How Golf Rangefinders Work: A Quick and Simple Guide
Written by Mike Noblin

Mike has been involved with sports for over 30 years. He's been an avid golfer for more than 10 years and is obsessed with watching the Golf Channel and taking notes on a daily basis. He also holds a degree in Sports Psychology.

If you’re new to golf, you may not know how to operate a rangefinder.

I didn’t even know what a rangefinder was when I first started playing golf. I thought the gentleman I was paired with was looking through binoculars the entire round!

This guide will break down what range a rangefinder is and how it works. I’ll also let you know which rangefinder I use and recommend to help improve your accuracy on approach shots into the green.


How a Golf Rangefinder Works

Golfers use rangefinders to get the exact distance of their target. Most of the time, rangefinders are used to determine how many yards away the pin is.

Here are some highlights of how a rangefinder works:

  • Look through the rangefinder with one eye
  • Hit the button on top to increase the magnification and zero in on your target area (flag, bunkers, water hazards, etc.)
  • The button sends a laser beam to lock on whatever you are pointing it at
  • The rangefinder will then calculate the yardage for you by measuring how long it takes for the laser to reach your target and shoot back to the device
  • The device will then show you the yardage to your target

Another helpful feature that some rangefinders have is called “Slope Mode”. As the name implies, this function tells you the elevation change of the green and factors that into the overall distance. This is a massive advantage for the golfer and can lead to accurate distances on approach shots.


Are Rangefinders Accurate?

Yes, golf rangefinders are incredibly accurate. Most brands are accurate to within one yard of the actual distance. This high level of accuracy gives golfers an extra boost of confidence when deciding which club to hit.

Just how much yardage can you measure with a rangefinder? Most brands will give you pinpoint accuracy for up to 500 yards. That means you can trust a rangefinder’s accuracy from the tee on every hole on the golf course.

However, laser rangefinders aren’t perfect, and certain circumstances can lead to a decrease in accuracy. For example, the laser beam of the rangefinder will be negatively affected by any type of rain or fog. Remember that if you are playing golf in any kind of harsh weather conditions.


Which Is Better – A Golf GPS or Rangefinder?

Both rangefinders and golf GPS devices are helpful tools to use while on the golf course. Both devices have slope measurement capabilities and can provide accurate readings. Both are also easy to use and have a high level of durability.

So, with all that being said, which one is better? The answer is different for every golfer. Let’s examine which device is better based on what category is most important to you.


If you are trying to save money, go with a GPS device. Some golf GPS phone apps are even available at no cost. These apps utilize satellites to give you a layout of each hole on the golf course.

Golf GPS watches are also affordable for golfers on a tight budget. They can be bought for as little as $90 and the battery will usually last around 12 hours before needing to be recharged.

A laser rangefinder works quite well, but they’re usually more expensive than golf GPS devices. The cheapest models start in the $150 to $200 range.


If it’s premium accuracy that you are after, you can’t go wrong with optical rangefinders. These are more accurate than GPS devices and can provide you with the correct yardage more quickly. Also, the slope technology option on a rangefinder is typically much more accurate than a golf GPS watch.

Just how much more accurate is a rangefinder? Remember how we said earlier that most rangefinders are accurate to within one yard? Most GPS golf devices are only accurate to within four yards.

For the average golfer, this accuracy difference won’t matter much. Mid and high handicappers are going to use the same club if a shot is 80 yards or 84 yards. However, advanced golfers may use an entirely different wedge in this instance.

Ease of Use

This attribute, like many others, comes down to the personal preference of the golfer. Rangefinders and golf GPS devices are both reasonably easy to use on the course.

Some golfers prefer the rangefinder because the autofocus camera makes it easy to aim at their targets. However, folks with shaky hands may not be able to hold steady enough to lock onto their targets.

Along those same lines, some people like the convenience of a golf GPS watch. They find it kind of nice to not have to zero in on a target but simply look down at their wrists to get the yardage to the pin.

The Rangefinder I Use and Recommend

If you are ready to buy a rangefinder, I highly recommend the Bushnell Tour V4. It’s been one of Bushnell’s most popular rangefinders over the last six years. It’s even legal for tournament play as long as the slope mode is turned off.

Bushnell Tour V4 Slope Laser Rangefinder

Pin seeker with jolt Technology provides you with short Vibrating bursts to reinforce the laser has laced onto the flag. Patented slope Technology provides compensated distance based on the incline or decline of the hole. Accurately ranges from 5 to 1,000 yards and 400+ yards to a flag within one yard.

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When it comes to rangefinders, Bushnell is the king! Here are some of the benefits of the Bushnell Tour V4.

  • Amazing Accuracy: You’ll have more confidence in your club selection because it’s always accurate to within one yard.
  • Long Battery Life: I’ve been using the Tour V4 for over a year and a half, and the battery is still going strong.
  • Pinpoint Slope Calculation: You’ll know the exact degrees of slope and just how much it will affect your shots. This is incredibly helpful on both uphill and downhill shots, especially if obstacles like water hazards are involved.
  • Jolt Technology: This feature is probably the most incredible. If you are properly locked onto your target, the Tour V4 will lightly vibrate as a signal. No more guessing as to whether or not you are aiming at the correct spot
  • Fast Focus System: The Tour V4 rangefinder lenses work quickly to provide you with the correct yardage. Some Golf GPS devices can lag if the signal is weak or the weather is bad. That won’t happen with the Tour V4.
  • Ideal Size: The Tour V4 isn’t too big or too small. It fits perfectly in the palm of your hand. It’s also lightweight, which means you shouldn’t have a problem zeroing in on your target.
  • Warranty: Bushnell stands behind the quality of its products. Each type of rangefinder that Bushnell offers is covered by a two-year warranty.
  • Water Resistant: Unlike some other rangefinders, the Tour V4’s performance isn’t affected by rain. The device is water resistant and will still give you accurate readings in a light drizzle. Just to be on the safe side, though, I don’t use it during any type of heavy rain.

I can’t say enough good things about the Bushnell Tour V4. I used to think that all rangefinders were overrated and overpriced, but Bushnell has converted me from a skeptic to a believer.

I can’t imagine playing a single round of golf without it in my bag. If you decide to give the Tour V4 a shot, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.


Mike Noblin

Mike has been involved with sports for over 30 years. He's been an avid golfer for more than 10 years and is obsessed with watching the Golf Channel and taking notes on a daily basis. He also holds a degree in Sports Psychology.