Garmin Approach Z82 Rangefinder review: the best of both worlds

The Garmin Approach Z82 is so helpful it feels like you're cheating

T3 Platinum Award
Garmin Approach Z82 Range Finder
(Image credit: Garmin)
T3 Verdict

The Garmin Approach Z82 is one of the best bits of golf tech out there. It's easy to use and packed with features that will help make you a better golfer.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Combines both GPS and Laser Rangefinder Technology

  • +

    Excellent golfing features

  • +

    Easy to use

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    More a luxury than a necessity

Here’s the Garmin Approach Z82 Rangefinder review in a sentence: this is one of the most technologically advanced pieces of golf kit out there and it would make for a quality addition to any golfer’s armoury. Unfortunately I don’t get paid (much) for one-sentence reviews so read on and I shall explain in more detail what this little marvel is capable of. 

Rangefinders are one of the best gifts for golfers, because even if no golfer needs one as such, every golfer wants one. They are very much in vogue currently due to golf’s ‘powers that be’ allowing the pros to use them at the recent USPGA Championship. Usually they can only be used during practice rounds but in an attempt to speed up play the use of rangefinders was trialled at a major championship for the first time. It remains to be seen if this was just a one off or if it will eventually become the norm, but it was fantastic publicity for the likes of Bushnell, Garmin and other manufacturers of the product.

Garmin are best known for making some of the best golf watches money can buy, but they also produce some other wonderful devices that make golf that little bit easier for both Sunday hacker and experienced club pro alike. The Approach Z82 is packed with useful features and, much like the equally brilliant Garmin Approach S62 golf watch, it makes for an invaluable companion out on the course.

So what is it that makes this device stand out from the competition? Let’s start with a little background. The Z82 is Garmin’s follow up to the highly successful Z80, which was the first device to combine GPS with Laser Rangefinder technology.

Since then other brands have gone down the ‘hybrid’ route but Garmin still leads the way and the Z82 took that cutting edge technology on to another level. This really is one of the most high end pieces of golf tech on the market.

Not all rangefinders are created equal though and the prices reflect that. They do all perform the same basic function, which is you point it at the flag and it will tell you far away it is, but the more high end models do much more than that and the Approach Z82 does a lot more than most.

Garmin Approach Z82: price and availability

The Approach Z82 is widely available in most golf retail outlets as well as online. You can also order direct from Garmin. Pricing is as follows:

Garmin Approach Z82: Features and functionality 

Garmin Approach Z82 rangerfinder

(Image credit: Garmin)

The Approach Z82 is quite similar to the higher end Garmin GPS golf watches and shares many of the same features, including score keeping, course maps and shot tracking. 

It’s simple to use as everything is controlled by three buttons. Two to navigate up and down through the menus and the other to select the desired option.

It comes pre-loaded with over 41,000 courses and it provides a 2D map of each hole as you play it. It is accurate to a margin of nine inches from a distance of up to 450 yards. Impressive, right?

You can use the Z82 as a stand alone device but pairing it via bluetooth with the Garmin app on your smartphone opens up a range of extra benefits, including the capability of showing you where the wind is blowing from and how strong it is, as well as being able to save your score and send various useful stats to your Garmin account.

Of course its primary function is to give you a precise distance to how far away the flag is, but where the Z82 differs to most range finders is that it combines GPS technology with that simple ‘point and shoot’ aspect. Not only will it tell you how far away from the pin you are, it will also show everything else you need to know about the hole you are playing.

A look into the view finder displays an enhanced view of what’s in front of you but also a 2D map overlay of the hole so you will be aware of any doglegs or hidden hazards as well as the distances to them. That’s just scratching the surface though, this little beauty is packed with innovative features.

Stat tracking for instance, which is available when paired with a compatible smartphone. This allows you to keep a record of your score and measure shot distances, and you can even participate in weekly leaderboards with other Garmin users. I once had a third placed finish at my local course. Granted, there were only two other Garmin users playing there that week, but hey, top three baby!

Garmin Approach Z82 Rangefinder

(Image credit: Future)

Driver distance is another feature that is also found on many of the Garmin watches. This comes in very handy on the course and is so simple to set up. Upon activation the device will ask you what your usual driving distance is so that when you look at the hole through the view finder an arc will show you where your ball is likely to go with a standard drive. So if there is a hazard in the fairway that might look out of reach to the naked eye, a quick check with the Z82 will let you know if it’s safe to hit or if you need to drop down a club or two.

The Z82 also comes with a tournament mode option which is important for golfers who play in weekend competitions at their clubs. When playing competitively there are certain features on high end range finders and golf watches that are not permitted, specifically the ‘Plays Like’ function which takes slope and wind into account when providing you with yardages. 

Tournament mode deactivates those illegal features. An external indicator light lets you and your playing partners know when you’re in tournament mode, so if you were thinking of cheating, don’t! 

I’ll elaborate further on ‘Plays Like’ though because features like this are what separates the best range finders from the rest. So, how best to explain 'Plays Like'?

Ok, so when you watch major golf tournaments on TV there are certain cool graphics that they’ll show to give you more information on the shot faced by the player. Phil Mickelson may be lining up his approach from the middle of the fairway and you’ll see a graphic showing you the wind speed and direction. 

This adds to the viewing experience as it gives you more of an idea of what the player is facing. Well you can get that yourself when you look into the view finder on the Z82.

You do need to be connected to the Garmin app on your smartphone, but the Z82 can then factor in the wind speed and direction in the yardages, as well as the lay of the land, to give you a true indication of the actual yardage of the shot you are facing and not just the official distance.

So for example, 150 yards to an elevated green into a 15mph wind is not in reality a 150 yard shot. It plays much longer than that and may be more like 165 yards. This makes club selection tricky but the Z82 gives you both distances - the actual yardage and the ‘plays like’ yardage. Having this option is invaluable when playing in windy conditions, but just remember to switch it off when playing your weekly medal!

Another nifty feature that is illegal in tournament play is ‘Pinpointer’, which is a compass that will show you exactly where the green is. This comes into its own when playing over trees or in any other situation when the green is not in view and you would otherwise be guessing. With ‘Pinpointer’ enabled you know exactly where to aim. 

The Z82 comes with a USB charger and on a full charge you will get at least two full rounds (you may even get three) so it will meet all of your requirements even if you are on holiday and playing 36 holes a day. It also comes with a carbon fibre, waterproof case with a drawstring for protection. There’s also a sturdy, metal clip to fasten the device to your golf bag, although there is a drawback to this which I will get to shortly. 

Garmin Approach Z82 Rangefinder

(Image credit: Garmin)

Garmin Approach Z82: Performance

Full disclosure, I prefer using a GPS watch so it took me a little while to get completely used to this device and everything it can do. It was only when I decided to leave the watch at home and fully committed to using the Z82 that I got a proper feel for it and realised that I didn't really need the watch at all. The Z82 had me covered.

I have used range finders before but nothing as advanced as the Z82 and my previous experience amounted to little more than just pointing at the flag to get a yardage. That's why having the numbers on my wrist has always been more desirable to me than constantly having to remove the device from my bag and scan the horizon looking for the pin. Watches offer so much more functionality than a basic laser device.

So I didn’t see any real benefit to using a range finder over a watch even though one of my regular playing partners swears by them and had been trying to convert me for a while. The Z82 succeeded where he failed and now I can absolutely see the attraction. I still prefer a watch, but I had a lot of fun testing the Z82 and it has changed my view on rangefinders.

This will no doubt sound silly to anyone who doesn’t play the game, but it made me feel like a better golfer than I actually am, even though my score did not back that up. It’s like anything golf related really; when you’ve got the best gear it makes you feel more, dare I say, professional? 

The truth is though that it’s only the higher calibre of golfer who need an exact yardage to the pin. For the rest of us, numbers to the front, middle and back are just fine most of the time. A scratch handicapper will know his exact yardage with each club down to an error margin of a couple of yards but for the less accomplished player the dispersion is much higher so a rough number is usually sufficient.

For instance, if I hit a nine iron well I know it will carry somewhere between 125-130 yards, whereas Tiger Woods will know his distance to within a few inches. So the better the player, the more accurate the yardage needs to be. For most amateurs a GPS watch is fine most of the time, but for the obsessive golfer who likes to have every little bit of information available prior to taking a shot, the Z82 fits the bill perfectly.

There are also certain scenarios when a range finder will deliver for you in a way that even the best golf watch that money can buy simply cannot. I was testing out a golf watch last winter and it gave me the yardages to the front, middle and back. The green was elevated with a bunker in front so it was impossible to see the location of the flag. I opted to go with the yardage to middle, hit what I thought was a great shot right over the top of the flag, only to discover when I got to the bunker that there was a temporary green and my ball had gone 50 yards past it. With a rangefinder that would never have happened. 

It wasn’t a failing of the watch as golf courses are pre-loaded into these devices and if there are any temporary changes they obviously aren’t going to show up on the course map. A rangefinder removes that problem, however, as it doesn’t rely solely on pre-loaded maps. You are pointing at the actual flag, regardless of where it is located, so all yardages are spot on.

Garmin Z82: Some words of caution

Garmin Approach Z82 Rangefinder

(Image credit: Future)

The Z82 is a terrific device that offers all sorts of little extras you won’t find on the vast majority of range finders out there, but beware if you attach it to your bag. Initially I used the device in the carry case and fastened it to the ring on my golf bag via the clip. Big mistake. 

The location of the clip on the centre of the case caused it to hang at a 90 degree angle (see above photo) when I had the golf bag on my back and I had a huge scare halfway up the third fairway when I set the bag down, went to reach for the Z82 only to discover an empty case! Oh no!!

I knew I had it when I was on the tee so it had to be somewhere along the third hole, but I’d been in the trees following my tee shot (a regular occurrence) and if it had fallen out in there that was going to be the proverbial needle in a haystack scenario. 

Panic was setting in but then I remembered there is a “find my Garmin” option on the smartphone app that fortunately I had enabled before using. I walked back towards the tee waiting for the app to finish buffering but thankfully in the meantime I spotted the little rascal lying in the middle of the fairway. 

The ‘find my Garmin’ feature did eventually kick in as I reached it so at least I know that works.

The lesson learned here is always activate the ‘find my Garmin’ option and if you carry your golf bag, keep the device in a sealed pocket rather than connecting it to the bag via the clip as it just isn't worth it.

I didn’t find any other negatives, although if I was being super critical I could say that in relation to some other range finders, the Z82 can be a fraction slower at locating the flag, but we’re only talking a second at most here so it’s barely noticeable and certainly not a hinderance in any way.

It does take some time to fully get to grips with what it can do, as unlike the more basic rangefinders this isn’t just a simple ‘point and shoot’ to get a distance to the flag. You can use it for so much more than that so obviously you need to familiarise yourself with the extra features and which ones you actually wish to use. 

Garmin Approach Z82 Rangefinder

(Image credit: Future)

Garmin Approach Z82: Verdict

Let’s cut to the chase. Should you buy it? It all depends on your preference and your budget. Personally I still prefer using a GPS watch but if you’re a disciple of the rangefinder and you don’t mind paying for the best tech, then absolutely you should invest in a Z82 as it’s one of the most technologically advanced pieces of golf equipment out there.

It really comes into its own on courses that you may not be too familiar with as it’s like having your own local caddie warning you of any hidden hazards and showing you the way on blind holes. On courses you know well you may not use all of the features the Z82 has to offer but it’s still reassuring to have them just in case.

If you only want to use the basics then a much cheaper device will meet your needs, but for the obsessive golf nerd who wants to know everything about the shot they are facing, this could be the device for you.

You can find cheaper alternatives that will do an excellent job but if you aren’t put off by the price you absolutely can’t go wrong with the Garmin Approach Z82 as in my humble opinion it’s one of the best of its kind and therefore justifies the lofty price tag.

You definitely won't be disappointed if you do invest in one, and any golfer who you buy it as a gift for will love you forever.