John Renslow
Golf Columnist

Back to: Sports
March 6, 2013
Follow Sports

GPS: Handy on the links

At some point in our lives, we’re all looking for a little direction. The crossroads of life can arrive at an even pace or they can come fast and furious. Should we take a new job? Is marriage the right way to go? Paper or plastic? If only we had a strategic resource at our side to assist us in our time of need.

Decisions on the golf course may not be as dramatic or pivotal…maybe, but many times throughout the round, it’s easy second guess ourselves and we need more information. Often what we need to feel more comfortable is more information. We need a little direction.

Enter the hand-held GPS (Global Positioning System) unit. Introduced to golfers quite some time ago, these electronic caddies have come through quite an evolution. Remember the first cell phones? They looked like a small briefcase, weighed just as much, and the brick-sized handset was connected to the body of the phone with the cord flopping all over the place.

Golf’s first GPS device was clunky, inconsistent with information (due to communication with satellites), and the storage capabilities (of golf course data) was limited. Today, these little units are slick. The better machines have color screens, provide virtually every piece of mapping information on the course, and can hold many golf course configurations.

Interesting that the rules don’t allow us to ask for help, how to play the shot. Generic information can be provided such as, “where is the green?” But you cannot ask, “Should I play a draw or a fade?”

Electronic devices were not allowed until just a few years ago. This new access to information was deemed an unfair advantage. Now, basic information – yardage, hole diagrams – is legal. However, details like elevation or wind speed are not allowed.

Right in the palm of your hand, the unit will communicate with a satellite, each golf course being set on a grid. The result is the ability to see complete views of a hole or a green. Distances are determined to specific locations or a span.

Imagine you’re on a long hole. You just crushed your tee shot, but it’s in the rough. The next shot has a bunker that you should be able to hit over, but if you hit it well, it might go in the creek that runs diagonally beyond the bunker. If only you knew how far it was to get over the bunker and how much space you have between the bunker and the creek.

No problem, the higher end units can give you all the information you need. Which has more than a practical benefit; when you feel calm, you will hit a better shot. Standing over a ball, wondering about distances, causes doubt. Doubt will generally induce a poor shot. Knowing your distance, knowing your surroundings, puts your mind at ease and sets the stage for a good result.

Several manufacturers produce these electronic ‘assistants’ including SkyCaddie, GolfLogix, Yardage Pro, Golf Buddy, and iGolf. Prices range from $125 for the basic, black and white versions, up to $400 for the whistle and bell versions, in full color.

More recently, some wrist-watch type devices are on the market. Garmin and Bushnell now a watch Dick Tracy would be proud of with precise distance information (they even work as a wrist-watch, if you prefer)

Heaven knows, we all need some guidance from time to time. And, although the tough decisions (like when to sell short…or which club to hit) are still up to you, good direction on the golf course is in (or near) the palm of your hand.

John Renslow is general manager and director of golf at Alta Sierra Country Club. Please contact John with your questions or comments at

Stories you may be interested in

The Union Updated Mar 7, 2013 12:19AM Published Mar 6, 2013 10:42PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.