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Rangefinders Finding Way into More Golf Bags

August 12, 2008

By Matt Hombach

When the game of golf was developing in Scotland in the late 1700s, golfers didn’t concern themselves with fastidious calculations of yardages for approach shots to the green. Early golfers usually played the same courses over and over again and relied on past experience to gauge the distance of their shots.

As equipment advances helped golfers hit more consistent shots to precise distances, obtaining accurate yardages and club selection became a more important part of the game.

Stuart Appleby is one of many golfers on the PGA Tour who use laser rangefinders to get exact yardages on the practice range.
(Matt Hombach)

Courses began installing 150-yard makers, marking the distance to the hole on sprinkler heads and providing yardage books to help players calculate their yardages. In most cases, finding yardage meant calculating the distance between the ball and the nearest marker. Pacing off yardage became a part of the ritual and rhythm of a round of golf.

High-Tech Equipment Advances the Game

Technological advances have not only improved the accuracy and precision of clubs and balls, but they have also improved the tools golfers use to calculate yardage.

Perhaps the most efficient tool available today is a handheld laser rangefinder. These devices are the size of a pair of small binoculars and measure distance by bouncing a laser beam off an object and then calculating the time it took the beam to return to the unit.

The rangefinder takes the time calculation and converts it into a yardage measurement displayed on the device. Most rangefinders are accurate to within 1 yard and have the ability to measure distances of more than 1,000 yards.

Rangefinders Banned for Tournament Play

While the U.S. Golf Association and the professional golf tours don’t allow the use of distance measuring devices in tournaments, pro golfers and their caddies still make use of rangefinders in practice rounds, and the devices are ideally suited for amateur golfers playing in non-tournament conditions.

In practice rounds before a PGA Tour event, the pros and their caddies are constantly checking and rechecking yardages with laser rangefinders. Pro golfers use the handheld tools to ensure their yardage books are totally accurate in advance of a tournament.

Before rangefinders were on the market, many pros, including Bernard Langer, would take a surveyors wheel with them during practice rounds to check distances.

Rangefinders Great for Amateurs

For an avid amateur golfer, a rangefinder can be a very valuable tool. From giving precise distances to the green for approach shots to measuring the exact distance to carry over a hazard, the devices come in handy dozens of times throughout the round.

Golfers with rangefinders save time by getting yardage measurements instantly. All that’s left is to calculate the effect the lie, wind and other conditions will have on the shot.

Rangefinders also help golfers make the most of their time on the practice range. Within seconds, a rangefinder can tell the exact distances to landmarks on the driving range. This helps golfer obtain precise calculations of how far they can hit each club in their bag on the fly and how much their balls roll after a shot.

Pro golfers use rangefinders in their practice sessions all the time, especially when working on long chip shots in the short game practice area. The exact yardages help them develop confidence and feel to hit their chip shots close.

A Worthwhile Investment

Quality rangefinders range in price from $200 to $500 and can be purchased at most sporting goods or golf stores. From weekend duffers looking to see how far a carry is over a water hazard to low-handicappers fine tuning their short game on the range, a laser rangefinder is a good investment and one golf gadget worth keeping.


Jim Estes, the director of golf instruction at Olney Golf Park, qualified to play in the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills by finishing eighth in the PGA club professionals’ national championship earlier this summer.

Estes, one of only 20 club pros in the field of 156, posted a 79 on Thursday and a 76 on Friday for a two- day total of 15-over-par 155.

While Estes is undoubtedly one of the top club pros in the country in terms of playing ability, he has received much deserved national recognition for his work with wounded veterans.

Estes founded and operates the Salute Military Golf Association. The nonprofit corporation’s mission is to provide rehabilitative golf experiences for combat-wounded veterans in an effort to improve their quality of life. Several of the veterans Estes assisted through the program made the trip to Michigan to cheer him on.

Visit to learn more about the program or to make a contribution.

Issue 3.33: August 14, 2008