It can be a little confusing trying to decipher which is more accurate, laser or GPS. For instance, I heard a commercial for SkyCaddie the other day that said something like “golfers surveyed think GPS is more accurate than laser”. Does that make it true? Of course not. An even more misleading statement can be found on the Izzo Swami web page.
Q: Why is SWAMI better than a Laser Rangefinder?
A: SWAMI is easier to use and more accurate. Unlike laser rangefinders, it measures distances without requiring a direct line of sight to the target. Lasers can only measure to the flagstick (or other defined objects that its sights can lock on) and its accuracy is highly dependent on how the unit is held and how far you are from your target. And the SWAMI is half the cost of most laser rangefinders.
I guess they are saying that GPS is more accurate because it doesn’t depend upon the player using it correctly. I don’t argue that the ability to use whatever tool you choose is important, but I don’t see how you can call the accuracy into question based on that factor.
On the issue of accuracy, the concern is really more about reliable accuracy. Laser is going to be accurate within two yards on every hole of every golf course you play anywhere in the world. GPS, is dependent on multiple factors, so it may be very accurate on a clear day on a golf course with no trees, particularly if it has a high-sensitivity multi-channel receiver. Even then, it’s likely to have more of a variance from shot to shot and it still won’t give you yardage to the pin. Your GPS may give you the ability to indicate roughly where the pin is and give you distance to that location. So in answer to the the question of reliable accuracy, laser wins hands down.
So why doesn’t everyone use laser? There are several good reasons that laser is not for everyone. The first is that laser is dependent upon the user being able to aim and hit the correct target. With most newer models, after learning the best technique for using their laser, most people don’t have much trouble, but some people will still struggle. Other people just won’t want to deal with having to laser their target on every shot. They prefer a glance at the GPS to get middle of the green yardage. People who play a lot of different courses or who play courses that have lots of blind targets may want the extra information the most GPS units offer, including distances to the front and back of the green and especially to hazards.
Another note about SkyCaddie… they improve their GPS maps with “ground verification”. That means they send people to every golf course to verify targets. We don’t have data on how well that works, but would guess that it probably does give them an edge over their GPS competition.
The bottom line is that laser rangefinders are more reliably accurate than GPS, but that doesn’t make them the best choice for everyone. We like seeing the two combined in the Bushnell Hybrid and hope to see more Hybrids on the market soon.