What’s Better: GPS App or GPS Watch
So, you find yourself in the middle of a perfectly played round of golf, everything seems to be working correctly. Your drives have been dead center, your iron shots have been hit true, you putt and rolling dead center into the cup, and your score reflects this as you are 4 under through four holes. The course you are playing on has markers that let you know distances of 150 yards as well as 200 yards and every shot of yours has come close to one of these markers.
Suddenly, you walk up to the tee of a 320-yard, par 4 and blast a drive that slices right and over the cart path. As you walk up to your ball, you realize for some reason, there is no 150 marker on this hole! How are you supposed to know what distance you need to hit your ball? You decide to pull out a six iron because you estimate the shot to be about 160. You pull the club back and hit the ball right on the screws. As it flies through the air, you notice it is going too far, “NO”, you think to yourself.
As you arrive at the green you notice the muchly despised out of bounds markers and, as a result, have to drop a stroke and return to where you hit the ball from. All of these penalties kill your score and you walk off shooting a triple bogey, now your round is only one under. The frustration from this hole leads to a breakdown on the course and you finish the round 12 over. If only you had a GPS on your phone or a GPS watch you could have shot an under-par round.
So, what is better to go out and purchase a watch or a GPS app?
GPS Golf Watch vs. Golf GPS Apps
First, let’s compare paid golf GPS apps vs free GPS apps. Since both paid apps and free apps use the GPS from your phone, the consistency of the yardages will not be affected by which you choose. Another thing to consider when opting to purchase or get a free app is how many different courses you play. If you typically play only one course, look and see if the free version has your course mapped on it. If the answer is yes, there won’t be a big enough difference for you to purchase and spend money on the GPS app.
Both free and purchase apps will tell you the distance to the front middle and back of the green; however, one big difference in paid apps is that it will allow you to update the pin positions daily. Perhaps this point requires a bit more explanation, so forgive me as I sidestep. Although a golf course remains the same every day, the place where the hole is located on the green changes daily. Most golf courses have three positions they rotate in-between. Now, we can get back on track. So, with a paid app, when you tell the app which position the hole is located for the day, you will have an exact yardage to the hole. Since we have now compared the paid versus free apps – we will now refer to the GPS app as one, it will be your choice to decide on the purchase or free app.
The Impact of Battery Life and Accuracy
One of the main areas of concern between the two devices is battery life. This is especially important when the battery life is your phone, your lifeline. One of the major advantages of a golf GPS watch is that it will not drain your battery on your phone. Since GPS requires constant transmission in order to tell where you are and where you might be going, the battery can drain quickly. On average, a cell phone running a GPS app has 3-4 hours of battery life. This is, of course, depending on factors such as brightness of the screen as well as other apps running. Since a golf round typically lasts over 4 hours, you would not have the GPS for the whole round. Golf watches, on the other hand, can last for days and in some cases even weeks before needing to be recharged.
Another feature where the cell phone GPS app comes up short is with accuracy. Since a phone is a small and portable device, many of the applications must sacrifice quality to make room for others. For instance, a cell phone camera will never be able to take pictures of the same quality as a digital slow lens recording camera. The GPS sensors built into a phone follow the same logic. There have been testing done that say a GPS watch is on average 2-3% more accurate than a smartphone. Although this doesn’t seem like much when you have a 200-yard shot that is actually 206 yards and there is water right in front of you, that 2-3% can be huge.
One place that the golf watch comes up short in this head to head competition is the all-important money factor. Since you already own a smartphone, the investment to have a golf GPS is either zero or very minimal, while a golf watch can cost $100 to $500.
Using Your Eyes Before Technology
With all of that being said, I believe that it is beneficial for each golfer to learn to play the course with their eyes. What I mean by this is, in golf, there are a lot of factors that are either determined by your feel for that day or by other factors that a GPS doesn’t measure.
For instance, let’s use another sport: running. In running, there are some days when 4 miles can feel like 10 and there are others when 4 miles feels like two; golf is the same. Some days you will hit the links and be able to carry an 8 iron 160 yards and others where you cannot pass 130. In addition to this added strength factor, there are others, such as wind, the rollout of the course, elevation change, elevation of the course, and straight line distance versus curved distance. All of these are not typically measured by a GPS.
One additional factor that weighs heavily not to use any distance measuring device is that it seems to bring down the rhythm of my golf game. When I golf, I like to go out and escape the world of cells phones and loud noises to simply focus on my swing. When I have to get my phone or watch out for every shot, it stops that natural rhythm you get into when your game is simply working. Oh and one other reason to not use these devices, they are not allowed in competitive play!