Video: this Smart Life golf challenge proves tech can improve my golf… but it can't work miracles, sadly

Who takes a rangefinder AND a GPS watch to a 9-hole golf challenge? T3 of course…

Smart Life golf challenge (in the rain)
(Image credit: Future)

Technology is a huge part of modern golf, with GPS watches and laser range finders in particular proving to be real game changers. Gone are the days of guessing distances to the flag based on “how far it looks”, or pacing off from the 150 yard marker. Golfers of all levels now have affordable technology available to give them all the information they need to hit a shot.

T3 recently faced off against Golf Monthly in the Smart Life Golf Tech Challenge – a pretty self-explanatory title, I'm sure you'll agree. 

Being the very best – and also only – golfer at T3, I made my way to the London Club on a drizzly, misty morning, armed with my trusty Garmin Approach S62 GPS watch, Garmin Approach Z82 GPS laser range finder and a smart, self-propelling Motocaddy M-Tech trolley and bag. There were also some 'cheat' golf balls for if things got really desperate. 

My opponent, Golf Monthly’s Neil Tappin, a formidable foe with a much lower handicap than me, was equipped with Arccos Club Sensors and a Stewart Golf Q Follow remote control trolley. 

Here's what happened…

As you can tell from the video, possibly the most important 'tech' of the day was the rain-resisting qualities of my golfing waterproofs. But why did I have both a watch and a range finder when usually golfers would go for one or the other? Simple; I wanted to ensure I was covered for all eventualities. Sometimes a watch can’t give you what a laser can, and vice versa. Neil wasn’t going to know what had hit him.

The S62 watch shows yardages to front, middle and back of each green as well as providing invaluable information about distances to any hazards and lay ups. It’s incredibly quick and easy to use and you can keep score on it too, as it will record all the information from your round and send it back to your Garmin Connect account when you sync the watch with your smartphone afterwards.

Garmin Approach Z82 Rangefinder

(Image credit: Future)

The Z82 range finder, meanwhile, is truly a marvel. It does everything the watch does but it’s not as user friendly as it isn’t just conveniently sat on your wrist at all times. So while it takes a little longer to access the information, it has the edge over a watch when you can’t see the base of the pin and therefore don’t know if you are hitting to the front, middle or back of the green. When you can see where the hole is located it’s easy enough to get a fairly accurate reading from a watch, but on some holes that isn’t possible. A range finder gives you an exact distance and that helped me out more than once during this match. 

Sadly, it didn’t help me enough to secure a win for T3. The S62 and Z82 are both incredible devices but they can’t work miracles.  

Smart Life golf challenge (in the rain)

Yes, the Motocaddy has GPS mapping of the course built in as well!

(Image credit: Duncan Bell)

Despite Neil being a vastly superior golfer I didn’t want any shots. Not because I thought I could beat him straight up, it’s just that if I was going to win a hole I’d want to win it by actually winning it. To me the handicap system is just a way for bad golfers to kid themselves they are actually competing with good golfers. So this bad golfer didn’t want any charity.

I got off to a dream start when Neil found water at the 10th (we started on the back nine) and I won it with a bogey. With a spring in my step I arrived on the next tee, looked at the yardage the watch was giving me, as well as the club suggestion it provided, and then decided to completely ignore all of it.

Smart Life golf challenge (in the rain)

To be fair to Dave, visibility was not great

(Image credit: Duncan Bell)

Why? Because I’m an idiot. I allowed my eyes to over-rule the technology. I didn’t think I could reach the green with the club the ‘virtual caddie’ feature on the watch was recommending, so I went a club up because I know better than some dumb watch, right? Wrong. 

I actually hit a great shot right over the flagstick and the pitch mark showed it landed about six feet past the hole, but then it bounded through into the thick rough surrounding a bunker. A bunker that I had to stand in while I tried - and twice failed - to connect with a ball that was sitting well above my feet in four inches of wet grass. I walked off that hole with a six (or maybe a seven, I lost count!) and my race was run.

Smart Life golf challenge (in the rain)

Pace of play was not an issue as we were keen to escape the rain

(Image credit: Duncan Bell)

Neil wiped the floor with me after that. It was so one sided it made the USA's Ryder Cup mauling of Europe at Whistling Straits look close. I did learn a valuable lesson from it though; trust the tech because it knows more than you do. 

It’s impossible to quantify just how many shots a GPS watch or laser range finder will save you, but they definitely will save you some. They can’t help you hit the shot but at least when you find yourself 15 yards short of the back of the green it will be due to a bad shot and not because you didn’t know the right distance. That is of course if you actually trust the information it gives you and you aren't a complete fool like me.

David Usher

Dave is a distinctly average golfer with (fading) aspirations to be so much more than that. An avid collector of vintage Ping putters and the world's biggest Payne Stewart fan, Dave turned his front garden into a giant putting green to work on the weakest area of his game, but sadly to date he has seen no improvement. In addition to his work reviewing golf gear for T3, Dave is also the founder and editor of Bang Average Golf TV website