Garmin Approach S12 review: a good GPS golf watch at a great price

The Garmin Approach S12 is the best entry level GPS golf watch on the market but it does cost a little bit more than the competition. Is it worth the extra? Absolutely.

Garmin Approach S12 GPS Golf Watch
(Image credit: Future)
T3 Verdict

The Garmin Approach S12 lacks the bells and whistles of the brand’s more expensive offerings but as a pure golf watch and nothing else it delivers the goods at an affordable price.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Very accurate yardages

  • +

    Good value for money

  • +

    Lightweight and comfortable to wear

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Basic black and white graphics and no touchscreen

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If you want a golf watch that does the basics at a good price, then the Approach S12 from Garmin could be the one for you. It will give you very accurate distance information and it doesn’t over complicate things by giving you the kind of snazzy graphics and numerous features you get with the more expensive Garmin offerings.

The S12 is the successor to the popular S10 model and while it does not offer much of an upgrade in features, Garmin have done a great job in keeping what worked well on the S10 and improving on the things that didn't, making the S12 a definitely contender for the best GPS golf watch

So, the end result is a watch with an improved, larger screen that you can read even in the brightest sunlight (this was a common complaint about the S10) and a massively increased battery life. Additionally, the watch looks superior and comes equipped with Garmin's quick release bands, which means you have the option of changing the colour of the straps and mixing things up.  

When it comes to golf tech, and specifically GPS, Garmin are one of the leading names and they have all bases covered, from watches to portable launch monitors. Speaking of which, if you're looking for a useful practice aid to accompany you down at your local driving range, you might want to check out my comparison of the Garmin Approach R10 v the Garmin Approach G80.

Additionally, I've compiled a handy list of the best Garmin watches for golf and I also reviewed the fantastic Garmin Approach Z82 GPS laser range finder, which is definitely one of my favourite golf gadgets of recent years. 

Watches are Garmin's bread and butter though so without further ado let's take an in depth look at what the Approach S12 can and can't do.

The S12 is Garmin’s entry level offering in the golf watch market so naturally it lacks many of the features you might associate with the brand. It is very much a ‘golf watch’ and unlike other watches in the Approach range it doesn’t really double up as anything else. That is reflected in the price. This watch is roughly half the price of the Approach S42 and around a third of what can expect to pay for the Approach S62. 

Given the significant difference in price there is always going to be a significant drop off in functionality but I found that the S12 did a good job of getting me around the course. It does the basics well and it’s easy to use. 

I put the S12 through its paces for a total of three full rounds, two at Hurlston Hall Golf Club and the other at Beacon Park Golf Club to see how it performed.

Would I recommend it? Read on and see.

Garmin Approach S12 GPS Golf Watch

(Image credit: Future)

Garmin Approach S12: Price and availability

The S12 is available in all major golf retail outlets in store and online and it is the cheapest of the Garmin Approach GPS watch range. Currently you can pick up an S12 in the UK for between £119 and £139 depending on availability and seasonal offers.  

In the US you can expect to pay around $199 and in Australia you're looking at $299.

Buy Garmin Approach S12 for £119 from Golf Online in the UK

• Buy Approach S12 for $199 direct from Garmin in the US

• Buy Approach S12 in Australia from Garmin for $299. 

• The best golf gifts – for the golfer in your life (even if it's you)

Garmin Approach S12 GPS Golf Watch

(Image credit: Future)

Garmin Approach S12: Features and interface 

As mentioned above, the new and improved display on the S12 is clear and sunlight readable. In fact, I found that it is easier to read in the glaring sun than it is indoors, when the display was a little on the dark side. The interface was simple enough to use once I got used to the fact it wasn’t a touchscreen and that four buttons are needed to navigate around. Having mostly used other, more premium Garmin watches this took a bit of adjusting for me.

If you haven’t used a golf watch before or if the watch you have isn’t touchscreen either, this won’t be an issue. Touchscreen is useful but far from essential, especially when features are limited.

The S12 will update as you play so it always knows where you are on the course and the distances provided are highly accurate. In that regard it is every bit as effective as Garmin's top of the line golf watches such as the MARQ golfer and the Garmin Approach S62

The interface is basic. The screen is black and white, which means it doesn’t look as fancy as the flashy colour screened watches but this is purely aesthetics and doesn’t detract from what the watch can do on the course. You’re getting accurate information, it’s just presented in a somewhat basic manner.

Like most tech, it’s fairly easy to use when you become familiar with it but I found this trickier to get the hang of than the higher end Garmin offerings. While the S12 has less features and therefore should be easier to use, the four button set up and lack of touchscreen does make it a little clunky, at least until you become familiar with it.

The S12 comes with over 42,000 golf courses preloaded and as well as giving you super accurate distance information to greens, hazards and doglegs. You can keep score as you go and then upload to your Garmin Connect account afterwards via there free app open your smartphone.

While the S12 does not have the built in shot tracking you will find in some other watches in the Garmin Approach range, it is compatible with Approach CT10 club sensors (sold separately) so you can still keep tabs on how far you are hitting with each club as well as having access to other useful data.

Garmin Approach GPS Golf Watch

(Image credit: Future)

Garmin Approach S12: Performance (on the course)

Firstly, I was impressed with how quickly the S12 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 that I’m playing Beacon Park. The S42 is similar. So imagine my surprise when the S12 located it in about 20 seconds. It wasn’t a fluke either, every time I used the S12 it was quick to identify the course I was on.

So that was a good start. The next step is the same as every other Garmin watch I’ve used. You select whether you wish to keep score and then enter which tee you will be playing from. Then it brings up the yardage to the first hole. You get the distances to front middle and back of the green, plus a little graphic of the green itself. 

Garmin Approach S12 GPS Golf Watch

(Image credit: Future)

The S12 lacks several features which I take for granted having reviewed both the Approach S62 and Approach S42 and used them extensively. So going from the higher end of the range to the lowest priced option took some getting used to. The S12 does have the capacity to measure your shot but unlike the higher end devices it does not do it automatically, you need to manually do it. I played three full rounds with the S12 and never got the hang of this. I kept forgetting to do it.

Why is this feature important? Mainly off the tee. I don’t think it adds much on approach shots but when you’ve hit driver it’s good to know how far it went, especially when you hot a good one. There is another, more practical use for this function too. If you know how far you carry the ball with driver then it makes life a lot easier when you hit into the trees or rough. It narrows the search area down considerably.

The S12 does have the capacity to do this and it’s a simple process. You just select ‘record shot’ after you’ve hit your drive and it will begin counting the yards. The only difficult part is remembering to do it, but if you haven’t used a watch where it is done automatically then it will be a lot easier. 

By pressing either of the two buttons on the left you will have access to a layout of the hole showing all of the distances to hazards and layups. The graphics are very basic but the numbers are spot on and that’s the important thing. Fancy colour graphics are great and all, but the numbers don’t change and the S12 gave me all the information I needed. It’s very comfortable on the wrist too as it’s extremely lightweight and does not impact on your swing at all. 

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. This is a feature which is easier use on a touchscreen but it still works quite well without it. 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.

Speaking of which, ‘big numbers’ mode is the best way to do that. With ‘big numbers’ enabled you can see the figure just with a quick glance at the wrist. I liked that feature a lot.

Recording your score is easy too. You will enter how many strokes, putts and penalties, as well as if you hit the fairway or missed right or left. At the end of the round you can save your score and it will sync with your smartphone and the data will be recorded in your Garmin Connect account.

One other big plus is that the battery life is crazy. From a full charge I used the S12 for three rounds of golf in a week, without every switching it off, and there was still plenty of juice left in it. Garmin say you can get 30 hours out of the S12 in GPS mode and my experience of it would confirm that. Impressive.

Pro Tip 1: Big numbers mode is a handy way to see the distance to the middle of the green with a quick glance at your wrist.

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 S12 GPS Golf Watch

(Image credit: Future)

Garmin S12 Review: Verdict

The S12 will appeal to anyone who wants to avoid paying a few hundred quid for a golf watch and does not mind having something fairly basic. It is accurate, reliable, easy to use and it’s a nice looking watch if you are using it just for golf. 

It’s a little too basic for me as it lacks some of the functions I require in a golf watch, but that’s just a personal preference and having played three full rounds with it I can confidently say that the S12 will suit the needs of most average golfers who are just looking for a cheap GPS watch to tell them how far away from the hole they are.

My advice would be that if you can pay a bit extra then you should be looking at an Approach S40 or S42, but if you are on a strict budget then you won’t go wrong with an S12.

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