I think Robin Williams has it right in his famous “Robin Williams on Golf” bit (warning: f-bomb’s aplenty in this video). When I golf, it’s more a matter of survival than enjoyment for the most part. If a course is 7,000 yards, I walk 8,000 – most of it off the nice grass fairways. I pack so many balls in my bag I can hardly carry it, but the bag’s nice and light by the end. There’s one course near where I live that I’ve played probably a dozen times and there’s one fairway I’ve never hit a ball from.
I’m not very good at golf.
But I have some friends who are very good at golf and relatives who live and breathe golf, so when I got the opportunity to test out Garmin’s Approach S1 GPS golf watch I jumped at it. No point in me testing the Approach S1 out – it’d just tell me where I should be! I enlisted the help of two of my friends, both avid golfers with lots of experience using GPS devices on the course.
Garmin makes two wristwatch type units designed for golfers, the Approach S1 and the new touchscreen Approach S3. Either one would make a spectacular gift for the golfer in your life. Widely available, the Approach S1 retails for about $250 CAD, while the Approach S3 retails for about $350 CAD.
The Approach S1 we tested was preloaded with US courses – not too much use in the Great White North unless one was headed south on a golf vacation. After a few minor bumps I downloaded the latest Canadian courses into the watch and we were in business. I had some initial trouble finding the local courses around where I live, but eventually got it straightened out – turns out the problem was most likely a PICNIC (Problem In Chair, Not In Computer).
The Approach S1 can probably best be described as a basic GPS enabled watch. You arrive at the course, press “Start Round” and the watch searches for GPS satellites. Once it finds them, it tells you what course you’re on and you select “Start”. You get the information on the hole you’re playing – yardage for a pin placement at the front, middle or back of the green (not that that ever made a difference to me). It measures shot distance and is waterproof – a feature I need while I retrieve my ball from the drink.
The Approach S3 offers a larger, better definition touchscreen that offers users the ability to physically move the pin placement on the screen to more accurately represent where the pin actually is. It offers a lot more courses from around the world, unlike the S1, which is restricted to Canada and the US. The S3 lets you keep track of your score on a scoreboard and you can download them to your computer afterward to keep an accurate record to figure your handicap out. It even keeps track of Stableford scoring – something that absolutely mystified me.
The Approach S1 weighs in at 52 g with batteries, while the S3 weighs 58.5 g, the S1 has a 64 x 32 pixel display, the S3 128 x 128 pixels. Standby time is three weeks for the S1 and four weeks for the S3, while both offer 7 hours of GPS use. Both watches are 4.5cm W x 6.9cm H x 1.4cm D, and the watch face is 2.54cm in diameter. A Lithium-ion rechargeable battery powers both.
Neither the Approach S1 nor the Approach S3 can keep track of your stats – like putts per round etc., nor do they show you a map of the course.
Where they really stand out is in their flexibility – they’re nice-sized wristwatches with sturdy, comfortable bands. The convenience of having a device on your wrist to keep the time, tell you where you are and how far from the pin, and even keep a running total of how far you’ve walked, is a very compelling reason to buy either of these devices.
Pricing puts them well within the reach of most golfers and no serious golfer would ever be without golf GPS of some sort.
PROS: Approach S1: lightweight; waterproof; comfortable; easily to tell how far you’re from the pin. Approach S3: lightweight and waterproof; touch screen interface adds much more exacting measurements.
CONS: Some might think there aren’t enough features in either one to warrant buying; getting the software up and running on the S1 was a bit of a challenge initially, but dead easy when done right.
CONCLUSION: If I were a better golfer, I would definitely have one of these GPS watches. They offer a decided advantage in club selection and give the user the opportunity for better course management skills – a worthwhile investment.