Who would have thought that satellites orbiting 12,500 miles above the Earth would have an immediate, direct influence on what club a golfer chooses to hit the perfect shot to make the green?

High-technology in golf today is no longer limited to the new exotic blends of composite materials found in golf club shafts, or in the titanium and other exotic metals forged in hot, sun-like ovens to create aerodynamic computer-aided designed driver heads.

Golfers, who have always had a history of tinkering, experimenting and working to improve their game, now demand exactness of distance to know which club in their bag will have the best chance to make their next shot perfect.

Ambiguous and faded distance markers written on sprinkler heads just won’t cut it anymore.

Enter the new offerings of handheld GPS Rangefinders, connected to the array of US satellites orbiting overhead, that now provide the precision of distance from fairways to greens that golfers had only dreamed about in the past. The GPS devices receive signals from twelve global positioning satellites, orbiting above Earth, to obtain location information and constantly update your position in relation to the mapped targets on the golf course.

In Part 1 of this overview of the latest GPS Rangefinders on the market today, we will look at three products that are available now on the Internet, in golf stores and at local pro shops. We tested these golf GPS products on two separate country club golf courses and compared their features, accuracy, screens, form factors and prices.

The three reviewed in this round are:

* SureShot GPS, by Tee2Green Technologies
* GPS Caddie II, by iGolf
* Neo, by iGolf

SureShot GPS, by Tee2Green Technologies

Tee2Green Technologies, based in Australia, has a great product on their hands with their SureShot GPS (MSRP $399).

What makes the SureShot stand out is its lightweight, modern, sleek design and bright color screen. In addition to the standard GPS features (distance measuring to specific points and course data storage) the SureShot has the ability to keep a record of one’s individual shots.
Automate Your Home with a Weatherhawk

The SureShot enables users to save their own individual shot statistics and can even suggest which club to hit (a function not allowed by the PGA in tournaments, however).

This light, portable GPS device can be clipped to your belt or carried in your pocket. Its internal, rechargeable battery lasts much longer than the typical round of golf. That extra power is handy when you find yourself behind slow players in a round, or when you want to play extra holes.

We found the SureShot to be a game improvement device, as well as a very accurate rangefinder of distances from any point on the fairway to the center of the green. By keeping track of your shots and the clubs you used to make them, you can see how your game has progressed over time.

For a golfer interested in seeing real improvement, this type of precise information can be extremely important. When you realize that you now use a 5-iron to reach a particular distance, instead of the 4-iron you once needed in the past, it shows real improvement that you can measure. Keeping track of changes like these in your game can directly affect your overall score and handicap over time in a positive way.

The other features of the SureShot that came in handy were the exact distances shown onscreen to dog legs, lurking sand traps, lakes, streams, bunkers, large rocks, trees, bridges, rising mounds and other hazards that are just waiting to grab your ball and make it disappear into no-man’s land.

The color icons that appear on the SureShot screen to warn you of these traps and hazards are precise and very valuable, especially if you’re new to a golf course and can’t be sure to get a “member’s bounce”.

The distances on screen are large and easy to read as well. The control buttons to choose a particular course, to record your distances, or to move to the next hole, for example, are unambiguous and easy to use. No matter what light or shadows we encountered in 36 different holes, the SureShot screen was always very readable and clear. It’s actually fun to use.

If in the unlikely event a course you want to play is not included in their online database, you can always measure out the course yourself using local measuring signposts, and make it a fully usable course for your next round.

Like the other two GPS devices reviewed in this article, with the SureShot you have an annual $20 subscription fee for course downloads, in addition to the actual cost of purchasing the product. That annual fee is the same whether or not you will be downloading courses in the US, or courses outside the US. The SureShot will hold ten courses in its memory at any one time.

To download the courses you want, you simply connect to a PC and visit their web site at www.sureshotgps.com. You just need an available USB port.

GPS Caddie II, by iGolf

iGolf’s Caddie II (MSRP $229.99) is a rugged GPS device with a monochrome screen. It has a heftier feel, like a PDA cell phone. Its screen is designed simply to give you the facts and for many golfers that’s all they want or need. Its rubberized sides give the golfer a good grip on the device even when hands or golf gloves are slippery from humidity, moisture or sweat.

The Caddie II provided accurate distances from tee to green and from any points along the way, to the front, center or rear of the green.

The Caddie II holds up to 40 courses in its memory. Golf courses from around the world can be downloaded from their web site at www.iGolf.com, which also serves as a membership portal for all things golf, including merchandise, news, and golf course reviews.

Unlike the SureShot, the Caddie II uses two (2) AA alkaline or rechargeable batteries for its power source, which allows you to install replacement batteries if the device ever runs low on power. We played 36 holes and the batteries never needed replacing. Using batteries is really convenient when you travel since you never have to worry about finding an electrical wall socket or foreign wall connectors if you’re playing golf on a course outside the US.

The distance data on the Caddie II’s large monochrome screen was surprisingly clear in a multitude of sunny and shady conditions that we encountered. You don’t get a lot of bells and whistles with the Caddie II, but you do get all the data at your fingertips you would ever need for a complete round of golf. The product’s relative lower cost reflects this lean and mean approach to accurately measuring distance and then delivering this data to the golfer, pure and simple.

The Caddie II is sturdy and weatherproof and can be worn on a belt but its larger form factor discourages this from being practical.

What’s the answer to the Caddie II’s larger size issue?

Neo, by iGolf

The new iGolf Neo (MSRP $149.99) is a truly portable, lightweight monochrome GPS rangefinder that’s about the size of a ladyfinger cookie.

With just a press of a small button, the Neo delivers accurate distances from tee to front, center and rear of the green. This is probably the direction of GPS rangefinders of the future – small, lightweight, yet very accurate.

The Neo easily fits in your pant or shirt pocket or sits in its handy belt holder.

Even in its very small footprint, the Neo holds up to ten GPS course files, which can be accessed from the company’s web site. The iGolf Neo also uses the USB cable to PC download for putting in desired golf courses that you want to play.

The Neo uses an internal lithium ion rechargeable battery for power and we found that it had plenty of juice for 36 holes and more. This is a really neat and convenient golf GPS device that is practical, easy to carry and use. Rubberizing its sides would be a good idea for future models to give it a bit more traction for moist hands, fingers and gloves.

A reminder: for all three GPS devices mentioned in this article you will need a computer and Internet access if you would like to download the manufacturers’ pre-mapped golf courses. You will also need a Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows Me or Windows 98 computer with a USB port and annual subscription to their web sites.

(A final note: for all you golf rules fanatics, be aware that effective January 1, 2006, the USGA issued a decision (14-3/0.5), which allows tournament committees or golf clubs to adopt a Local Rule permitting the use of GPS distance-measuring devices (www.usga.org/news/2005/september/2005_68.html). Even if your committee does not adopt this local rule, you may use the GPS devices when playing a non-tournament round and post your score for handicap purposes.)

Golf has changed dramatically over the last ten years and technology has been the main engine behind these changes. Golf GPS devices are just the latest helpers in a game where the ability to play with precision and accuracy have always been prized.

In Part 2, we will take a close look at the newest GPS rangefinders to enter the golf marketplace in 2008.

Al Abrams is President of Abrams Creative Golf, a PR and marketing firm specializing in representing new products, technologies, fashions, resorts and sports personalities for the golf industry. You can reach Al at 818-343-6365 and info@abramscreativegolf.com.