Update: Fresh for 2018, we’ve added the best new golf watches from Garmin, Hole 19, Bushell and Golf Buddy.
Upgrading your golfing game isn’t just about time at the range or on the course, or about splashing cash on new clubs – it’s about trying new things too.
The great news is that activity-tracking and sports GPS gadgets are not only affordable, they’re better than ever – especially for golf.
Get your distance to the green, have your hardware track your shots and even improve your swing – tech is here to improve your game, and these are the best offerings available right now.
Note: we’ve ranked these from cheapest to most expensive according to prices at time of writing.
1. Hole 19 + Apple Watch/Android Wear
The app to convert your existing smartwatch into a golf tracker
Platforms: Watch OS/Android Wear
It’s free, if you own a smartwatch
No need for dedicated device
Still need your phone for hole maps
Lacks automatic shot tracking
If you’re anything like us, you’re rapidly approaching a shoebox full of wearables and would rather not add another. Hole 19 is a free app for Apple Watch and Android Wear that replicates many of the features you’ll find on dedicated trackers and does so with a super-slick, easy to use wrist-based interface.
It leverages the built-in GPS (Apple Watch Series 2 and up) to track distances off the tee and to the pin without whipping out your phone.
You can also add your strokes, putts and fairways made and sync it back to the companion smartphone app. The mobile app offers flyover views of holes, a full digital scorecard and the ability to book a round on your favourite course.
2. Callaway GPSy Sport Watch
A feature-packed option at a reasonable price
Colors: Black, White
Good battery life
Tracks as you play
Only two color choices
A premium golf brand, Callaway’s GPSy Sport Watch is packed with features.
The 30,000 courses, which this watch can auto-recognize, are tracked as you play, meaning access to green lay-up and carry distances, as well as hazards and dog-legs.
It will also auto score and track your steps . The battery should last between 10 and 12 hours in GPS mode, placing it near the top of the longevity pile.
3. Bushell Excel GPS
The watch for golfers with a taste for tradition
Colors: Black, White
Powerful, accurate GPS
Specialised charging rather than micro USB
Swing Pro feature needs work
The Bushell Excel GPS is an attractive watch golf fans will have no qualms about wearing once the round is over. It brings everything you’d expect in terms of shot measurements and distances to the hole as well as the distinguishing between the various hazards you’re likely to encounter during your round.
It’s more of a traditional watch as the UI is button-controlled rather than touchscreen while, in GPS mode, it promises three full rounds between charges.
A couple of the more ambitious features like Swing Pro, which aims to track the speed at various points in your swing, needs work, but overall this is an excellent GPS golf watch.
4. GolfBuddy BB5
A sleek watch you can wear all day
Colors: Black, White, Teal, Pink, Orange, Navy, Lime
Lots of color choices
Despite its compact size and approachable name, the activity tracker-styled GolfBuddy BB5 is a serious golf wearable.
This sleek little unit features an LED display, which can show distances to the green as it automatically advances between holes.
It also comes preloaded with over 37,000 courses in its databanks (fewer than some watches on test here, but not by a huge amount), and uses an accelerometer to measure your shots. Plus it’s sleek enough to wear day-to-day as an activity tracker.
5. TomTom Golfer 2
Colors: Black, Light Gray
Automatic shot detection
Basic for the money
Tracking your game without even lifting a pencil is one reason to wear this watch, but other GPS watches also offer automatic shot detection. A prime offering of the TomTom Golfer 2 is analysis of game data using the MySports app.
This app lets you review shot patterns, so you can see if you’re missing fairways to the left more than the right, for example, or you can compare the same hole across different rounds of the 40,000 stored courses.
Ultimately it should make tracking your game easier when out on the course, and enable you to keep working on your game when you’re back at the clubhouse.
6. Golf Buddy WTX
A golf smartwatch with 38,000 courses and counting
Colors: Black, White
Colour screen, good sunlight visibility
Dynamic Green View is an awesome feature
Information may be overkill for some golfers
With a highly visible, raise-to-wake colour screen, powerful GPS, an intuitive interface, distance and hazard tracking and flyover views of each hole on 38,00 courses, the Golf Buddy WTX ticks a lot of boxes (or sinks a lot of putts) for tech-savvy golfers.
However, where it really racks up the extra yardage is the dynamic green view. This feature allows you to plan your pitch from the angle of approach shot.
There’s also GPS course and hole recognition and the watch will move to the next hole automatically. Syncing with the Golf Buddy app will bring you all of the course updates you need.
7. Garmin Approach S20
The budget-friendly feature-rich Garmin golf watch
Automatic shot tracking
Massive course database
Not attractive enough to wear off the course
The Garmin S20 watch offers a larger display than the X40, longer battery life (15 hours in GPS mode) as well as the same frequently-updated course database, GPS shot tracking, activity tracking, a digital scorecard and smart notifications capabilities.
It includes hazard information, green details and AutoShot tracking for tee and fairway shots, and is also much cheaper than the Garmin X40, so what’s not to love? Well this model lacks a heart-rate sensor and it’s not really something you’ll want to wear as a fashion statement away from the golf course.
8. Garmin Approach X40
Adds activity tracking to your golfing game
Colors: Black, White, Frost Blue, Limelight
10 hour battery in GPS mode
Powerful, accurate GPS
Fiddly touchscreen interface
Powerful activity tracker meets all-knowing caddy with Garmin’s exceptional X40. It has a heart rate sensor, so you can monitor your pulse under pressure, and a step/distance/calorie tracker so you can quantifiably justify playing golf four times a week, because it’s exercise.
It’s pre-loaded with 40,000 golf courses worldwide and the GPS will give you a precise distance to the front/pin/back of the green. It’ll even automatically track your drives and iron shots, allowing you to track performance over time.
Despite the slim display it’ll deliver green shape and layout data, allowing you to perfectly plan your approach. Everything is synced back to the powerful Garmin Connect Golf app via Bluetooth.
9. SkyCaddie Linx GT
More than just a wearable
Works as a fitness tracker
Includes an app and club sensor
Only comes in black
The SkyCaddie Linx GT is one of a kind in that it’s not just a wearable, but part of a package.
Combined with an app and a club sensor, the Linx GT does more than just measure shots using GPS, as it can analyze each swing very accurately to offer improvement tips too.
The company claims the watch’s GPS increases accuracy over apps by up to 300%, while saving your phone’s battery too. The readout on the display will show yardage on the watch, or you can get out your phone for a more detailed course map and shot analysis.
And it’s not limited to golf, with step, distance and calorie tracking enabling it to double up as a basic fitness tracker.
10. Garmin Approach S6
A top-end watch with a wealth of apps
Colors: Light, Dark, Orange
Can’t view scorecard on the watch
When it comes to geolocation, Garmin is at the top of its game, with years of experience in military and nautical applications, so a golf course is easy pickings.
The focus on accuracy means measuring your distance to the hole, green or pin is simple and clear at a glance.
Over 40,000 courses with free updates are logged, with ‘course view’ and ‘green view’, plus the Garmin IQ store has thousands of apps built specifically for golfing-related tasks.
This watch will use motion sensors to measure your stroke and offer tips for improvement, plus it goes a hefty 20 weeks between charges, or 10 hours in GPS mode.
11. Garmin Approach S60
Garmin’s flagship golf watch
Colors: Black, White
Improves your skills
Costs a lot
Still need to get your phone out to view some things
Although not as feature-packed or expensive as the multi-sport Garmin Fenix 5, the Garmin Approach S60 is the company’s flagship golfing watch, combining a stylish build with a 1.2-inch 240 x 240 color screen and loads of features.
There are over 40,000 courses preloaded, complete with information like precise yardages to greens, hazards and doglegs.
The Approach S60 will also automatically record the location and distance of each shot, while its PlaysLike feature allows the S60 to take elevation changes between the player and target into account and calculate what the distance will play like.
There’s also SwingTempo and TempoTraining to help you improve your swing, and of course the Approach S60 works with the Garmin Connect and Garmin Golf apps, syncing your data and letting you compete with friends.
All that and it will also work as a general activity tracker, tracking steps, calories burned, distance and sleep, providing you with alerts when you haven’t moved enough and even showing smartphone notifications. Plus, it’s water proof to 5 ATM and its battery will last up to 10 hours in golf mode.