After months of suffering the indignity of watching your rangefinder-wielding buddies dial in exact yardages to the pin while your approach shots continue to fall short or soar long, maybe youre finally ready to drop the hundreds of bucks necessary to get a laser yardage finder or GPS device of your very own.
If so, hold the phone a second.
If that smartphone youre packing is an iPhone or comparable model of BlackBerry, take a long, lingering look at GreenFinder GPS, a low-cost, low-frills, downloadable app by Itinerant Software based in London, Ont., that uses global positioning technology and accurate, pre-existing measurements from more than 11,000 golf courses in Canada, the U.S. and around the world.
The Black Course at Bethpage State Park, home of the 2009 U.S. Open? Yep. Pebble Beach, where theyll play it next year? You betcha. Glen Abbey, the scene of the upcoming RBC Canadian Open? Natch. Hayseed Pastures Backwoods Golf and Auto Wreckers? Quite possibly _ all for a ridiculously low $35 a year.
In the old days, the knock against software-based GPS systems was the availability of courses. Those days are clearly over, judging by how difficult it is to stump the GreenFinder system. Unless you play nothing but backyard goat tracks and farm pastures, its a safe bet the course you play most often will be available using the software. Even if it isnt, there are ways to make it happen _ either by notifying Itinerant directly or by entering your own waypoints the next time you play.
The only real downside to GreenFinder, of course, is the lack of visuals. Expensive GPS systems like SkyCaddie and the Callaway uPro give users a handy overhead perspective on the hole theyre playing (the uPro in particular, which actually features video flyovers) _ undoubtedly an advantage when trying to determine how to play a hole, particularly on an unfamiliar course.
But if youre an old-schooler whos generally playing the same tracks time and again and like to get by with numbers like carry distances and the measurement to the front, centre and back of the green, GreenFinder GPS is all you need _ on a device you probably already have (and, if youre like me, end up looking at a dozen times over the course of a round anyway).
Play 10 different courses in a single season and at $35 a year, were talking about something that costs less than a Pocket Pro for each layout.
Arrive at your course and fire up the GreenFinder, and it will ask you if you want to locate a course using the GPS. Click Yes and the software starts comparing its database of courses against your co-ordinates, and if it finds the course youre at, it will usually be listed first. Otherwise, its usually just a scroll and a click away.
With a friendly admonition to play well, youre on your way. Hit the first tee and GreenFinder gives you carry yardages to any hazards in play, and with a flick of the finger, your distance from the front, middle and back of the green. Just don’t ask it to help you hit the ball.
“My game was atrocious,” GreenFinder spokesman Andy Sherbin said of a recent round, “but at least I knew how far I must have hit to wind up in the “pond on right.”
One fun feature is you dont have to be playing golf to have fun with GreenFinder. Case in point: My living room armchair is just shy of 28,000 yards from the front edge of the first green at Eagles Nest Golf Club, which is just north of Toronto. Number 1 green at Bethpage is more than 637,000 yards away.
If youre already packing the appropriate phone, GreenFinder really is a no-brainer for the committed or regular player whos content to work with just the basic numbers and doesnt need fancy graphics or laser precision to calibrate how far they need to hit the ball.
The Gear Head has for a number of years now been packing a Bushnell laser rangefinder, which is designed primarily to provide yardage to the pin itself _ something the GreenFinder cant do, since pins move around. Having yardages to the front, centre and the back, however, is the next best thing, and if youre packing both devices, you can paint a complete by-the-numbers picture of the hole youre trying to play.
The nicest thing about the GreenFinder is how effortless it is to use. Lasers can be finicky and demand a steady hand; all one needs to do with the smartphone is scroll between fairway and green in order to get carry yardages and distances to the green. Once you get your round underway, you dont even need to cycle through – the GreenFinder is smart enough to know that once youre past a certain distance, youve moved on to the next tee, and changes the hole accordingly.
During one of our test rounds _ Royal Ashburn Golf Club, a personal fave and home to the Canadian Tours fall qualifier, north of Ajax, Ont., northeast of Toronto _ a playing partner wielding the SkyCaddie system was calling out yardages that were consistently identical or within a yard or two of the numbers coming off the GreenFinder.
While GPS-enabled BlackBerrys and iPhones comprise the bulk of the GreenFinder-friendly devices that are already plying fairways across North America, the software is also available for units with global-positioning technology running the Windows Mobile operating system. An Android version is also in the works.
Cant find your course? No problem – just let the GreenFinder folks know and theyll do what they can to get it into the database. Or, next time youre out, just mark off the appropriate waypoints yourself and theyll be there waiting for you the next time you play.
One caveat, however: If you normally play at a ritzy country club that enforces a strict no-phones policy on the course, youre liable to run afoul of the authorities (and you know what that’s like, especially if you’re a guest). Best course of action would be to check with the pro shop first and find out if they’ll make an exception for a device using GPS software.
And if not, let them know they’ll want to think the issue through a little – this is a handy-as-hell little perk of the modern age that is not going to go away any time soon.