Critical Golf: Unbiased Golf Equipment Reviews

Intro to iPhone Golf GPS Apps

So you have an iPhone (3G, 3GS, 4 or 4S – the original iPhone doesn’t have a GPS chip), play golf, and are looking for GPS-based distance information while you are on the course. Should you get a dedicated GPS device, or purchase one of the iPhone golf GPS applications available?

Key takeaways on iPhone golf GPS applications:

  • Unlike dedicated golf GPS devices, iPhones (and other smartphones) are not permitted under the Rules of Golf, even when there are Local Rules permitting the use of distance measuring devices. Details were initially clarified under the 2009 USGA-R&A Joint Statement on Electronic Devices, and details within the Rules may be found in Rule 14-3: Artificial Devices, Unusual Equipment and Unusual Use of Equipment, and more specifically Decision 14-3/0.5: Local Rule Permitting Use of Distance-Measuring Device (which indicates that “…the use of a distance-measuring device that is designed to gauge or measure other conditions that might affect a player’s play (e.g., gradient, wind speed, temperature, etc.) is not permitted regardless of whether such an additional function is used.”), as well as Decision 14-3/16: Use of Electronic Devices.
  • All iPhone golf GPS applications will burn through battery life QUICKLY, and it is possible to drain a fully charged iPhone battery during the course of a round. In our tests, we could always finish a round, but the phone almost always died on the short drive home. So make sure you show up with a fully charged battery, and take a few minutes to modify your iPhone settings to preserve battery life. We recommend modifying iPhone settings as follows: under Settings turn Brightness down as much as possible and turn both Wi-Fi as well as Notifications to OFF, in General (within Settings) turn Bluetooth to OFF and under Network (in General) turn Enable 3G to OFF. And to ensure that you will have lots of battery left to end the round, we recommend picking up a battery pack for your iPhone (check out our reviews of iPhone battery packs – as you will see, we are partial to the Mophie Juice Pack Air).
  • iPhone golf GPS applications were more reliable in mapping accuracy than we expected. Although most have only been available for a short time, and are based on Google maps as opposed to the more detailed satellite imagery that is available, their accuracy is likely enough to satisfy most casual players. There are those developers whose maps are less accurate than others, but we were generally satisfied with the level of mapping accuracy.
  • iPhone golf GPS applications overall do not have course coverage that is as extensive as dedicated GPS devices.
  • iPhone golf applications will take longer to lock onto distances than dedicated GPS devices (we have seen times over twelve seconds even in open areas with good network strength), so players should pause upon reaching their ball to confirm an accurate reading. Even if distances appear to have stopped updating, we recommend that players still wait a bit longer. Dedicated devices generally are much better in this area (not that they will be forever…)
  • While the look and feel can be as polished as the best dedicated GPS devices, we did see a number of software bugs. The good news is, given the ease of updating iPhone applications, companies are quickly pushing out new versions to users to fix or improve the software. Users should check each companies FAQ for a list of software improvements if the current version on iTunes differs from the version reviewed by Critical Golf.
  • If you do not manually lock your iPhone screen, it is a bit more likely than with dedicated GPS devices that you will accidentally hit one of the application buttons and find yourself on another hole or view.
  • iPhone golf GPS applications are significantly less expensive, with few exceptions, than dedicated GPS devices.
  • If you do purchase an iPhone golf GPS application, please, whatever you do, TURN OFF YOUR RINGER WHILE ON THE COURSE!

Don’t forget that distance readings are as the crow flies, and thus will differ from sprinkler heads or other on-course markings if there is elevation change between the player and target. Same goes for the hole measurement from the tee, where the iPhone application will show as the crow flies, where the course measurement will likely be longer, following the route of the hole, around doglegs and water hazards.

For full details, check out our iPhone golf GPS applications reviews and rankings.