Playing golf is a never-ending struggle against the weather, course conditions and the failings of your own body and mind. It's a game of close margins, where any small advantage could turn you from a loser into a winner. Being able to gain a three-shot handicap reduction per year could be a very big deal, then. Well, that's what golf app Hole19 claims it does, on average, for its many users around the world.
Hole19 is a free app – okay, freemium, strictly speaking – for iOS and Android that essentially recreates the functionality of a top quality golf watch such as the Garmin Approach S62 or TAG Heuer Connect Golf Edition, on your smartphone. You can also pair it with your Apple Watch or Wear OS smartwatch, making it even more like a top quality golf watch. The golf functionality is all leveraged via your device's built-in GPS, bright and detailed screen, and big computer brain, making it into a kind of AI caddy and golf coach.
Designed for golfers of all abilities, Hole19 has maps for 'over 43,000' golf courses. The app’s makers claim users can potentially record, on average, a three-shot handicap reduction each year they use Hole19, which is clearly not to be sniffed at.
Without paying a penny, you get accurate GPS yardages to the front, middle and back of the target greens on all those courses, as well as the position of key hazards and a complete overview of the hole. The app also lets you record your score on each hole, as well as building a permanent archive of every shot you ever take. That should make for fascinating reading one day, when you're at a very loose end.
As well as basic score tracking, you can also view a live leaderboard on the app, showing the scores of registered Hole19 users 'and non-member friends.' Well, it beats carrying around a scorecard and pencil, let's face it.
As always with freemium apps, things get a little murky as soon as you get to the paid or Premium features, although what's on offer is quite impressive. By paying the necessary fee – see below for pricing – you get access to the following.
Shot Tracker. This is an essential feature for many golf watch users: shot-by-shot info on how far and how accurately you've hit the ball.
Club Recommendation. The data from Shot Tracker means you can make better club choices, based on the distances it logs from your shots over every round you play.
Handicap Calculator. 'Helps users get a deeper insight into the progress of their game.'
Performance Insights. Give you at-a-glance stats for your driving accuracy, greens hit in regulation and average putts per round. You can also see the average distance you're able to whack the ball with each club in your arsenal. Hopefully this isn't too depressing for you, and hey – identifying areas of weakness can only help you improve.
Augmented Reality (iOS only). Get a unique, 360° view of the golf course. Hole19 says that 'this feature is handy for blind approach shots or can be utilised as a virtual guide when playing a new course.' It sounds a teensy bit gimmicky, but it looks cool.
Now, most of these are great features to have, but the most useful ones come as standard on the best golf watches, and you only have to pay for them once. A Hole19 Premium subscription has to be paid for every year, in perpetuity. However, as a Garmin S62 costs £400/$500, and presumably you already own a smartphone – and perhaps a smartwatch – it would take you 10 years of using Hole19 before you could be considered out of pocket. Not too shoddy. You can also try before you (fully) buy, with a one-month subscription for £6.99.
Hole19 has an average rating of 4.5 stars at the Apple App Store and 2.9 million registered users, so it is clearly doing something right.