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The best golf watches 2021: advanced GPS and shot tracking to improve your game

Included in this guide:

Three golf watches on pink background
(Image credit: Future)

The best golf watch not only looks the part, but it can significantly lower your handicap as well. A golf watch can act as a virtual caddie attached to your wrist, and could give you a big advantage over other players on the course. Being able to track your data, from the distance to the green or swing speed, could give you an insight into your game that you may have missed. 

Upgrading your golf game isn't just about spending hours at the driving range or practising your short game in your backyard – it's about trying new things too. Golf watches and activity-tracking devices are now an affordable option for even the most amateur golfer, and they're better than ever. 

There are loads of different devices on the market, too, from golf watches aimed at those who teeing up for the first time, to tech that can help seasoned professionals correct the minor faults in their game.

Garmin Approach S42

The Garmin Approach S42 is a top-quality golf watch and much more besides, packed with tools you'll use ever (Image credit: Garmin)

Striking the ideal balance of price and features

Screen size: 1.2in
Battery life: Up to 10 days
GPS: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Impressive battery life+Smart design
Reasons to avoid
-No Virtual Caddie-Lacks advanced smartwatch tools

The Garmin Approach S24, released in March, is our pick for the best golf watch of 2021. It sits in the middle of Garmin's golf watch lineup, in between the all-singing, all-dancing S62 and the pared-back S12.

Like all the best Garmin golf watches, it's pre-loaded with details of 42,000 courses worldwide, plus Garmin Autoshot to analyze and records shot distances. Green View allows you to position the pin manually using the large color touchscreen, and shows you the green's true shape. Battery life is impressive too, lasting up to 10 days in smartwatch mode, or 15 hours with GPS enabled. 

The Approach S42 is also smart enough for everyday wear. Whereas many golf watches focus on function above form, the Approach S42 has a metal bezel and buckle, plus a slim case that mean it won't look out of place off the course.

That's just as well, because with all-day step tracking, sleep tracking, and workout profiles for both cycling and swimming, you might not want to take it off.

It lacks the Virtual Caddie feature of the Approach S62, and has fewer fitness tracking features for off the course, but strikes a good compromise and is a well-priced all-rounder.

Read our full Garmin Approach S42 review

Garmin Approach S62

If you can afford to splash a little more cash, the Approach S62 is one of the most powerful, feature-packed golf watches available today (Image credit: Garmin)

2. Garmin Approach S62

A top-end golf watch that does everything

Screen size: 1.3in
Battery life: Up to 14 days
GPS: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Full vector map+Virtual Caddie+Pulse-ox sensor
Reasons to avoid

The Garmin Approach S62 offers everything you get from the S42 and more, if you can afford the extra cash. 

Garmin's Virtual Caddie app suggests clubs based on wind speed and direction, and the distance you typically swing with each type. You can check out the wind before taking your shot, and there's a full vector map complete with touch targeting, which allows you to see the distance to any point by simply tapping the extra-large 1.3in screen.

Its larger battery means it can keep running for up to 14 days in smartwatch mode, or 20 hours with GPS enabled. It also boasts a wide range of everyday health tracking tools too, including all-day stress monitoring (based on changes in heart rate), relaxation reminders. There's a pulse-ox sensor for measuring blood oxygen saturation at night, and performing spot-checks during the day.

Garmin Pay allows you to make contactless payments (provided your bank is one of those supported), you can use it to control music on your smartphone, receive app notifications, check the weather forecast, and send text responses (if you have an Android phone).

SkyCaddie LX5

The SkyCaddie LX5 has an impressive screen that's easy to see in direct sunlight, with a rotating bezel that you can use to zoom in and out (Image credit: SkyCaddie)

3. SkyCaddie LX5

A premium golf watch with extremely accurate maps

Screen size: 1.39in
Battery life: Two rounds
GPS: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Large, bright screen+Error-corrected maps
Reasons to avoid
-Too large for smaller wrists-Lacks smartwatch tools

The SkyCaddie LX5 is essentially a wearable equivalent of the the SkyCaddie SX500 golf computer, and has the largest screen in this roundup, measuring a huge 1.39in. That means plenty of room to view maps and graphics, which you can pan and zoom with your fingertips, though golfers with smaller wrists may find it's simply too much.

It's pre-loaded with details of 35,000 courses around the world, and like the Garmin Approach S62, offers full vector maps so you can see the precise shape of the green. All its maps are also error-corrected for impressive precision. You can be confident that the yardages given are accurate, and everything is clearly presented.

It's an excellent golf watch, but its lack of general-purpose smartwatch features (other than a pedometer and heart rate monitor) mean it's not as handy off the course as Garmin's wearables. Your choice will simply be down to where your priorities lie,

Garmin Approach S12

The Garmin Approach S12 is an excellent entry-level golf watch that still offers extremely accurate GPS (Image credit: Garmin)

An affordable, but well-featured GPS golf watch

Screen size: 0.9in
Battery life: Up to 30 hours with GPS, up to 10 weeks without
GPS: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Affordably priced+Great GPS accuracy+Impressive battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Monochome display

The Garmin Approach S12 is an entry-level golf watch, and one of the best available in its price bracket. It design and features belie its modest price tag, and include detailed maps of 42,000 courses, plus GPS that proved super accurate in our tests.

The Approach S12 syncs with the same Garmin Golf app as the company's higher-end watches, putting a huge array of data at your fingertips and making it particularly good value for money.

Although it lacks a color screen, which makes maps a little trickier to interpret, but it's easy to read in direct sunlight and further compensates with outstanding battery life, and we easily got several weeks' use out of it before needing to recharge.

The main disadvantage is the need to record shots manually, which more advanced players might find tedious, and isn't a concern with higher-end watches that offer automatic shot-tracking.

Read our full Garmin Approach S12 review

Shot Scope V3

The Shot Scope V3 lacks a touchscreen, but makes up for that shortcoming by putting a huge wealth of stats right on your wrist (Image credit: Shot Scope)

5. Shot Scope V3

A slim, but powerful golf watch packed with useful tools

Screen size: 1.23in
Battery life: Two rounds
GPS: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Automatic shot detection+Great range of stats
Reasons to avoid
-No touch controls-Low screen resolution

The Shot Scope V3 is surprisingly slim at just 10mm thick, making it comfortable and convenient for all-day wear. Despite that slender profile, it's a very impressive device packed with thoughtful touches and handy features to help improve your game and save time. It boasts automatic shot detection, with every shot plotted on a map of the course. 36,000 course maps are pre-loaded, and GPS distances are quick to update.

It also comes bundled with 16 tracking tags, allowing the watch to identify your clubs automatically. These are usually sold separately, even with premium golf watches, so this is a real boon.

The only real downside is that the screen is relatively low resolution (just 176 x 176 pixels compared to 260 x 260 for the Garmin Approach S62), meaning less information can be displayed at once.

There are also no touch controls (the watch is operated using four physical buttons along the edges). On the plus side, this means you're less likely to activate anything accidentally, but it also means navigating maps is less intuitive.

Golf watch FAQs

What is a golf rangefinder?

A rangefinder is a tool that helps you measure the distance between you and your target, using either GPS or a laser. GPS rangefinders (as found in golf watches) are faster to use, but laser ones are more accurate,

Does Fitbit make a golf watch?

Fitbit doesn't make a dedicated golf watch, but all of Fitbit's GPS-enabled watches have a golf-tracking mode that you can use to monitor calories burned during your game. This will only be accurate if you're walking though, not using a golf buggy.

Cat Ellis

Cat (@CatEllisBristol) is the fitness and wellbeing editor at TechRadar. She's been a technology journalist for 11 years, and cut her teeth on magazines including PC Plus and PC Format before joining TechRadar. She's a trained run leader, and enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the pavement. If you have a story about fitness trackers, treadmills, running shoes, e-bikes, or any other fitness tech, drop her a line.