The Garmin Approach S42 is certainly in the discussion when it comes to the best GPS golf watch on the market today. It lacks some of the features you will find on the more expensive watches but that is reflected in the price and when it comes to meeting a golfer’s on course needs the S42 certainly delivers. My short verdict is that it’s great. Read on and I’ll tell you why.
Before you do you might want to check out my guides to the best golf shoes, best waterproofs and best golf bags. Want to read about clubs? No problem, I have you covered there too with guides to the best driver, best iron sets, best wedges, best hybrids and best putters.
But back to the matter at hand, or in this case at wrist. Garmin make great golf products. I carry in my bag a Garmin Approach Z82 Range Finder and it’s an amazing bit of kit, but watches are Garmin’s bread and butter.
I’ve previously tested the luxury Garmin MARQ Golfer and the extremely impressive Garmin Approach S62 (my current golf watch of choice) so I knew the mid price range S42 was not going to give me the same functionality. Nevertheless, I was keen to ensure that would not cloud my judgement. I needn’t have worried, the S42 might not quite have all of the bells and whistles of the top of the line Garmin offerings but it has everything a golfer needs to navigate around 18 holes.
It actually shares many of the features you will find on the S62 but there are some significant omissions, which I will get to shortly. That’s understandable of course, as the S42 comes in around half the price. Don’t let the price fool you though. Half the cost doesn’t mean half as good. Not on the golf course anyway, which is where this watch really excels.
Garmin Approach S42: Price and availability
The S42 is widely available and if you shop around you can pick up a good deal, especially in the UK where several online retailers are offering significant discount. The RRP is £269.99 but currently you can find them as low as £219 online.
In the US you can expect to pay $299 and in Australia you're looking at $449.
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Garmin Approach S42: Features and interface
The S42 is one of Garmin’s best value golf watches and is the successor to the highly popular Approach S40. It has a larger screen and vastly increased battery life than the S40, but the golf functions aren’t too much different. In effect, you’re paying extra for the superior battery, as the S42 provides 15 hours in full GPS mode. That’s impressive and is more than enough even if you’re playing 36 holes.
The S42 is at its most effective when helping you around the golf course but it also has smart watch capability too. You can receive smart notifications (calls, text, WhatsApp, twitter etc) and there is a step counter too which is a nice feature. It also has sleep tracking capability. Garmin Pay is not included with the S42 however.
While having notifications is useful, the problem with it is that you get notifications on everything. You can't pick and choose. So instead of just getting calls and texts, you'll have notifications for Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp... everything. That can be a little annoying and I opted to switch them off and just keep my phone in my pocket to occasionally check.
The interface is very easy to use although it will take a little time to become fully versed in the many features on offer. The simplicity comes from the single button set up which is unlike most other Garmin devices. The touchscreen allows you to scroll through the various functions and works extremely well even in wet conditions.
Garmin Approach S42: Performance (on the course)
My familiarity with the S62 meant that it wouldn’t take me long to get myself accustomed with this watch as many of the features are the same. If you have not used a GPS golf watch before, or if you are upgrading from a more basic model then it will take you a little while to get fully up to speed. Not because it's complicated - far from it - but the sheer amount of features packed into this watch will take a little time to become familiar with.
It may even take you three or four rounds to become totally comfortable with everything but don’t let that put you off as the juice is definitely worth the squeeze.
There are some features on the S62 that are not present in this, which was a little distracting at times until I got used to it. For example, the hole map you get on the S62 is not there, instead it's just numbers showing the distance to the front, middle and back of the green. You're getting the same information, it's just presently differently and a lot less impressively.
As mentioned above, the S42 only has one action button whereas I’m used to having three. It doesn’t make any real difference to the performance of the watch (if anything it simplifies things) but I had to stop and think a bit more about what I was doing until I got used to it. The display for maps and hazards is more basic than on other watches I've used but it's easy to read and you can access whatever information you need in a couple of seconds.
So let’s go through how a typical round will go. You arrive at the golf course and click the action button which brings up the golf menu.
Use the touchscreen to select ‘Play Golf’ and the built in GPS will quickly determine your location. Garmin products come with over 42,000 courses preloaded so wherever you are playing, it will almost certainly know.
The first decision you need to make is whether or not to keep score. If you choose not to then the watch acts as a GPS and provides yardages. If you do keep score you can either sync with the app on your smartphone during play or wait until afterwards. If you are keeping score but change your mind mid-round you can simply end the round and discard the data, leaving no evidence of your shame. A handy feature I’ve taken advantage of many more times than I care to admit.
You then enter which tees you will be playing from and it will bring up the hole information. Whereas some GPS watches show a map of the hole, with the S42 you just get three numbers (see below), which represent the distance to the front, middle and back of the green.
By pressing the action button you will be presented with another list of functions. Hazards and Layups, Move Flag, Change Hole, Scorecard, Round Info, Last Shot, Club Stats, Save Location, Sunrise & Sunset and finally End Round.
One significant feature I am used to that the S42 lacks is shot tracking. With the S62 you are prompted after each shot to enter the club you used and the data will all be synced with your online Garmin account afterwards. While the S42 does not have this built in, there is the option of pairing it with Garmin Approach CT10 club sensors, which essentially achieves the same thing. The S62 just cuts out the middle man.
Shot tracking is not something that will appeal to everybody. Many golfers just want to record their score and have access to yardages to the pin and hazards. You get that in great detail with the S42.
So let me walk you through a few holes on my local course and explain how the S42 helps me navigate my way around.
On the first tee the watch tells me the distance to the hole (giving me front, middle and back yardages). It’s a par four so I can’t reach it from the tee, but the information is still useful because if I choose to lay up off the tee to leave myself a specific distance for my second shot, this number gives me a good idea which club to hit.
Laying up isn’t my thing though so I’m hitting driver. Hitting fairways isn’t my thing either, I’m an expert at finding trouble off the tee so that where ‘Hazards and Layups” is useful. There are trees all the way up the left and there’s a water hazard there too. By pressing the action button and scrolling down on the touchscreen I can go through all of the potential trouble and know exactly how far away they all are. The water hazard on the left is 190 yards away but the fairway slopes down towards it. With a good drive it isn’t in play but if I don’t catch it flush then anything left is going in there.
The solution therefore is to aim right then. Except there are two tall trees and another water hazard on the right. As I scroll through the hazards listed on the watch I can see that the trees are 160 yards away so not really in play if I hit a good drive. The trees are tall though so it’s not an easy carry, but based on the information I have the percentage play is to aim up the right centre of the fairway. Left is not an option but I know if I go further right than I’d like I should still be able to carry the trees and land in the wide open space behind them.
That’s exactly what happened. I hit a nice, high drive but it had more cut on than I’d have liked. It cleared the trees and left me in decent shape. For my second shot I have 127 yards left to the centre with no hazards to worry about. I can see that the pin is at the front left of the green and a cool thing about the S42 is the ‘Move Flag’ function which means I can use the touchscreen to drag the pin location around the display of the green and it will give me an accurate yardage. I need to hit this around 122 yards, so an easy nine iron.
I find the back right of the green and then three putt for bogey. The S42 prompts me to enter my score and then it asks for the number of putts, any penalties incurred and whether I hit the fairway or missed right or left. When the information is added it moves to the next hole. So onto the second tee. A short hole with bunkers on the right of the green and a ditch that the S42 shows me runs about 15 yards short of it. The pin is in the centre of the green so no need to drag it around on the touchscreen. 123 yards, so nine iron again. Nice shot, fifteen feet away and two putts later I’m entering a par on the watch.
You get the picture, so I’ll fast forward to the ninth green where I miss a six foot birdie putt. I enter the information required and the watch brings up the score for nine holes. Four over par, I’ve got a good round going here. It asks if I want to continue. I probably shouldn’t. The prudent move would be to enter my nine hole score and quit while the going is good. Instead I hit continue.
If you choose to skip a few holes you can use the ‘Change Hole’ option to simply scroll to whichever hole you are playing, while clicking ‘Round Info’ will tell you how many steps you have taken as well as your distance covered and how long your round has taken. Other watches will give you more health and fitness options but if you just want a basic step counter then this is a nice feature of the S42.
My back nine wasn’t great but a final score of 82 (12 over par) is respectable enough for a golfer of my distinctly average ability. I select ‘End Round’ and save my score, which can then be synced to my Garmin golf account using a free app on my smartphone.
A couple of times on the back nine the watch really came to my aid. Most notably on a blind third shot over trees on a par five when I wouldn’t have had a clue what club to use but for the yardage number provided by the S42. The tee shot on the same hole requires a shot over a ditch that runs the full width of the fairway. I know that I can just about carry it because it’s my local course, but if I was playing it for the first time then the watch would have been an invaluable aid with that shot.
The ‘Sunrise & Sunset’ option is something I find useful, especially in the summer when the mornings and nights are lighter. Knowing exactly what time the sun comes up and goes down makes it much easier to plan your tee time.
Pro Tip 1: For more accurate yardages you can use the touchscreen to drag the flag around the green to better reflect the pin position.
Pro Tip 2: Worried about whether you can reach that lake or not? Scroll through ‘Hazards and Layups’ to find out the distance to the front of the hazard. Or if you’re a long hitter you might want to know the distance to clear it.
Garmin S42: Build quality and design
It's a nice looking, good quality watch that you can easily wear away from the course as well as on it. The 1.2 inch touchscreen is designed for maximum visibility even on the sunniest of days.
The 20mm silicone strap isn't as thick or soft as you will find on the more expensive watches in the Garmin range but it has a nice feel to it on the wrist.
Replacement bands in different colours are available if you want to mix things up a bit and you don't need to go with silicone. If you prefer something different then Garmin offer suede, leather, nylon and milanese alternatives.
Garmin S42 Review: Verdict
This is a great watch for the price point. You get loads of features, great battery life and it's stylish enough that you can wear it in the clubhouse afterwards too.
Should you buy it? Well that depends on your budget. If you have that bit extra to spend then the S62 is probably a better choice as it's just that bit more high end in terms of build quality and extra functions. If you're on a tight budget then you might want to look at the S40 which is still readily available (for now at least) and now retailing at a knock down price.
When it comes to golf watches in the mid-price range though you will struggle to beat the Garmin Approach S42 so it's two big thumbs up from me.