Golf is hard. Anyone who has ever swung a club in anger knows this, so anything that can make it even a little bit easier is to be embraced. The good news is that continual technological advancements mean golfers are getting far more help these days than ever before, in all sorts of ways. Among the most important are the best golf watches you can buy. However nowadays, the best smartwatches, being excellent all-rounders, can also turn their virtual hands to golf.
GPS technology – as found in both types of watch – means that today’s golfer no longer needs to judge distance with their eyes or by guessing how far away they are from the 150 yard marker on the fairway. GPS changed the game and advancements are being made in the tech every year, particularly in wearable devices such as watches. The days of guessing which club to use are over because now anyone can have their own personal caddie sitting snugly on their wrist.
Apple are market leaders in most things they turn their hand to and with the right app installed, the Apple Watch can be used to guide you around the golf course most effectively. Can it compete with a specialist leading brand golf watch though? Here is how the Apple Watch compares to the superb Garmin Approach S60.
To make it more of a fair fight, we're using Apple's wearable with the Hole19 app.
Apple Watch vs Garmin S60: Price and availability
The Garmin S60 can now be picked up for as little as £299 as the S62 is now Garmin's flagship golf watch. The S62 does everything the S60 does but has a few extra features including "Virtual Caddie". You can't go wrong with either but if you don't mind paying an extra £150 or so then go with the S62.
The Apple Watch Series 6 is priced from £379 for the 40mm aluminium model with Wi-Fi (but no 4G). The larger 44mm model starts at £409, and adding 4G to any Apple Watch increases the price by £100. The stainless steel version starts at £699, or £749 for the 44mm case, and the titanium Watch Edition model is priced from £799. The luxury Hermés Apple Watch starts at £1,199.
Hole19 for iOS (opens in new tab) is free to download and use. However, an annual Premium Pro subscription, which adds a wealth of useful functionality, costs £49.99/$49.99.
Apple Watch vs Garmin S60: On the golf course
The Apple Watch is functional but limited when it comes to on course capability. As a stand alone device it would be equivalent to one of the lower end golf watches on the market. That will be sufficient for many golfers who are only looking for basic yardages and little else, but if you want a more in depth experience then the Apple Watch needs to be used in tandem with an iPhone. Only then can it come close to competing with the S60.
The Apple Watch on its own provides only basic functionality on the course, irrespective of which third party app you use (and there are many). It will give you yardages to the front, middle and back of the green and it will record your score. For most other features you need to refer to your iPhone and whichever accompanying golf app you have downloaded (we would recommend Hole19).
With the Apple Watch you must sync with your iPhone prior to starting your round. To do this you open your golf app of choice on the iPhone and connect to the watch via bluetooth. The watch then also opens up the app and you’re good to go. Be aware though that you will need to keep your iPhone close at all times so the watch can maintain a bluetooth connection.
Additionally, if you want detailed course graphics and visuals on hazard locations and distances you need to get those from your iPhone, as unlike the Garmin S60 the Apple Watch does not have that capability. The free version of Hole19 does provide all of this but you must use your phone to access it.
You will also need to select your GPS source. Early series Apple watches do not have GPS capability but if you have a newer version you can select it as your GPS source, but be warned, this absolutely hammers your battery.
If your watch is not on a full charge we would recommend that you use your iPhone for GPS but be sure to keep it in your pocket and not in your golf bag, as your yardages will be taken from the iPhone and not the watch. This means that if your bag is in the fairway and you are in the trees you will either have the incorrect yardage, or no yardage at all if you are out of bluetooth range.
There is also the added problem that because all ‘free’ apps are third party they will want you to upgrade to a premium option. Some apps will prompt you to do it before you start your round but others will be doing it in between shots and that can be quite irritating. Even without the frequent sales pitches from whichever app you select, the constant switching between watch and phone can be distracting.
With the Apple Watch there are a lot of interruptions. If it isn’t informing you that you’ve just hit a fitness goal for the day then one of the apps is trying to sell you an upgrade from free to premium. There’s too much tapping and swiping involved and this is one area in which the Garmin is just a lot more user friendly.
The S60 is all business with no distractions. On the course it is a little more complicated to use than the Apple Watch because it has a lot more to offer.
Garmin watches currently offer a much more streamlined golfing experience than Apple. Syncing with your phone is an option but it is definitely not necessary. The watch can do it all on its own and the only reason you might refer to the phone is to view the course map on a larger screen, but I found that there was little need to do that as all the detail I needed was there on the watch face. The only time you need to sync with your phone is at some point after your round if you wish to save your score to your Garmin account.
The two features I found most beneficial on the S60 were the distance indicator, which tells you how far your shot has travelled, and the touchscreen that allows you to drag the pin placement around the green for more accurate yardages. The touchscreen is also great for checking yardages on potential lay up spots as well as establishing distances to various hazards. You can do this with the Hole19 app too but only on your phone.
The distance indicator on the Garmin is invaluable for wayward hitters such as myself. The watch automatically senses when you hit a shot and will begin counting the yards as you walk towards your ball. This results in much less time being wasted looking for lost balls because when you know how far you usually carry your driver or 3 wood off the tee it narrows the search area down massively when you’ve strayed from the fairway.
So instead of aimlessly pacing up and down a 50 yard stretch of rough down the right hand side (it’s always the right hand side), with the Garmin on my wrist I was able to focus on a 10-20 yard area as the yardage indicator tells me that this is my landing zone with a normal strike from the tee.
note: this feature is available on the Apple Watch but only with a premium upgrade to your Hole19 app.
Another benefit is the “Plays Like” distance which takes into account elevation. The Apple Watch also offers this and it is one feature you do not need your phone to access.
The S60 also has a cool option that allows you to measure your swing tempo both in practice and in rounds. Tempo is important as you should optimally be around 3.0, which in simple terms means that your backswing takes three times as long as your downswing. The S60 will measure this and report back to you with the results.
When you delve into this it’s very interesting as often you’ll find that your tempo is quicker on the course than in practice. Swinging at the correct tempo is much easier on the range when the time between shorts is much shorter than on the course and you can get into a nice groove.
So this is a particularly useful feature when it comes to analysing your game and identifying what goes wrong on some of your bad shots.
There are apps you can download for the Apple Watch that will do something similar but their performance can be erratic and, of course, most apps tend to offer a basic free version and then a premium paid version. With Garmin it’s all included with no hidden extra cost.
Apple Watch vs Garmin S60: Away from the course
The Apple Watch obviously wins this comfortably. It just has a ton more functionality and apps to satisfy your every need. You can use it to make and receive calls, it’s perfect for health and fitness, playing music and all manner of other things. As a premium smartwatch the Apple is superb. You can't beat it.
But what off the course features does the Garmin S60 have? Probably more than you might expect. It comes with pre-loaded activity profiles for running, cycling, swimming and more.
It isn’t anything like as advanced as the Apple Watch but as a smartwatch it is more than functional. You can pair the watch with your smartphone via bluetooth and it will show incoming calls, emails, text messages etc with buzzing notifications on your wrist. It’s probably a good idea to switch this off during your round as it can be off-putting when it buzzes at the top of your backswing or as you take the putter back on a nervy four footer!
Apple Watch vs Garmin S60: Design and build
These are two completely different looking smartwatches. The Apple design is well known as it hasn’t changed a great deal since the launch of the original in 2015.
For the benefit of this comparison we will use the Apple Watch Series 6 which has 32GB of internal storage for apps and music. It connects to iPhone (but not Android) over a Bluetooth connection and is Wi-Fi enabled, although there is also the option of buying a version with 4G connectivity. The benefit of that is you can take calls and stream music even when you do not have your iPhone with you. Battery life is 18 hours but this varies depending on how much you use it.
As mentioned earlier the Series 6 is GPS enabled and it is controlled via a touchscreen, rotating Digital Crown, a side button and voice commands using Siri.
Series 6 is available with cases made of aluminium, stainless steel and titanium (at varying prices). It features a glass front and a ceramic back protecting a heart rate monitor. Customisation is easy as replacement straps can be bought from Apple as well as a huge range of third-party manufacturers.
Colour options for the aluminium case include space grey, gold, silver, blue and red. The stainless steel model comes in silver, graphite and gold while the flagship titanium is offered in natural titanium and space black.
Garmin Golf Watches have a more traditional, rounded look. The S60 comes with either a black or a white silicon strap although other colour options are available in the Garmin store (be aware they are quite pricey).
The S60 is controlled via a sunlight readable, always on 30.5mm touchscreen and three side buttons. Memory is only 1GB which pales in comparison to the Apple Watch but is more than enough for what the S60 is designed for.
The watch is compatible with Android as well as iPhone, you just need to download the free Garmin app. Custom watch faces, apps and widgets can be downloaded from the Connect IQ store and you can also customise your watch face with any photo from your mobile device using the Face It app.
The S60 provides 10 hours of battery life on the golf course and up to 10 days in watch mode (depending on usage).
Apple Watch vs Garmin S60: Verdict
The Garmin S60 provides a much more user-friendly experience on the golf course and gives you a lot more functionality. It really is like having your own personal caddie.
Being able to access so much course information without having to check your phone all the time is a huge advantage the S60 has over the Apple Watch. If you are continually referring to your iPhone during your round then some might wonder if there is any real point to having the watch at all?
Having said that, it really comes down to personal preference and just how much you like your tech. For me the Garmin offered more than enough off the golf course to suit my requirements but some of you will definitely want more, especially if you lead a very active lifestyle.
Away from the golf course I want my watch to tell me the time and to look nice on my wrist. For anything else I’ll use my smartphone. I certainly have no desire to converse with anybody using a watch. This isn't Star Trek.
On the course though the reverse is true. The more tech I can access from my wrist the better.
So if you’re like me, a designated, specialist golf watch that you can wear on the course and then shove in the drawer when you get home is by far the better solution.
If on the other hand you love your tech and enjoy downloading apps to accompany every aspect of your life then go with the Apple Watch, because it really is a brilliant device that will bring you a lot of enjoyment.
Yes, it has limitations when it comes to golf but it will still give you the basics that you need when you’re on the course and let’s face it, it’s Apple, so over time the apps and technology will only get better. It probably won't be long before Apple watches are genuinely competing with Garmin on the golf course, but they aren't there yet. Not even close.
So in summary, if you already have the Apple Watch then splashing out on a dedicated golf watch is probably not necessary. You'd be better served paying for the premium version of the Hole19 app and using your iPhone in tandem with the watch.
If, however, you are looking to buy a watch specifically for golf then it’s a no brainer; go with a Garmin.