simple as powering up the device (we usually kept the device powered up all of the time since it is, after all, a watch), pressing the menu button and selecting “Start Round,” and then choosing the desired course from a scrollable list. Once you are on a tee box, the device will default to the hole closest to your position.
  • Battery Life. Battery life is somewhat short when the GPS functionality is in use on the course. Garmin markets the S2 charge as lasting approximately 8 hours on the course and 3 weeks when used exclusively as a watch. Our experience largely confirms the former estimate – the S2 will not make it through two rounds (at the painfully long rounds at our local munis) of golf on a single charge.

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


75 / C

COURSE DETAIL AND MAPPING

The Good: The Garmin Approach S2 provides distances to near, center and far points of the green (“near” and “far” points being relative to player position), rather than being limited to fixed front and back points.

The Bad: Though the Approach S2 provides layup and dogleg distances on par 4s and 5s, these aren’t nearly as helpful as pre-mapped hazard and other target information would be. No ability to add custom mapped targets on each hole, as you can with the Garmin Approach S3 watch.

Garmin Approach S2 GPS Watch

Click for views

Details:

  • Views. The Garmin Approach S2 provides a primary Hole View, a Layup/Dogleg View, and additional screens for shot distance measurement and time. Users can cycle through the Hole View, Layup/Dogleg View and Time View by pressing the “menu” button.
    • Hole View – This screen displays the hole number, par, distances to the near and far (in slightly smaller text at the top and bottom of the screen) points on the green, and the distance to the center of the green (the largest text in the middle of the screen). Wait, what? You don’t see where par is indicated on the screen? It’s the small dots underneath the hole number – count them up!
    • Layup/Dogleg View – While pre-mapped distances to hazards aren’t available on the S2, Garmin has added distances to layup points and doglegs. We found the layup point distances to be of minimal value in the absence of overhead hole maps – knowing how far it is to the layup point isn’t as powerful when you can’t visualize where it is on the hole. Pre-mapped layup and dogleg distances are removed from this view on the hole as you come within 35-45 yards and move closer to the green.
    • Measurement View – Shows the measurement of a particular shot. You can toggle between the Measurement View and the Hole View while continuing to measure distances (when you come back to Measurement View, you will have the option of continuing the measurement or starting a new one). Shot distances cannot be saved (the device will automatically reset the shot measurement once you walk to the next hole).
    • Time View – Shows the current time and date. Dots on this screen indicate that the odometer is on.
  • Hole Information. The hole number and par (as dots) are visible on the Hole View screen. Hole handicap is not available.
  • Custom Mapping. Users can’t add custom points. Rats.

Suggestion Box: Garmin already has a large number of targets pre-mapped in their course database, and should leverage this by including hazard information, either in addition to or replacing their existing Layup/Dogleg View.


80 / B-

FEATURES

The Good: Scoring is available (although we have our quibbles about its implementation). The watch is waterproof! Go on out and play in that thunderstorm! I don’t think the heavy stuff’s gonna come down for quite awhile…

The Bad: Still no online portal to save scores and track performance over time. Players can’t modify settings without exiting their current round.

Details:

  • Shot Tracking. The S2 watch can measure the distance of a shot, though measurements cannot be saved. There is also a built-in odometer that automatically tracks the distance traveled during a round and the elapsed time.
  • Score and Statistics. The Garmin Approach S2 enables you to track your score, but you cannot track any statistics. After you begin your round, you must press “Menu” then scroll to “Start Scoring.” If you are on the first hole, you can just press the “up” or “down” buttons to set your score, then press “menu” when you are done. The top of the screen will show the hole number, par (again indicated with those little dots), and your score for the hole, while the bottom of the screen will indicate your position relative to par for the entire round.

    Once you’ve started scoring, the scoring function of the S2 will link to its auto-advance feature and automatically prompt you to enter a score after you complete each hole. It’s not perfect however, as sometimes the S2 wouldn’t automatically advance to the next hole even when standing on the tee box, requiring us to manually switch to the scoring screen. In addition, if you don’t remember to enter your score until you have started walking down the next fairway (which means you didn’t have a birdie or eagle, because those are the kinds of things you somehow always remember to record), you will need to manually go into scoring mode and go back a hole to enter your bogey.

    There’s not online portal to track your scores and stats, so the closest you’ll get is when you plug the S2 into your computer and open a file stored on the watch (easy enough) to view past scorecards.

  • Auto-advance. The Garmin Approach S2 will (usually) automatically advance when you move to the next hole, and there is no option to turn this feature off. You can quickly return to a prior hole or advance to the next by pressing the up or down arrow buttons.
  • Course Storage. The Garmin S2 watch stores all available courses on the device – thus there is no need to select which courses to load before heading to a new course or on a golf trip. As it does with the S3 watch, Garmin claims that you can store an “unlimited” number of courses on the watch (curiously, the S1 is marketed as limited to holding 18,000 courses). And while the course data probably doesn’t take up that much memory, the “unlimited” claim is a bit of fluff.
  • Preferences. The Garmin Approach S2 has a limited set of adjustable preferences: measurement unit (yards vs. meters), language, tones. And as a watch, users can of course modify time and time format (though there is also the option to have the time automatically set by the watch as it acquires satellites).

Suggestion Box: Garmin offers online portals for GPS devices that it offers in non-golf categories, so we hope they leverage this work and offer one to Approach owners, along the lines of those from Callaway, Motorola and SkyGolf (though note that SkyCaddie WATCH owners can’t sync their watch with the SkyCaddie portal…odd!).

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


92 / A-

ACCURACY

The Garmin S2 returned distances to green points within our expected range of 4 yards, as accurate as other dedicated devices. Comparison to green front and back were compared to marked on-course points in the center of the fairway, as the watch no longer displays distances to near and far green points once the player is within 30-40 yards of the point (this varies slightly depending on the hole). The center of the green distance continues to be displayed throughout the hole, regardless of distance.

We were unable to confirm the accuracy of distances to layup points or doglegs, as these distances will no longer be displayed once the user is within 30-40 yards as well, but estimating visually they appeared to be within the same range of accuracy as green points.

Head-to-head against other Garmin devices, distances were all within the standard range of several yards of error.


87 / B+

COST/VALUE

Retail Price: Garmin is keeping their price points on the high side, and at $179.99 (though down from $199.99 at launch) its price is higher than the SkyCaddie WATCH, and at the level of many of the more full-featured handheld golf GPS devices.

Fees for Access to Course Database: As with other devices in the Garmin family, the Approach S2 carries no additional fees for course map updates. So take those savings to the Encore Resort in Las Vegas!

Three-Year Total Cost of Ownership: With no additional yearly fees to download the latest course information, the three-year total cost for the Garmin Approach S2 remains $179.99, still above average in overall cost over three years across all golf GPS devices.

Value: The Garmin Approach S2 is one of the most expensive golf GPS watches in our tests, and also one of the priciest GPS devices overall that lacks pre-mapped hazards. Sure you get the convenience of having information available on your wrist and a user-friendly device, but you’re paying a premium for the Garmin name and near-center-far green points. At this price we now expect a bit more – hazard information, ability to track statistics, or an online portal to track progress over time.


SkyCaddie AIRE

Just when you think SkyCaddie is going to greatly simplify their family of devices with their versatile SkyCaddie Breeze, where users can customize through additional Feature Packs, there they go again. Maybe they are just looking to dominate the shelf space of your local retail stores. Who knows. At any rate, the AIRE is a part of a group of 4 different SkyCaddie devices announced in 2013), and will be the smallest handheld SkyCaddie device with screen (greyscale) available. The AIRE provides distances to the front, center and back of green only, and some additional features that we don’t need, such as calorie counter and odometer. As with other current SkyCaddie devices, don’t forget to consider the yearly fees – for the Sport Series, which includes the AIRE, $49.95 will get you 3 years of course updates.

Editor’s note: For a limited time, SkyCaddie is offering a free annual “Go Play” membership for new, unregistered AIRE (and GIMME and WATCH) devices. Note that with this free membership does not allow players to upload scores or data to an online account – that functionality is only available with the paid annual “Par membership”, or a membership to ClubSG for $9.95/year (we will refrain on commenting that ClubSG is in “Beta” and they still charge for this).

Retail price: $129.95
Three year total cost: $179.90
Availability: Discontinued. Replaced by the SkyCaddie AIRE II.
Amazon.com: Check price now
Golfsmith: Check price now


SkyCaddie GIMME

We haven’t figured out the target market for the SkyCaddie GIMME, which seems to provide the same distance information as the SkyCaddie AIRE. Overall we think SkyCaddie continues to spread themselves too think (in addition to the four models announced for 2013, they have three additional devices still on the market, the new SkyCaddie Breeze, as well as the SkyCaddie SGXw and SkyCaddie SGX. It’s like SkyCaddie is trying to do their best to confuse the customer. The GIMME is marketed as having “large, easy-to-read numbers”, and distances to the front, center and back of the green. We don’t get it, but stay tuned for our detailed SkyCaddie GIMME review. For the Sport Series, which includes the GIMME, $49.95 will get you 3 years of course updates.

Editor’s note: For a limited time, SkyCaddie is offering a free annual “Go Play” membership for new, unregistered GIMME (and AIRE and WATCH) devices. Note that with this free membership does not allow players to upload scores or data to an online account – that functionality is only available with the paid annual “Par membership”, or a membership to ClubSG for $9.95/year (we will refrain on commenting that ClubSG is in “Beta” and they still charge for this).

Retail price: $169.95
Three year total cost: $219.90
Availability: Discontinued though still available through some channels; replaced by the SkyCaddie AIRE
Amazon.com: Check price now

SkyCaddie VOICE

Not wanting to be left out of the voice trend in golf GPS units, SkyCaddie in January 2013 announced their first golf GPS unit that provides distances by voice, the appropriately named SkyCaddie VOICE. The company marketed the VOICE as providing distances at the push of a button to front, center and back of green, and lacking any screen. At the time of announcement the retail price was slated to be a bit lower than the competing GolfBuddy Voice, which additionally provides a small screen with green image, though SkyCaddie annual fees ($49.95 for 3 years of course updates) would likely increase the three year total cost by a bit.

But…that was January 2013. And though company representatives say the device is “in testing” still in 2014, we are chalking this one up to vaporware until proven otherwise.

Retail price: $149.95
Three year total cost: $199.90
Availability: Um….never?

SkyCaddie WATCH

The SkyCaddie WATCH is one of the newest entrants into a golf GPS market that only two years ago didn’t exist. Our impression, however, is that SkyCaddie hasn’t made the most of its opportunity to watch others blaze a trail. The WATCH works fine, but it doesn’t really advance on what other manufacturers are already doing, and our repeated problems with getting SkyCaddie devices to sync for the first time were sadly experienced once again.

The SkyCaddie WATCH has very strong course coverage, but we would expect this given that the device only provides distances only to 3 fixed points on each hole: the front, center and back of green. What puzzles us is why SkyCaddie didn’t leverage all of the extensive course mapping it has done to provide additional distances, such as yardages to near and far points on the green relative to player position, hazards, doglegs and layup points. Bummer. We do like both the look, available in either black or white trim, as well as the comfortable and functional wristband. We are always big fans of the easy-to-use watch form factor (just rotate your wrist!), and the SkyCaddie interface is easy to navigate.

As mentioned above, poor experiences in syncing SkyCaddie products continued to plague us with the WATCH – we had to call technical support and spend nearly 2 hours to get the device to successfully sync to our computer. If you are successful getting the WATCH to sync with your computer, the device will be updated with the latest course information, but unlike other SkyCaddie devices the WATCH won’t sync scores to the online ClubSG community portal.

Our final analysis is that the annual fee to access course updates, lack of ability to upload scoring to the SkyCaddie online portal, and poor syncing software make it tough to make any strong recommendation for the SkyCaddie WATCH over other golf GPS watches in this increasingly crowded market.

SCORE
87
GRADE
B+
Setup/Syncing
75
Course Availability
98
Ease of Use
96
Course Details
70
Features
86
Accuracy
95
Cost/Value
89

Pros:

  • A breeze to use
  • Strong course coverage

Cons:

  • Only fixed front/center/back green points
  • No ability to sync scores to ClubSG
  • Annual fees
  • Syncing woes

Editor’s note: For a limited time (until December 31, 2013), SkyCaddie is offering a free annual “Go Play” membership for new, unregistered WATCH (and AIRE and GIMME) devices. Note that with this free membership does not allow players to upload scores or data to an online account – that functionality is only available with the paid annual “Par membership”, or a membership to ClubSG for $9.95/year (we will refrain on commenting that ClubSG is in “Beta” and they still charge for this).

Retail price: $199.95
Three year total cost: $249.90
Availability: Discontinued (though still available from some resellers); replaced by the SkyCaddie LINX watch
Amazon.com: Check price now
Golfsmith: Check price now


75 / C+

SETUP/SYNCING

The Good: Charging clip is easy to attach (which is not the case with most other golf GPS watches).

The Bad: We continue to have issues with syncing SkyCaddie devices, which make for a terrible user experience. No wall charger is provided, so the only way to charge the WATCH is by plugging the USB cable into your computer.

Details:

  • Required Steps. Courses are preloaded on the WATCH, so just ensure the battery is charged and then off you go. You may, however, want to keep up with the latest course updates, and in order to do so you must activate your WATCH and register online (for free). Once you’ve activated the WATCH, you can select a membership plan (choose either a 1-year or 3-year plan), download and install the CaddieSync Express software to your computer, and then sync for updates.
  • Time Required for Setup. Registration, download and install of the CaddieSync Express (syncing) software takes just a few minutes. Charging the battery takes approximately 3 hours, with the watch face indicating level of charge. Read on, however, for the total time required to complete the sync…
  • Syncing. In what has now become a recurring theme with recent SkyCaddie devices we’ve tested, we had problems out of the gate with the WATCH. The syncing software wouldn’t “find” our WATCH, and after repeated efforts, we had to lob in a call to SkyGolf support (23 minutes on hold, 12 minutes with one rep who was unable to help, then 39 minutes with another rep). In the end it took nearly 2 hours to get the WATCH to sync the first time, with the solution a set of drivers that can only be provided through their Advanced Tech Support team. Grrr! We later tried syncing to another Mac with no luck (we simply gave up on trying to sync it on that machine, which can successfully sync with our SkyCaddie Breeze). We’ve heard the excuses before…”the WATCH was just released…having some issues on Macs…” Hey, here’s our suggestion – test the devices and syncing software thoroughly and make sure they work before launching the product! To be fair, this problem isn’t unique to SkyCaddie, so consider this to be a plea to golf GPS device manufacturers everywhere.

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

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

Downloads:

  • CaddieSync Express (for course updates).


98 / A+

COURSE AVAILABILITY

Critical Golf Test: The SkyCaddie WATCH provides extremely thorough coverage, with availability of 98% in our course coverage test. At this point in the maturation of the golf GPS market, this level of coverage is the norm for devices that only offer fixed front-center-back of green distance information.

Manufacturer’s Claims: The SkyCaddie watch comes with nearly 30,000 worldwide courses pre-loaded, which places it near the top of our course coverage comparison test.


96 / A

EASE OF USE

The Good: Easy to use form factor and navigation.

The Bad: Lower battery life than we would like to see. No prompt to enter scores when using auto-advance, so players will need to step back a hole each time to record that sweet chip-in birdie or snowman.

SkyCaddie WATCH

Click for larger image

Details:

  • Buttons. The SkyCaddie WATCH has five buttons: OK/reset, back/set, light/menu, up, and down. There is no power button – the WATCH is always on. Users access menu and select options by either tapping on a button, or tapping and briefly holding.
  • Screen. Despite the fact that the WATCH’s 0.8 square inch black and white screen is one of the smallest golf GPS screens we’ve tested, it’s still easy to read. The backlight on the watch can be adjusted to remain on for either 10 or 20 seconds.
  • Form Factor. The SkyCaddie WATCH has a rubber and plastic exterior, and weighs 1.9 ounces. The watch is available in either black or white, and has a nice updated look to it. As with other golf watches, the watch form factor makes the device a breeze to access and use. We liked the easily adjustable watch band.
  • Starting a Round. Simply select “GOLF” from the main menu, wait for the satellite signal to be acquired, and then select from a list of nearby courses. The WATCH won’t always find your starting hole if it isn’t the 1st (auto-advance gets triggered when you are on the green), but advancing between holes using the up/down arrow buttons is easy enough.
  • Battery Life. While SkyCaddie markets up to 10 hours of battery life while using GPS, we only averaged around 7.5 hours using the standard level of screen contrast. The company claims it will last up to one year in clock mode, but really, if you have this watch and aren’t on the course more than once a year, you need to re-evaluate your priorities!

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


70 / C-

COURSE DETAIL AND MAPPING

The Good: Not much to tout here, as the SkyCaddie WATCH only provides mapping to 3 fixed points on the green

The Bad: Given that SkyCaddie has access in their course database to full green mapping detail, as well as hazards and layup targets, it is disappointing that the WATCH only offers distances to fixed front, center and back green points. Seems like it would be so easy to show distances to green near, center and far points, as well as some number of hazards.

SkyCaddie WATCH

Click for larger image

Details:

  • Views. The SkyCaddie WATCH provides a main “Green View,” which displays distance information for each hole, and secondary screens for scoring and time. Users can toggle between views using the “OK” button. If users are in secondary screens and don’t press a button for 20 seconds, the WATCH will revert to the Green View.

    • Green View – This screen displays the hole number, par, and distances to the center (in large text in the center of the screen), front and back of the green (in smaller text at the bottom of the screen) points. Satellite strength is displayed at the top of the screen, and battery level and unit of measurement on the right.
    • Scoring View – Defaults to the par for the hole until the user enters their score, and also shows the total score for the round as well as total score relative to par.
    • Time View – Displays the time as well as the elapsed time for the round, which begins once a course is selected.
    • Measurement View – Activated when the user presses the “Mark Ball” button, this view displays the distance of a particular shot. Users can switch to other views, and even change settings, while continuing to measure their shot. Shot distances cannot be saved to the WATCH.
  • Hole Information. The hole number and par are always shown on the main Green 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.


86 / B

FEATURES

The Good: One of the few golf GPS watches that enables you to keep score. Settings can be adjusted during a round without losing track of the score (surprisingly, this is not the case with a number of devices).

The Bad: No ability to track putts or other statistics. Scores can’t be synced to ClubSG online portal.

Details:

  • Shot Tracking. The WATCH can measure shot distances, and will continue to do so even if you toggle to different screens or even change menu settings. There is no ability to save the shot distance information or link the distances to clubs in order to calculate average shot distances.
  • Auto-advance. The SkyCaddie WATCH can be set to automatically advance to the next hole during play, with the hole advancing once you are on the green for approximately 20 seconds. Manually changing holes is easily done through the up/down buttons.
  • Scoring. Players can track their score throughout the round. There is no ability to turn on/off scoring, so players will always need to manually enter the scoring view. If auto-advance is enabled the WATCH will move to the next hole while you are finishing your current hole. The result is that you will need to step back to the previous hole, enter your score, and then advance to the next hole, thus generally eliminating any benefit to the auto-advance feature.

    The WATCH can only hold scoring for one round at a time – as soon as a new round is started the old scores will be erased. While SkyCaddie customers have access to ClubSG, the WATCH doesn’t sync scores with ClubSG accounts, so if you want to track the progress of your scores, you’ll have to manually enter them on ClubSG after the round. Seriously?!

  • Miscellaneous. The WATCH includes an odometer (which, of course, is completely irrelevant if you’re taking a cart).
  • Preferences. The SkyCaddie WATCH offers a reasonable set of adjustable settings, including unit of measurement (yards or meters), screen contrast, backlight time, and chime.

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


96 / A

ACCURACY

The WATCH, as well as the rest of the SkyCaddie Sport Series (which includes the AIRE, GIMME and VOICE), uses a “more economical” GPS technology than the Tour Series (SkyCaddie Breeze, SGXw, and SGX). So while it seems that the company is using the same ground mapping information for the WATCH as the Tour Series, the company professes that it has less accuracy. We found, however, that the WATCH returned distances within our standard expected range, varying generally up to 4 yards from actual distances (based on marked sprinkler heads). In case you’re wondering why the WATCH receives a higher score in accuracy than the Tour Series (Breeze, SGXw and SGX) as it only provides 3 fixed points. The other devices have the same accuracy to those points, but had some errors in additional course detail, such as hazard locations.

The SkyCaddie WATCH will continue to display distances to the 3 fixed points on each green regardless of how close you are (some devices will stop showing distances once you are within a certain range), which can provide increased confidence in readings.


89 / B+

COST/VALUE

Retail Price: The SkyCaddie golf GPS WATCH retails for $199.95, which is about average among golf watches.

Fees for Access to Course Database: As with other SkyCaddie devices, yearly fees are required to access course updates. There is only one “level” of membership, which provides distance and par information, and it is available both as an annual plan ($19.95) or a discounted 3-year plan ($49.95).

Three-Year Total Cost of Ownership: With yearly fees for updates to the course database, the three-year total cost for the SkyCaddie WATCH rises to $249.90 (based on purchase of the 3-year plan). This places the SkyCaddie WATCH pretty much in the middle among both golf GPS watches and golf GPS devices generally in our analysis of cost over three years. It is, however, one of the more expensive golf GPS devices that doesn’t provide hazard distances.

Value: Those who know the SkyCaddie name and trust their ground mapping will be quite comfortable with the WATCH, which is a good-looking device that is easy-to-use. However, we were left disappointed by not only the syncing issues we experienced, but also the limited distance information provided by the WATCH. Given that SkyCaddie already has extensive distance information available in their course mapping database, we have to believe that this additional information will likely be available on a future version of the WATCH (best guess: Spring 2014). We just wish it was available now.


Bushnell Tour v3 JOLT

The Bushnell Tour v3 JOLT builds upon the prior generation Bushnell Tour V2, with the same magnification (5x), range performance (5-1000 yards), and accuracy (to within 1 yard). The Tour v3 introduces Bushnell’s JOLT technology, which provides short bursts of vibration to indicate that its PinSeeker technology has locked onto a target. The JOLT technology may not be for everyone, but if you don’t like it, you can turn it off – we found ourselves appreciating it more over time. We do note that the Tour v3 does not always indicate that it has locked onto the target (via icon of a circle surrounding the flagstick in the display) even when it is returning the correct distances, and if the device hasn’t determined that it is locked on, there will be no accompanying vibration. As a result, it became clear that we didn’t absolutely have to have indication that the laser was locked onto a target – if the distance appears accurate, it probably is.

When you fire the laser, the distances will intermittently update as you pan across objects. We found that the laser can continue to fire in the range of 3-5 seconds before it locks onto a target, after which the yardage will continue to display for 15 seconds after the firing button is released. Distances to additional targets can be obtained even after PinSeeker has locked onto a target if you continue to pan.

The Bushnell Tour v3 JOLT is a solid device and at $299, is $100 less than the Bushnell Tour V2 and one of the least expensive golf laser devices tested. It provides quick and accurate readings even without verification, which was OK with us. But if you are keen on the PinSeeker and JOLT functionality, just realize that you may not get feedback with every reading.

SCORE
89
GRADE
B+
Ease of Use
93
Features
92
Obtaining Readings
89
Cost/Value
92

Pros:

Cons:

  • Only 5x magnification
  • JOLT technology provides the same information as the PinSeeker icon in the display, so it’s more of an augmentation than a separate feature

Retail: $299
Amazon.com: Check price now
Golfsmith: Check price now

Editor’s note: Consumers who like the sound (er, JOLT) of the Bushnell Tour v3 but want to add slope-adjusted distance information should check out the Bushnell Tour v3 Slope.


93 / A

EASE OF USE

Bushnell Tour v3 JOLT

Click to enlarge

The Bushnell Tour v3 JOLT is a vertically held rangefinder measuring 4.3″ x 2.8″ x 1.6″, which is about average in size within its class. Its weight (as tested) was 7.4 ounces without the carry case, putting it on par with other vertically held rangefinders, and 10.4 ounces with the carrying case.

The device keeps true to the latest color scheme of Bushnell laser rangefinders, featuring a primarily white plastic body with black plastic accents and rubber in the grip areas.

The grey nylon carrying case is firm but not solid, providing adequate protection for the Bushnell Tour v3 JOLT. The zippered case is primarily grey, with black and red highlights. The case opens to about 35 degrees, with netting at the sides that does a nice job of preventing the rangefinder from falling out if you elect to leave the case open for easy access during a round. The Tour v3 JOLT easily slides in and out of the case, and the case can be attached to a bag or cart with the attached elastic loop or black carabiner. A small dust cloth is included for wiping the lens clean.

There is only one button on the Bushnell Tour v3 JOLT, the power/laser button, which is located on the top of the device. This button not only powers the device on and off and fires the laser, but is also used to adjust settings (switching between yards and meters and turn the JOLT feature on and off) if the button is held down when powering up (see below). There is no ability to change the cross-hair style.

As with most laser rangefinders, pressing the power/laser button turns on the device, and then pressing the button a second time will begin firing the laser and returning distances. The Bushnell Tour v3 JOLT displays the line-of-sight distance below the aiming circle, which has cross-hairs surrounding it when the laser is being fired. To the left of the distance reading is a flagstick icon that is part of the PinSeeker indicator – when the device has locked on to a target (which does not have to be a flagstick), a circle will surround the icon. When the player releases the power/laser button, the line-of-sight distance will continue to be shown for approximately 15 seconds. The aiming circle, cross-hairs, and distance information are presented in black, as the v3 lacks Bushnell’s “Vivid Display Technology.” Using an LCD display with distances and slope information in black can make information potentially more difficult to see against dark backgrounds. The Bushnell Tour v3 offers only 5x magnification, which is at the low end of among the laser rangefinders we have tested.

The Tour v3 JOLT has an adjustable eyepiece (+/- 2 diopter adjustment) that requires a firm twist to adjust. While it’s possible to adjust the eyepiece with one hand while looking through the viewfinder, most people will find it easier to hold the device with one hand and adjust with the other. Unlike the high-end Bushnell golf laser rangefinders, the eyepiece does not twist “up”, which is used by some laser rangefinders such as the Bushnell Pro 1M to shield off extraneous light.

The Bushnell Tour v3 JOLT uses a single CR-2 3-volt lithium battery that inserts through a twist cap on the right of the device. Bushnell recommends replacing the battery once every twelve months.

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


92 / A

FEATURES

The Bushnell Tour v3’s always-on PinSeeker mode is prevalent in the Bushnell line and most competing products have a similar feature, all with the goal of locking onto the closest target within a line of sight, which under most circumstances is a flagstick against a background of trees or hills. PinSeeker works as well as it has on the Bushnell devices we have used in the past, which is to say that it is generally quite good, but not infallible. Occasionally the Tour v3 will lock onto objects behind the pin. It doesn’t happen often enough to give us any pause in recommending the device, and in the cases where it would initially provide distances to the background object (which is generally pretty obvious), a quick re-fire usually righted this wrong. “PinSeeker” is a bit of a misnomer, as it can provide locked-on distances to any target – trees, bunker faces, mounds, the group in front of you that you are considering driving into…

If a circle is not shown around the flagstick icon within the display, the device may still be providing the distance to the appropriate target, but for whatever reason is still sensing multiple objects in its path. We experienced this situation fairly frequently, and although there was no indication that the device has locked on to the target, it would still return the correct distance. It is difficult to say exactly when the Bushnell Tour v3 JOLT will “lock” onto a target and display the circle around the flagstick icon (indicating PinSeeker has found a target). Curiously, the device will often allow players to continue panning across targets (even after it JOLTS and displays the PinSeeker icon) for a range of 4-10 seconds

Bushnell Tour v3 JOLT

Click to enlarge

Lastly, let’s talk about the newest and most heavily-marketed feature of the Bushnell Tour v3: Bushnell’s JOLT technology. While most laser rangefinders provide some indication that the device has locked onto a target through either through some icon on the display and/or a beep or a tone, the Bushnell Tour v3 is the first device that adds haptics to a laser rangefinder. We weren’t enamored at first and looked for a setting that would enable us to turn the pulsing vibrations off (and while the manual indicates you can turn off JOLT, we aren’t able to do so on our device); however, over time we grew to appreciate the additional validation of locking onto a target. Some players will like the feature while others are satisfied with just a visual indicator and will find the JOLT to be no more than a marketing gimmick. Interestingly, the JOLT functionality hasn’t raised the price from the prior generation device (see ‘Value’, below), so whether you like it or not, at least you aren’t paying more for this feature compared to last years’ device.

The Bushnell Tour v3 provides distance information in 1-yard increments. The displayed distances don’t blink when they are being refreshed, so there are times when you’re firing the laser that you may wonder if the device is doing anything. If you’re in doubt, just check if cross-hairs are shown around the center aiming circle – that’s the indicator that the laser is being fired.

While the 5x magnification is at the low end of device magnification (the majority of quality rangefinders now offer 6x magnification), it’s a tradeoff for significant cost savings.

Additionally, the device is rainproof and has coated optics that are intended to help whisk away the rain and dust.

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 1,000 yards for the Bushnell Tour v3 under optimal conditions, and 300+ yards to a flag. The top-of-the-line laser rangefinders will reach farther distances, but we find that maximum range of a rangefinder is less important than the actual performance in picking up targets within its capabilities and the ability to precisely pick out pins in the 150-350 yard range.

Ease of Locking on a Target:
The Bushnell Tour v3 did an admirable job of picking out targets. At 185 yards or less it was able to lock onto targets and give us a JOLT the vast majority of the time. The device started to struggle to lock on to targets beyond this range against difficult backgrounds, with increasing challenges at more than 200 yards. It is important to note that while the device did not necessarily lock on to the flagstick at farther distances (and thus did not provide the PinSeeker icon or accompanying JOLT), it still has the ability to return an accurate distance. If you’re holding down the laser button and the displayed yardage is no longer varying, the device is usually providing the distance to the desired target.

We found that the displayed yardages update at the same rate of speed regardless of the distance to the target. There may be a brief pause while it initially locks on to a target, but this can occur regardless of distance.

Speed Test:
The Bushnell Tour v3 is as speedy as any laser rangefinder we’ve reviewed, recording one of the fastest times in our tests of locking onto multiple targets. Even with the always-on PinSeeker mode, we could quickly get distance readings and re-fire at additional targets. You can get accurate distances to points without the device needing to lock on and freeze at a distance reading, so you can pan among several targets without needing to re-fire the laser. In truth, however, we found it much faster to simply press the laser button again anytime we wanted distances to additional targets. We did observe some incorrect distances returned when alternating between bunker faces and other parts of the course, but these were relatively limited during our tests.

Check out our laser rangefinder speed test to see how the Bushnell Tour v3 Slope compares against the best laser rangefinders.


92 / A-

COST/VALUE

At only $299 retail, the Bushnell Tour v3 JOLT is one of the most reasonably priced laser rangefinders on the market, and even carries a 2-year warranty. While it has slightly less magnification than most of the competition and lacks bells and whistles such as OLED displays and the slope-adjusted distance information, it still offers compelling value. It has a sporty look, Bushnell’s PinSeeker technology, and if you are into things that vibrate, you’ll dig it even more.


“It vibrated!”


Leupold GX-1i

Leupold brings their “DNA” technology to the Leupold 1 and 2 “intro” line. The new Leupold GX-1i replaces the Leupold GX-1, which was not revved in 2012. The GX-1i includes all of the USGA-approved Leupold rangefinder features available (scan, fog, PinHunter, Prism Lock), with the exception of the OLED display and aluminum body included in the Leupold 3i.

Retail price: $374.99
Availability: Discontinued. Replaced by the Leupold GX-1i2
Amazon.com: Check price now
Golfsmith: Check price now

Leupold PinCaddie

Leupold has historically offered golf laser rangefinders priced at the high end of the market. That changes with the Leupold PinCaddie, which at $315 is not only the least expensive Leupold, but also one of the lower priced laser rangefinders we’ve tested. The PinCaddie features 6x magnification, an LCD display, Leupold’s always-on Pin Hunter technology, and scanning mode. The Leupold PinCaddie is made of a primarily black plastic shell, and weighs 7.2 ounces.

Given that Leupold offers 5 different laser rangefinders, the table at the right may be helpful in identifying the differences among the Leupold devices available at time of this review.

Leupold Golf Laser Features

Click image to enlarge

The principal features the PinCaddie lacks are Leupold’s DNA (“Digitally Enhanced Accuracy”), Prism Lock (bummer), and Fog Mode, and the PinCaddie has lower maximum distance ranges. At a more granular level, the PinCaddie does not enable users to choose from different cross-hair styles, and is just a hair larger and heavier than the Leupold GX-1i and GX-2i, a pair of Leupold siblings that share similar body styles. The device has a 1-year warranty, compared to the 2-year warranty offered on the Leupold GX-3i and GX-4i.

Overall the performance of the PinCaddie didn’t match that of the other Leupold devices or mid-tier Bushnell lasers with which it competes. While it is one of the lower priced rangefinders, we would encourage prospective buyers to take a look at the Leupold GX-1i, which for $60 retail more than the PinCaddie provides both slightly better performance and additional features.

SCORE
88
GRADE
B+
Ease of Use
93
Features
87
Obtaining Readings
88
Cost/Value
87

Pros:

  • Least expensive Leupold laser rangefinder
  • 6x magnification

Cons:

  • Performance not at the level of other Leupold rangefinders
  • Not as many features as the competition
  • Black LCD screen can be difficult to read against dark backgrounds

Retail price: $314.99
Availability: Discontinued. Replaced by the Leupold Pincaddie 2
Amazon.com: Check price now
Golfsmith: Check price now


93 / A

EASE OF USE

Leupold PinCaddie Laser Rangefinder

Click for images

The Leupold PinCaddie is vertically-held (as opposed to binoculars-style horizontally held devices), and at 7.2 ounces, is one of the lighter rangefinders in our tests. It is just a hair heavier and larger than its closest Leupold siblings, the Leupold GX-1i and GX-2i, though all of them share a similar plastic shell. It is also larger than the Leupold GX-3i and GX-4i, though these lasers have aluminum bodies, and weigh slightly more than the PinCaddie. The included carry case has an integrated clip to attach to a bag or cart, and an elastic band secures the lid of the case. The size and construction of the case is such that it is easy to slip the PinCaddie in and out for use. There is also a small pocket on the exterior of the case to hold an extra battery. A polishing cloth is included to boot.

The PinCaddie has just a single button that serves to power the device on, fire the laser, and switch units between yards and meters. The display will indicate whether the device is measuring in yards or meters (Y or M) in the top right of the viewfinder. The Leupold PinCaddie has the industry-standard 6x magnification (which is a plus, given that devices at lower price points, such as Bushnell’s entry-level products, are often limited to 5x magnification) and has a slight greenish-yellow tint in the lens. The black LCD display was disappointing to those of us who have come to love the red OLED display found in the top-of-the-line Leupold GX-3i and GX-4i and the more reasonably priced Bushnell Tour Z6 .

Leupold PinCaddie

Click image to enlarge

Tapping the power/fire button once turns the device on, and pressing it again fires the laser to return the distance to the target. Holding the button down enables panning across multiple targets. When panning across targets, distances will be generally updated at the same speed across targets and distances. The distances are shown to +/- 1 yard for all distance ranges.

The Leupold PinCaddie’s distance display will blink (1 reading per second) when the laser is being fired (Bushnell blinks the cross-hairs to indicate the same thing). The distance is displayed above the cross-hairs (see the lower image to the right), which unfortunately often places the black LCD numbers against a dark background of trees, making it challenging to read at a glance. The distance will continue to be displayed for 5 seconds after the laser button is released.

Leupold PinCaddie Laser Rangefinder

Click image to enlarge

The Leupold PinCaddie takes one CR-2 Lithium battery. The manual indicates a battery meter is displayed in the lower right side of the viewfinder, first appearing when the battery reaches half-capacity, then flashing, before the PinCaddie finally shuts down when no power is left. We have not yet seen this during use – the battery is supposed to last for 7,000+ uses, and we haven’t pressed the button enough times to drain the battery halfway.

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


87 / B+

FEATURES

The Leupold PinCaddie is the most basic laser in the Leupold family, lacking most all of the bells and whistles found on the rest of the line. It does have, however, all of the basic features of laser rangefinders: the ability to toggle between yards and meters, weatherproof (though not waterproof) construction, and an always-on “Pin Hunter” mode that makes it easier to lock on to the target, rather than the background (i.e. a flagstick against a backdrop of trees). We found Pin Hunter to be slower to lock on to targets than we’d like. The flipside is that it is a bit easier when your line of sight to a distant object passes close to objects in the foreground. Unlike the rest of the Leupold line, the PinCaddie lacks the useful “Prism Lock” features, which freezes the distance displayed and emits an audible beep when the device picks up a reading from a prism on a flagstick. The “Prism Lock” is the greatest differentiator between the PinCaddie and the GX-1i and yes, we did miss having it in this device.

Unlike the other lasers in the Leupold line, the PinCaddie doesn’t let you choose from different cross-hair options. The device is either waterproof or weatherproof, depending on if you are reading the Leupold website or the manual. C’mon marketing people – can’t we all decide on the appropriate jargon?

For more details, check out our comparison of golf laser rangefinder features.


88 / B+

OBTAINING DISTANCE READINGS

Leupold’s marketing materials state that the PinCaddie is rated to provide distances to flagsticks at up to 250 yards (versus up to 400 yards for the Leupold GX-1i and GX-2i, and up to 450 yards for the GX-3i and GX-4i), and to reflective objects/prisms at up to 600 yards under optimal conditions (versus up to 800 yards for the other Leupold laser rangefinders). Distance readings will continue to be displayed on the LCD for approximately 5 seconds after the firing button is released. The Leupold PinCaddie allows users to continuously fire the laser for over a minute, long enough for us to scan across all the targets you’d like.

In order to ensure correct readings, we generally waited to receive the same distance reading twice as there is no functionality to “lock”‘ onto a target (such as Prism Lock, available on the rest of the Leupold laser rangefinder lineup). To determine distances to multiple targets consecutively, you can either pan and continue to hold down the fire button, or let go and re-fire at each target.

Ease of Locking on a Target:
The PinCaddie performed excellently up to around 175 yards, when performance first started to waver. At 200 yards it was still doing a good job returning flagstick distances against challenging backgrounds, but experienced increasing difficulty through 225 to 250 yards. It is possible to return yardages beyond 250 yards, no matter what the manual states (and Leupold is obviously being conservative). We did find it had lower performance than its Leupold siblings.

While we do not test to reflective targets/prisms, on-course experience revealed that the PinCaddie will, as with most all laser rangefinders, more easily lock onto prisms across a range of distances.

Speed Test:

When we compared the PinCaddie in its one mode (since it always has panning and Pin Hunter available) against other devices in their “panning” modes, we found it to be about average among devices tested. While the PinCaddie updates rapidly, at times it took slightly longer for us to be confident in the distance because the device doesn’t provide any indication (visual or audible) that it has locked on to the target.

To compare the speed of the Leupold PinCaddie against other laser rangefinders, check out the Critical Golf comparison section on ease of obtaining distance readings.


87 / B+

COST/VALUE

At $315 retail, Leupold enters the low-end of laser rangefinder pricing in our cost comparison of USGA-compliant laser rangefinders (i.e. no slope-adjusted distances). The tradeoff (and there always is one) is the stripped down feature set. The PinCaddie’s performance also didn’t match that of the other Leupold devices or some of the mid-tier Bushnell lasers such as the Bushnell Tour Z6, although it fared reasonably against competition at the lower price point.

But if it were our own money, we would take a look at the Leupold GX-1i, which for $60 more than the PinCaddie provides both slightly better performance and additional features.


Bushnell Tour v3 JOLT Slope

The Bushnell Tour v3 JOLT Slope builds upon the prior generation Bushnell Tour V2, with the same magnification (5x), range performance (5-1000 yards), and accuracy (to within 1 yard). The Tour v3 introduces Bushnell’s JOLT technology, which provides short bursts of vibration to indicate that its PinSeeker technology has locked onto a target. The JOLT technology may not be for everyone, but if you don’t like it, you can turn it off – we found ourselves appreciating it more over time. We do note that the Tour v3 does not always indicate that it has locked onto the target (via icon of a circle surrounding the flagstick in the display) even when it is returning the correct distances, and if the device hasn’t determined that it is locked on, there will be no accompanying vibration. As a result, it became clear that we didn’t absolutely have to have indication that the laser was locked onto a target – if the distance appears accurate, it probably is.

When you fire the laser, the distances will intermittently update as you pan across objects. We found that the laser can continue to fire in the range of 3-5 seconds before it locks onto a target, after which the yardage will continue to display for 15 seconds after the firing button is released. Distances to additional targets can be obtained even after PinSeeker has locked onto a target if you continue to pan.

The Bushnell Tour v3 JOLT Slope is a step-up from the Tour v3 JOLT, adding slope-adjusted distance and angle of approach in addition to the line of sight distance. Slope and adjusted distance information do not display as the laser is being fired, but rather only after the device locks on to a target (which is confirmed with a PinSeeker flagstick icon and the JOLT vibration), or once you receive a distance in the viewfinder and release the laser button. Might as well provide it all at once, we say.

The Bushnell Tour v3 JOLT Slope is a solid device and at $399, is one of the least expensive golf laser rangefinders tested that provides slope compensated distances. It provides quick and accurate readings even without verification, which was OK with us. But if you are keen on the PinSeeker and JOLT functionality, realize you don’t get feedback with every reading.

SCORE
90
GRADE
A-
Ease of Use
93
Features
92
Obtaining Readings
89
Cost/Value
92

Pros:

Cons:

  • Only 5x magnification
  • JOLT technology provides the same information as the PinSeeker icon in the display, so it’s more of an augmentation than a separate feature

Retail: $399
Amazon.com:Check price now
Golfsmith: Check price now

Editor’s note: Consumers who like the sound (er, JOLT) of the Bushnell Tour v3 Slope but don’t require slope-adjusted distance information should check out the Bushnell Tour v3.


93 / A

EASE OF USE

Bushnell Tour v3 JOLT

Click to enlarge

The Bushnell Tour v3 JOLT Slope is a vertically held rangefinder measuring 4.3″ x 2.8″ x 1.6″, which is about average in size within its class. Its weight (as tested) was 7.4 ounces without the carry case, putting it on par with other vertically held rangefinders, and 10.4 ounces with the carrying case.

The device keeps true to the latest color scheme of Bushnell laser rangefinders, featuring a primarily white plastic body with black plastic accents and rubber in the grip areas.

The grey nylon carrying case is firm but not solid, providing adequate protection for the Bushnell Tour v3 JOLT Slope. The zippered case is primarily grey, with black and red highlights. The case opens to about 35 degrees, with netting at the sides that does a nice job of preventing the rangefinder from falling out if you elect to leave the case open for easy access during a round. The Tour v3 JOLT easily slides in and out of the case, and the case can be attached to a bag or cart with the attached elastic loop or black carabiner. A small dust cloth is included for wiping the lens clean.

There is only one button on the Bushnell Tour v3 JOLT Slope, the power/laser button, which is located on the top of the device. This button not only powers the device on and off and fires the laser, but is also used to adjust settings (switching between yards and meters and turn the JOLT feature on and off) if the button is held down when powering up (see below). There is no ability to change the cross-hair style.

As with most laser rangefinders, pressing the power/laser button turns on the device, and then pressing the button a second time will begin firing the laser and returning distances. The Bushnell Tour v3 JOLT Slope displays the line-of-sight distance below the aiming circle, which has cross-hairs surrounding it when the laser is being fired. To the left of the distance reading is a flagstick icon that is part of the PinSeeker indicator – when the device has locked on to a target (which does not have to be a flagstick), a circle will surround the icon. When the player releases the power/laser button, the line-of-sight distance will continue to be shown for approximately 15 seconds. The aiming circle, cross-hairs, and distance information are presented in black, as the v3 lacks Bushnell’s “Vivid Display Technology.” Using an LCD display with distances and slope information in black can make information potentially more difficult to see against dark backgrounds. The Bushnell Tour v3 offers only 5x magnification, which is at the low end of among the laser rangefinders we have tested.

The Tour v3 JOLT Slope has an adjustable eyepiece (+/- 2 diopter adjustment) that requires a firm twist to adjust. While it’s possible to adjust the eyepiece with one hand while looking through the viewfinder, most people will find it easier to hold the device with one hand and adjust with the other. Unlike the high-end Bushnell golf laser rangefinders, the eyepiece does not twist “up”, which is used by some laser rangefinders such as the Bushnell Pro 1M to shield off extraneous light.

The Bushnell Tour v3 JOLT Slope uses a single CR-2 3-volt lithium battery that inserts through a twist cap on the right of the device. Bushnell recommends replacing the battery once every twelve months.

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


92 / A

FEATURES

The Bushnell Tour v3’s always-on PinSeeker mode is prevalent in the Bushnell line and most competing products have a similar feature, all with the goal of locking onto the closest target within a line of sight, which under most circumstances is a flagstick against a background of trees or hills. PinSeeker works as well as it has on the Bushnell devices we have used in the past, which is to say that it is generally quite good, but not infallible. Occasionally the Tour v3 will lock onto objects behind the pin. It doesn’t happen often enough to give us any pause in recommending the device, and in the cases where it would initially provide distances to the background object (which is generally pretty obvious), a quick re-fire usually righted this wrong. “PinSeeker” is a bit of a misnomer, as it can provide locked-on distances to any target – trees, bunker faces, mounds, the group in front of you that you are considering driving into…

If a circle is not shown around the flagstick icon within the display, the device may still be providing the distance to the appropriate target, but for whatever reason is still sensing multiple objects in its path. We experienced this situation fairly frequently, and although there was no indication that the device has locked on to the target, it would still return the correct distance. It is difficult to say exactly when the Bushnell Tour v3 JOLT Slope will “lock” onto a target and display the circle around the flagstick icon (indicating PinSeeker has found a target). Curiously, the device will often allow players to continue panning across targets (even after it JOLTS and displays the PinSeeker icon) for a range of 4-10 seconds

Bushnell Tour v3 JOLT

Click to enlarge

Lastly, let’s talk about the newest and most heavily-marketed feature of the Bushnell Tour v3: Bushnell’s JOLT technology. While most laser rangefinders provide some indication that the device has locked onto a target through either through some icon on the display and/or a beep or a tone, the Bushnell Tour v3 is the first device that adds haptics to a laser rangefinder. We weren’t enamored at first and looked for a setting that would enable us to turn the pulsing vibrations off (and while the manual indicates you can turn off JOLT, we aren’t able to do so on our device); however, over time we grew to appreciate the additional validation of locking onto a target. Some players will like the feature while others are satisfied with just a visual indicator and will find the JOLT to be no more than a marketing gimmick. Interestingly, the JOLT functionality hasn’t raised the price from the prior generation device (see ‘Value’, below), so whether you like it or not, at least you aren’t paying more for this feature compared to last years’ device.

Bushnell Tour v3 JOLT

Click to enlarge

The Bushnell Tour v3 JOLT Slope adds, as you would expect, slope adjusted distances and angle of approach to the Bushnell Tour v3 JOLT, displaying just a split-second after the laser has locked on to a target or the player releases the laser button and remaining on the display for up to 15 seconds. While receiving slope-adjusted information is not USGA-compliant, it’s a great way to learn how to adjust your shots for uphill and downhill lies. And heck, if it helps you to score better and you aren’t entering weekend tournaments, all the better.

The Bushnell Tour v3 provides distance information in 1-yard increments. The displayed distances don’t blink when they are being refreshed, so there are times when you’re firing the laser that you may wonder if the device is doing anything. If you’re in doubt, just check if cross-hairs are shown around the center aiming circle – that’s the indicator that the laser is being fired.

While the 5x magnification is at the low end of device magnification (the majority of quality rangefinders now offer 6x magnification), it’s a tradeoff for significant cost savings.

Additionally, the device is rainproof and has coated optics that are intended to help whisk away the rain and dust.

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 1,000 yards for the Bushnell Tour v3 under optimal conditions, and 300+ yards to a flag. The top-of-the-line laser rangefinders will reach farther distances, but we find that maximum range of a rangefinder is less important than the actual performance in picking up targets within its capabilities and the ability to precisely pick out pins in the 150-350 yard range.

Ease of Locking on a Target:
The Bushnell Tour v3 did an admirable job of picking out targets. At 185 yards or less it was able to lock onto targets and give us a JOLT the vast majority of the time. The device started to struggle to lock on to targets beyond this range against difficult backgrounds, with increasing challenges at more than 200 yards. It is important to note that while the device did not necessarily lock on to the flagstick at farther distances (and thus did not provide the PinSeeker icon or accompanying JOLT), it still has the ability to return an accurate distance. If you’re holding down the laser button and the displayed yardage is no longer varying, the device is usually providing the distance to the desired target.

We found that the displayed yardages update at the same rate of speed regardless of the distance to the target. There may be a brief pause while it initially locks on to a target, but this can occur regardless of distance.

Speed Test:
The Bushnell Tour v3 is as speedy as any laser rangefinder we’ve reviewed, recording one of the fastest times in our tests of locking onto multiple targets. Even with the always-on PinSeeker mode, we could quickly get distance readings and re-fire at additional targets. You can get accurate distances to points without the device needing to lock on and freeze at a distance reading, so you can pan among several targets without needing to re-fire the laser. In truth, however, we found it much faster to simply press the laser button again anytime we wanted distances to additional targets. We did observe some incorrect distances returned when alternating between bunker faces and other parts of the course, but these were relatively limited during our tests.

Check out our laser rangefinder speed test to see how the Bushnell Tour v3 Slope compares against the best laser rangefinders.


93 / A-

COST/VALUE

At $399 retail, the Bushnell Tour v3 JOLT Slope is one of the most reasonably priced laser rangefinders with slope compensation distance information on the market, and carries a 2-year warranty. While it has slightly less magnification than most of the competition and lacks bells and whistles such as an OLED display, it still offers compelling value. It has a sporty look, Bushnell’s PinSeeker technology, and if you are into things that vibrate, you’ll dig it even more.


“It vibrated!”


Leupold GX-2i

Leupold brings their “DNA” technology to the Leupold 1 and 2 “intro” line. The new Leupold GX-2i replaces the Leupold GX-2, which was not revved in 2012. The GX-2i includes all of the basic Leupold rangefinder features available (scan, fog, PinHunter, Prism Lock), along with slope-adjusted distance information and the ability to assist with club selection. The Leupold GX-2i lacks only the OLED display and aluminum body found in the Leupold 4i.

Retail price: $439.99
Availability: Discontinued. Replaced by the Leupold GX-4i2
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Dixon Golf Balls

As we all learned from Kermit, it isn’t easy being green. But if there is one company that is trying to market their efforts, it’s Dixon Golf. Dixon makes golf balls that are both 100% recyclable and designed for performance (though as far as we know, there are balls from all manufacturers that are both 100% recyclable and designed for performance). Players can get a credit ($0.50 per ball) toward a purchase of a dozen Dixon Earth golf balls when bringing in their old golf balls (any brand) to a Dixon Golf retailer. The Dixon manufacturing facility is green, and features LED lights, solar panels, and boasts better air quality and lower VOC’s than other similar facilities.

The Dixon golf ball lineup is quite simple, consisting of four different models, which include the Wind, Spirit, Earth and Fire (cue September), that range in MSRP from $24.95 to a phenomenal $74.95, the highest price on the market. All golf balls are designed with a “medium level” trajectory. If you do visit Dixon Golf online for additional information, please make sure to ignore the graphics provided for each model Dixon ball, which don’t make any sense (y-axis, anyone?). Edward Tufte wouldn’t give those a passing grade.

Dixon Golf

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The Dixon Fire golf balls are designed for the player with single-digit handicap and swing speed about 90mph. It has firm/medium feel, and high iron spin.
MSRP: $74.95 (ouch!)
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Dixon Golf

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The Dixon Earth ball is another high-performance ball, designed for players with handicaps between 5-25 (interesting to market based on handicap, but this does make it straightforward), and swing speeds under 110mph (I wonder how many players with a handicap of 5-25 have >110mph swing speeds…). The ball provides a medium/soft feel, and medium iron spin.
MSRP: $39.95
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Dixon Golf

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The Dixon Spirit ball is marketed toward women (or men that like crystal pink covers) designed for speeds under 100mph and marketed to handicaps over 10. It has a soft feel with medium iron spin.
MSRP: $29.95
Dixon: Available from Dixon golf

Dixon Golf

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The Dixon Wind ball is designed for a variety of swing speeds (including slower swing speeds, which we take to be under 80mph, as the average male golf has a swing between 80 and 90mph), and handicaps over 20. It has a firm feel, low iron spin, and designed for straighter and more accurate shots.
MSRP: $24.95
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Maxfli Golf Balls

Maxfli, acquired by Dick’s Sporting Goods from TaylorMade-adidas in 2008, offers a range of urethane cover golf balls that are given names that make them easy to differentiate. The U/4 and U/4x are 4-piece balls, the U/3 is a 3-piece, and the U/2, of course, a 2-piece ball. Multi-piece golf balls are, at a high level, designed to give players benefits across different shot types. This includes lower spin rates and distance for drives, with higher spin rates and additional control for more lofted clubs. As Maxfli is owned by Dick’s (which also owns Golf Galaxy), these balls don’t have the same distribution as the major manufacturers.

Maxfli Golf Balls

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The U/4 and U/4x are designed for advanced players with higher swing speeds, offering the highest short game spin, soft feel, and long driver distance. Both provide Maxfli’s top level of performance. The U/4 is tailored for short game spin and a softer feel, while still providing excellent distance (though marketed as less than the U/3 or U/2, below) with a mid-high launch trajectory. The U/4x launches lower and spins less, providing longer overall distance with a firmer feel.
U/4
MSRP: $44.99
U/4x
MSRP: $44.99

The U/3 provides is (not surprisingly) still marketed as providing excellent short game spin, soft feel and long driver distance. Just not at the level of the U/4 and U/4x. The U/3 offers higher launch than the U/4 and U/4x.
MSRP: $29.99

The last of the U-balls, the U/2, still offers the same distance as the U/4 and U/4x, but in a high-launching ball. At the lowest price point and fewest layers of any of Maxfli’s urethane cover balls, it offers commensurately less spin, feel and workability.
MSRP: $24.99

Not marketed as heavily and available at a lower price are a series of 2-piece ionomer cover balls, the Maxfli Revolution line. Revolution models include balls tailored to distance, low compression (which I have to say seems a crazy way to market golf balls to golfers…how many average players know what low compression is or if it is for them?), spin, and ladies’ versions. Ionomer balls, on the whole, will spin less (also given the 2-piece construction of the Revolution line), fly higher, have a harder feel and have better durability than urethane cover balls, which will allow for greater spin and have lower trajectory.
MSRP (all Revolution models): $19.99
Distance
Low Compression
Spin
Women’s


Srixon Golf Balls

If there is any company that likes yellow balls, it’s Srixon. They make eight different models, five of which come in yellow. Same as the traditional white ball, but easier to find in the thick rough or woods where we spend most of our rounds. Oh, and it’s easier to determine which is your ball when needing to fish it out of the greenside water hazard.

Srixon, like most manufacturers, offers an Srixon online ball fitting tool, which requires users to enter a barrage of information that we are pretty sure doesn’t (or shouldn’t) impact the ball recommendation: age, handicap, and rounds of golf per month, current ball along with it’s strengths and weaknesses (!), driver distance as well as requiring you to fill out fields for your name, zip code, email, age, etc. (ahh marketing!). The tool asks for a comparison of how your current ball spins on full wedge shots vs what you would like, along with what the most important characteristics are in a ball to you. During our tests it appears that the selection is driven primarily (maybe entirely) by what you select as the most important ball characteristics, as opposed to how you answer the rest of the questions. Just an FYI. They do offer Srixon University, which provides detailed information on golf balls and how to select the right one for your game. This includes areas such as aerodynamics, materials, cover, core, and so forth. The different modules are quick reads, and provide a nice high-level intro to the different topics.

Srixon Golf Ball Tour Lineup

Srixon Tour

Srixon groups their golf balls into three categories: Tour (highest priced, MSRP $45), Premium Distance (mid-priced, MSRP $30), and All-Ability (lowest priced, MSRP $25 and under). Their Tour balls include the Z-STAR, Z-STARxv, and Z-STAR SL. The Z-STAR is intended for players with a driver swing speed between 80 and 105mph (quite a wide range) looking for the softest feel in their performance line and more spin around the green. The Z-STARxv is distance-oriented and provides less spin while feeling slightly firmer, and is intended for players with driver swing speeds in excess of 95mph. The Z-STAR SL is for players with slower swing speeds (under 80mph) looking for a ball providing a high launch angle and greenside spin.

Srixon Golf Ball Premium Distance Lineup

Srixon Distance

In the Premium Distance group, the Trispeed Tour and Trispeed are three-piece balls for players of most swing speeds (70mph and above). The Trispeed Tour is focused more on spin than distance versus the Trispeed, though both balls offer less “performance” (hey, the Srizon bar charts say it is so) than the Tour balls.

Rounding out the Srixon line are the “All-Ability” balls. The Soft Feel and Soft Feel Lady are for players with low to moderate swing speeds. These are designed as high launch and low spin to gain distance. The Q-STAR is advertised as providing the same performance levels as the Soft Feel for players with slightly higher swing speeds.

Srixon Golf Ball All Ability Lineup

Srixon All Ability

Srixon Z-STAR
MSRP: $44.99
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Srixon Z-STARxv
MSRP: $44.99
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Srixon Z-STAR SL
MSRP: $44.99
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Srixon Trispeed Tour
MSRP: $29.99
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Srixon Trispeed
MSRP: $29.99
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Srixon Q-STAR
MSRP: $24.99
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Srixon Soft Feel
MSRP: $19.99
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Srixon Soft Feel Lady
MSRP: $19.99
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Wilson Golf Balls

Wilson offers a full range of balls, including six different “Staff” (high performance) balls and four additional recreational balls branded “Tour” (these have replaced the prior SL line). Wilson just released for 2013 their new Will Custom Fit Staff Center to help players determine the best golf ball for their game from their Staff lineup. The player enters six pieces of information: average score, driver distance, preferred feel, importance of distance/accuracy (and interesting combo) or short game, whether you shape your iron shots, and how important it is to spin the ball around the green. This should be a vast improvement over their prior tool, where a visitor would enter a competing ball, and Wilson would provide their comparable version (not ball fitting at all). After providing this information, players will be presented with a preferred ball as well as an alternative to consider.

Staff balls include the FG Tour and FG Tour X, which are both urethane cover balls. The FG Tour is designed for spin and is marketed as having “the softest feel of any urethane cover ball in the market” (we’ll let you decide for yourself if you agree). The Wilson FG Tour X is a firmer (93 compression vs 75), lower-spinning ball that is designed for additional distance for high swing speed players.
Wilson Staff FG Tour
MSRP: $39.99
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Wilson Staff FG Tour X
MSRP: $39.99
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The other balls in the Staff lineup are all ionomer cover balls, including the C:25, DUO, Fifty Elite and Zip. Only the C:25 has multiple layers (3-piece), the rest are 2-piece balls. The DUO and Fifty Elite are focused on distance, with the DUO as a 40 compression (!) ball, the softest on the market, and the longest ball Wilson has ever made. The Fifty Elite, appropriately named, is a 50 compression ball, still marketed as long (just not as much as the DUO), providing additional feel. The Zip is a value ball focused on spin.
Wilson Staff C:25
MSRP: $24.99
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Wilson Staff DUO (also available in yellow)
MSRP: $19.99
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Wilson Staff Fifty Elite
MSRP: $19.99
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Wilson Staff Zip (2-dozen)
MSRP: $24.99
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In Wilson’s Recreational category are four “Tour Velocity” models, the Tour Distance, Tour Feel, Tour Accuracy and Women. These are all ionomer cover balls with low-mid compression and come in 15-packs with an MSRP of $14.95
Yes in the hole
Tour Velocity – Tour Distance
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Tour Velocity – Tour Feel
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Tour Velocity – Tour Accuracy
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Tour Velocity – Women
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