SINCE the R&A has effectively turned a blind eye to GPS distance-measuring devices, insisting that golf courses make up their own mind whether they accept their use in competitions for handicap purposes, this golf equipment sector has become probably the fastest growing in the golf industry.
Even pros can use them in competition - though not as yet in the world's leading professional golf Tours, where they are still allowed merely as a practice [round] aid.
During the explosion of this satellite-assisted technology, the humble laser range-finder, used by many professional players and caddies because of its simplicity,non-reliance on satellite signals and avoiding computer downloads, has tended to be neglected, although holding them steady, aimed at the target, in windy conditions is a real problem.
Maybe the manufacturers should invent a universal device to clip on to the butt end of the longest club in your bag to use as a monopod?
Here's a sample of some of the best range-finders currently available:
NIKON LASER 350G
Contact: 0800 230220 for stockists
Key Features: Small and compact, it weighs only 180 gms and not much bigger than mobile phone. Depressing the power button secures 8-second continuous measurement through high-quality 6x monocular lens with multi-layer coating for bright images. First Target Priority mode enables easy measurement of the distance to the target even against a background of trees or buildings. Waterproof and power by 1 CR2 lithium battery it measures from 11 to 550 yards with an accuracy of within a yard.
A Nikon Laser 550AS version (£299) is available to measure elevation as well as horizontally distances. But this ability to measure how far a shot will carry if the pin is above or below you makes it illegal (even if the facility is switched off) in competition play. For example, if the pin is elevated 25ft from your ball position, it will add the extra yardage to give a precise distance needed to reach the target.
Summary: Handy-size and easy to use. The Laser 350G will not only measure distance to the flag - as long as it can be clearly identified - it will also measure from tee to, for instance, the angle of a dogleg or a hazard to give a precise lay-up distance.
Key features: Offers 7x magnification and 347 field of view at a distance of 1,000 yards. Adjustable dioptre eye-piece, which enables the user to select the best setting for their eyesight, and especially suitable for golfers who wear spectacles. LED display automatically adjusts its brightness to suit the ambient lighting conditions of the day, being bright in strong sunlight whilst dimming down in low light. Measures upto 820 yards, accurate to within a yard upto 300 yards.
Summary: Simple to operate - the first press of the button brings up the LED aiming square a second press triggers the metering system. Tough and durable with carbon reinforced body and watertight to a depth of one metre just in case you drop it in a water hazard! Most expensive of those we investigated but with a strong lens pedigree within in the hunting and shooting fraternity.
BUSHNELL V2 TOUR Price: £250
Contact: www.bushnellgolf.com (Tel: 0208 391 4700)
Features: LCD displays 5x magnification. Has adjustable eye-piece and multi-coated optics. The Tour V2 model includes slope function - a built-in inclinometeer to provide the player with a compensated distance-based reading taking into consideration the exact distance to uphill or downhill targets. Capable of ranging upto 300 yards to the flag stick and 700 to trees, accurate to within a yard. In Scan mode it allows the golfer to pan across the landscape while viewing a continuously updated LCD display of the distances between him and the targets he scans with the viewfinder.
Summary: Bushnell rangefinders, according to the Darrell Survey, are used by more US Tour golfers than any other brand (87% ). With the addition of the slope function the V2 Tour is similar to the Bushnell Pinseeker 1500 (£330) used by many players and caddies on Tour, including Sergio Garcia.
LEUPOLD GX-1 DIGITAL
Contact: Available through leading Scope retailers
Features: The flagship model created for golf and incorporates Leupold’s exclusive PinHunter technology; weighs in at 6.8 ozs. Works by firing an infrared laser at the target and displaying a reading (in yards or metres) Two clicks of a button gets your reading.
Summary: If you’re going to shell out £200- £400 on a rangefinder, you need to know it’s good quality and Leupold have an excellent reputation. Among non-GPS legal devices is is one of the best
One aspect where Rangefinders have a clear advantage over many GPS systems is that they don't require pre-mapping which has to be downloaded from your computer or involve any extra cost to register. They can be used straight from the box, point and press and are very accurate. What you see is what you get.
However, they are more susceptible to an unsteady hand on a windy day, they can't see round corners, of which there are many on golf courses; it's harder to get a reading on foggy or frosty days; they can be susceptible to lens scratches and tend to be bulkier and generally more expensive than GPS.