Good things come in small packages and the Garmin Approach G12 hand held GPS certainly fits that description. The G12 is essentially a GPS golf watch aimed at golfers who don’t want to wear a watch while they play.
It’s a watch without a strap, so instead of wearing it on your wrist you can attach it to your clothes or golf bag, or even just slip it into your pocket as it’s so small and lightweight you’ll barely even know it’s there. My one sentence review is that if you want the functionality of an entry level golf watch without having the distraction of wearing it on your wrist, then the G12 is worth checking out. For a more detailed look at what it has to offer, read on.
Before you do though, if you want to assemble the best golf kit possible then read about the best golf balls, best golf bags, best golf shoes and the best drivers on T3. Don't let the bad weather deter you from playing your favourite sport: the best golf waterproofs will keep you dry, even if it's pouring down on the green. Speaking of greens, here’s our guide to the best putters.
But back on topic. The Garmin Approach G12 is one of the most compact, lightweight bits of golf tech on the market. It's a similar size to that poker chip ball marker you've been carrying around in your pocket for years even though the sticky label with whatever football team you support has long since washed away. Or is that just me?
But without further ado, here's everything you need to know about the Garmin Approach G12 hand held GPS what device suits you best. It might be the G12, but if you prefer a watch then check out our reviews of the Garmin Approach S62, the Garmin Approach S42, the Garmin Approach S12 and if money is no object then maybe you'll be tempted by the Garmin MARQ golfer.
But without further ado, here's everything you need to know about the Garmin Approach G12 hand held GPS.
Garmin Approach G12: Price and availability
The Garmin Approach G12 is not quite as widely available as the watches in the Garmin Approach range and you might not be able to find one in your local pro shop, but all major golf retailers will stock it in store and online.
Currently you can pick up a G12 in the UK for between £119 and £129 depending on availability and seasonal offers.
In the US you can expect to pay around $149 and in Australia you're looking at $229.
Garmin Approach G12: Features and interface
Garmin have upgraded most of their golf lines in the last couple of years. First the S60 was replaced with the S62, then a year later the S42 and S12 were launched as upgrades to the S40 and S10. At the same time, the G12 hand held GPS was named as the successor to the G10. While not being massively different, it does offer some significant improvements. Most notably it has a much better battery life and it can connect to the Garmin golf app via a bluetooth link to your smartphone.
The G12 is fairly simple to use and it doesn't take much time to get the hang of it. It has a clip to enable you to fasten it to your clothing, golf bag, hat etc and there are a number of useful features, all of which are golf related. There is no step counter or pulse monitor like you will find on the pricier Garmin offerings such as the S62 watch for example, which has a number of smart watch features that make it suitable to wear off the course.
The G12 isn't a watch and it isn't smart. It's all about golf, nothing else. Unlike GPS watches, this is a device you keep in your golf bag and it only comes out when you're playing. It's waterproof too so there's no need to worry about it when you're playing in a downpour.
It is controlled by four buttons. There is no touchscreen and the graphics are just basic black and white. On the right side you have an action button and a back button. The two buttons on the left hand side are used to scroll up and down through the menus, while the top left button also doubles as a power switch.
There are more golf features than you might expect from a basic entry level device. In addition to accurate yardages to front, middle and back of the green you also have access to key information about hazards and layup distances. You can keep score and record shot details, as well as track the distance. And if you purchase a set of Garmin CT10 club sensors you can pair those with the G12 and have much more detailed information on your shots.
The battery life is fantastic. 30 hours GPS on a full charge and around 10 weeks in normal watch mode. So if you’re on a golf break and are planning to play several rounds over the span of your stay, you won’t need to worry about charging the device as it can handle it with plenty to spare.
Garmin Approach G12: Performance (on the course)
I was impressed with how quickly the G12 identified which course I was playing. The S62 may be Garmin’s flagship golf watch, not to mention our choice for the best GPS golf watch, but it usually takes a good couple of minutes to identify where I am. The G12 locates it in about 20-30 seconds.
I played 18 holes at Beacon Park Golf Club using the Approach G12. Usually for a review I would play two or three rounds with a device but in this instance 18 holes was enough because this little gadget is so similar to the Approach S12 watch, which I’m very familiar with. The S12 is Garmin’s entry level offering to the golf GPS market and therefore lacks many of the cool features you will get with the more pricey options such as the S40, S42, S60 and S62 models. The G12 is basically an S12 without the strap, but both of them do a good job of getting you around the golf course with all the information you need.
Initially I didn’t know what to do with the G12 and I spent much of the round glancing at my wrist out of habit. Of course it wasn’t there as it isn’t a watch. So where did I put it? I know some golfers have attached it to their cap but I wasn’t wearing one that day so that option wasn’t available. So do I keep it in my pocket, attach it to my golf bag or hook it to my belt?
I decided I’d try all three to see which suited me best. After six holes with each I can say that the easiest and most efficient way to use the G12 is to keep it in your pocket, although had I been wearing a cap I think that would have worked out quite well too.
On the golf bag was ok for the most part but there are two problems. Firstly, I was completely paranoid that it would fall off and I’d end up having to traipse back down the fairways looking for it. And secondly, sometimes I wasn’t hitting my shot from next to the bag. If you miss a fairway and you’re in the trees for example, you won’t have an accurate yardage if your bag is sat on a trolley or buggy in the fairway.
Having it clipped to my belt was fine. It worked well, but I just find that it’s easier taking it out of a pocket than unclipping from a belt every time you want to check a distance or to enter your score after completing the hole.
So let me talk you through how the G12 works. Firstly, when you arrive at the course and power on the device, select the ‘play golf’ mode by pressing the action button (top right). This activates the GPS and the device will determine your location. As with all other Garmin Approach devices the G12 comes pre-loaded with over 42,000 courses so it will know where you are. You will be asked if you want to keep score and also which tees you are playing from. When you arrive on the first tee you will see three numbers. These represent the distance to the front, middle and back of the green.
Prior to starting your round you should also go through the settings option and ensure the functions you want are enabled. So things like scoring, shot tracking and penalties for example. I’d recommend activating ‘Big Numbers’ too as it makes life easier when you can see the numbers with just a quick glance.
As you look at the info for the hole, you can scroll down using the left buttons to get details on hazards and layups. This differs slightly from the S12 and other watches in the Approach range as usually ‘hazards and layups’ is a stand alone option in the menu, but on the G12 you could miss it if you aren't aware of how to find it.
A useful feature of the G12 that I find invaluable in any Garmin device I’ve used is the ‘last shot’ function. On some devices this is done automatically and as soon as you hit a shot and start walking the device will measure how many yards you have travelled until you reach your ball. On the S12 and G12 however you need to activate this feature manually.
Why should you do this? Two reasons really. Firstly it’s always good to know how far you have hit your tee shot, especially when you catch one nicely. Secondly, when you know how far you tend to hit from the tee it makes it easier to find your ball if you miss the fairway.
I’m accustomed to using devices that do this automatically so I will often forget to activate it manually, which can be frustrating. But having extensively tested the S12 recently I have gotten better at this and I did use the ‘last shot’ feature to good effect two or three times with the G12. Specifically when I missed the fairway and found trouble on the right (it’s always on the right with me). Twice it was trees and the third one was a ditch. I found my ball every time but only because I had activated ‘last shot’ on the tee as soon as I knew I’d found trouble. I know how far I usually carry a good drive so that narrows my search area down to around 10 yards. Without ‘last shot’ I’d have been searching a much bigger area.
Another feature I used is the ‘move flag’ option which, you guessed it, allows you to move the flag around the green to get a more precise yardage. There are various flag locations dotted around the green and you scroll through them via the bottom left button until you find the one closest to where you think the flag is. It isn’t something you will be able to use on every hole as it’s only useful when you have a clear view of the flag location. If you can’t see the base of the pin it’s best to use the front, middle or back yardage figure.
By pairing the G12 with your smartphone you are also able to compete against other Garmin users and see your place on the leaderboard. This sounds a lot more impressive than it is, as any time I have ‘competed’ I have either finished first or second, depending on whether there was another Garmin user playing the course that week or if it was just me!
Pro Tip 1: Big numbers mode is a handy way to see the distance to the middle of the green with a quick glance.
Pro Tip 2: Be sure to activate the ‘record shot’ feature before you leave the tee so you will have accurate distances for your drives.
Garmin Approach G12 Review: Verdict
If you really don’t like wearing a watch while playing golf then the G12 is a very handy solution. There are better alternatives out there, such as the Garmin Approach G80 for example which is an impressive GPS that doubles up as a portable launch monitor. As you would expect, that is considerably more expensive though.
For £120 the G12 gives you plenty of bang for your buck and because of its simplicity it won't intrude on your enjoyment of the round.