The short answer is “very accurate” but let’s go a bit deeper and explain what exactly makes golf GPS watches very accurate.
Before we begin, one of the most important things we must say at this juncture is that there are at least a dozen manufacturers making GPS watches in the US alone. The total number of manufacturers is obviously much higher when you account for other Western World GPS product manufacturers and Korea, China, and Japan-based manufacturers. The high number of manufacturers means one thing: that the quality of products on the market must also be varied.
So if you have ever heard guys bashing golf GPS watches, you should know that they most probably bought a device from the wrong manufacturer. The best and most accurate golf watch is out there just waiting to enhance your golfing experience. All you’ve got to do is to find it.
Understanding the accuracy of golf GPS watches
The accuracy of golf GPS watches mainly depends on the accuracy of the GPS technology itself. The good news is that the United States government, which owns the GPS technology, is committed to ensuring that the GPS signals being transmitted meet certain accuracy standards.
The main standard that the government has committed to is to always broadcast GPS radio signals with an average user range error (URE) of no more than 7.8 meters. As of 2016, the government noted that the satellites have a much smaller URE of no more than 0.72 meters, ninety-five percent of the time. Which means the accuracy of the signals being transmitted at any given time is to the meter.
Nevertheless, the URE is not the only factor that determines the actual accuracy of the figure displayed on the receiver. Several other factors also play an important role.
The factors include satellite geometry (the location of GPS satellites in relation to your position), atmospheric conditions, signal blockage, and the quality of the receiver.
Satellite geometry is important as it helps with the trilateration calculation to find your position. Signal blockage is also obviously an important factor. If the path between the satellites and your receiver is blocked by trees, a building, or any other thing, it is unlikely that you will get accurate readings or any readings at all.
Atmospheric conditions such solar storms, heavy rains and thunderstorms may also interfere with radio signals and affect the accuracy or the function of a GPS receiver such as a golfing GPS watch.
But perhaps the most important factor in the context of this post is the design of the receiver. The receiver, in this case, refers to golf watches. Receivers with the right design are more likely to be more accurate than those without the wrong design.
The good news is that most GPS watches are made of the same type of receiver. Thus, under normal conditions, they are all usually quite accurate. However, when other factors come into play such as the overall design of the watch and so on, the accuracy varies from one device to another. Nevertheless, most devices will likely be accurate to within a 5-meter radius. This is fairly accurate by most measures and perfect for golfing.
The things that may cause your GPS watch to be inaccurate and how to avoid them
There are a dozen and one things that may make your GPS golf watch inaccurate. Some of these things can be avoided while others will help you to know the reason why your watch may show accurate distances in the open but inaccurate distances when in the car or in your golf cart.
The biggest cause of inaccuracy in distance measurement is signal blockage. Golfers under trees, in their cars, or in the club building, will most probably get an error message or inaccurate distances when they try using their golf watches from such locations.
To avoid this, all you’ve got to do is to make sure you are out in the open and that there is nothing physically blocking satellite signals from getting to your watch.
The second biggest cause of inaccuracy is poor receiver design. The are dozens of manufacturers out there who make watches that do not meet the set standards. Thus, GPS signals do not get received or are received but do not get interpreted the right way.
To avoid this, you should only buy golf watches from the top manufacturers with a good reputation and positive ratings. Top manufacturers are more likely to make better quality watches/ receivers.
Mapping errors are the third biggest cause of inaccuracy in golf watch distance measurement. Quite a number of golf GPS watches have good receivers but plenty of mapping errors resulting in inaccurate distance measurements.
Avoiding mapping errors is simply a matter of identifying and sticking with the manufacturers who have a reputation of making accurate and comprehensive golf course maps. However, determining the reputation of a company with regards to the accuracy of its maps may be a bit difficult to do from the comfort of your home. Nevertheless, knowing that the more powerful/ popular a company is the more likely it is to make accurate maps, makes it easier to guess which manufacturers make devices with the least mapping errors.
Some other significant but less common factors that may reduce or interfere with the accuracy of your watch include reflected signals, radio jamming or interference, solar storms, satellite maintenance, and bad weather. There is really nothing you can do about any of these things. You’ve just got to wait them out.
How to find the most accurate GPS watches plus some examples
The easiest way to find the most accurate GPS watches is to check out our reviews. We always make sure we cover accuracy in every review. Usually, we state how accurate a watch is on its own or in comparison with similar devices to give our readers a pretty good idea of the accuracy level of the device we are reviewing.
Some of the most accurate golf GPS watches we have reviewed include the Garmin Approach S20, the Bushnell Neo Ion 2, and the SkyGolf Linx GT. These watches are not only the most accurate but also some of the bestselling ones.
There are multiple factors that affect watch accuracy. They include satellite user range error (URE), signal blockage, receiver quality, and atmospheric conditions. There is really nothing you can do about URE and atmospheric conditions. You can only address signal blockage and receiver quality. Signal blockage can largely be avoided by ensuring that there is nothing blocking the direct path between your watch and satellites, while receiver quality can be predetermined by buying only good quality golf watches from top manufacturers. Top manufacturers almost always make quality receivers.