How Do Golf Rangefinders Work? GPS vs Laser

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Rangefinders have been used by golfers for decades to determine the distance between themselves and their target. They are a staple in any golfer’s bag, but many people don’t know how they work or what sort of features to look for when purchasing one. In this post, we will discuss how they work and why you should invest in a rangefinder if you haven’t already done so!

a rangefinder

What is a golf rangefinder?

A golf rangefinder is a device that calculates distance to an object by using the angle of elevation. A golfer aims their rangefinder at a target and then presses down on one side, which will cause it to calculate the distance from where they are standing.

Golfers use rangefinders because you can’t always see the flagstick from where you’re hitting your ball and they help golfers determine how far away an object is. They are a staple in any golfer’s bag.

If you are looking to add this to your golf bag, but don’t know what sort of features to look for when purchasing one, keep reading. We will highlight eight reasons why investing in a rangefinder might be good for your game.

How does a golf rangefinder work?

Now that we understand what a rangefinder is and how it can be helpful, let’s understand how it actually works. 

There are 2 types of golf rangefinders: GPS and laser; which work using 2 different technologies.

GPS-based rangefinders work by using satellite data to determine the distance from your location to a point on the golf course, then giving you that exact number as an answer. These tend to be more accurate.

Laser rangefinders works by sending out a laser beam that bounces off of objects and then calculates the distance. This is done through trigonometry which compares the angle between two points with known distances to each other (the unit circle). The technology used by rangefinders to measure distances is called Pulsed Light Distance Measuring. [1]

A laser beam bounces off of an object and the rangefinder measures the total time it takes for that light to return back (we’ll call this “round-trip” time) and divides by two in order to calculate distance. This round-trip technique has been used on a golf course since the late 1960s when a scientist at Bell Labs [2] developed this technology.

Which rangefinder is better: GPS or Laser?

GPS is the more accurate rangefinder and it can calculate distances to targets that are farther away. This comes at a cost, however: GPS models typically have longer delay between when you input your target and when you get an answer back from the device. Also, since it depends on GPS, if you’re not in a wide-open space with relatively few buildings, trees etc., it may take longer to get an accurate reading. 

GPS Rangefinders have more features than laser models. They come with more advanced sensors, which allow them to calculate elevation and slope distances as well as measuring the distance from you to your target. GPS rangefinders also have better battery life than laser versions.

A Laser rangefinder is not as accurate as the GPS one, but makes up for its inaccuracy with speed. Most laser versions react instantly or in just a few seconds. It takes less time to get a reading since it does not require a GPS. It is smaller and lighter in weight so it’s easier for most golfers to carry around all day on the course. 

The best rangefinder for your needs really depends on what you want to do with it: GPS models are better if you’re targeting long distance targets and laser models work well when accuracy isn’t as important. GPS rangefinders tend to be more expensive than their laser counterparts, since they require more technology to operate. If budget is not a problem, it may be worth it to buy a rangefinder with both GPS and laser technology.

what a rangefinder looks like

What is golf rangefinder with slope?

The golf rangefinder with slope has an advanced optical lens system that provides you with greater accuracy in measuring distances. The higher the angle from level ground, the more accurate the distance measurement will be. The golf rangefinder with slope can also measure distances with great accuracy in weather conditions, such as rain or fog. This is because the device shoots a laser beam and does not rely on using traditional reflectors.

How to use a golf rangefinder?

How to use a golf rangefinder is based on which kind of rangefinder (GPS or Laser) you are using, the method might slightly differ, but it will largely be the same..

Point your golf rangefinder to the target you want to calculate the distance to and press the button to measure the distance. The device will then display your answer on a screen or prompt you with an audio signal (if it is voice-prompt enabled). It’s as simple as that! The rangefinder does all the work for you. The only thing left for you to decide is which club to use to make the shot based on the distance the rangefinder gave you.


Before buying yourself a rangefinder, look into what other features the different models provide and what suits your needs the best. We have a detailed guide on the best GPS rangefinders as well as best Laser rangefinders that explains in details all the features each of these have. We have put in a lot of hours of research behind this list, so we hope this will serve you well. We also hope this article has been helpful to understand what a golf rangefinder is and why you need it if you are a regular golfer. 

For more reviews or just fun and informational articles, check out our homepage, You can also learn tips and trick in improving your game with golf launch monitors. Check out our article.

Happy golfing!