The Garmin S1 Approach Golf Watch: An endorsement with fear and loathing

January 26, 2012

I’ve used any number of golf GPS devices over the past decade, my club used to provide them on its carts (I prefer to walk, but I used to play with a group where most of the guys used carts and I play with friends who like to use carts so I go along to get along.), and a few years ago I picked up a basic Skycaddy model.

I have never really trusted them and if you’ve used one for any length of time you probably know why — I’ve stood in one place and watched the proffered distances oscillate by a factor of eight to 12 yards. If you use them to measure your drives (which I admit it mainly what I use them for), you can sometimes gain (or lose) up to 20 yards simply by waiting a minute.

I don’t know the science behind this but I imagine that the consumer level technology is still pretty raw — and gold GPS really is more a novelty than anything else. If you play a course (or courses) regularly, you pretty much know how far it is to the bunker on the right or whether you can carry the pond with a seven iron. I actually think their highest and best use is to disabuse guys who think they routinely crank it out there 300 yards. Most of the long hitters I know probably drive it more like 270 — at least on the soft fairways I play. If I carry it 250 I’ve hit it well.

On the other hand, I like golf GPS because it speeds up most players — or it speeds up most players who think they need precise yardages. Not having to look for a marker in the fairway is an advantage, and if, like me, you find yourself playing from interesting places you appreciate even the rough estimate they provide.

That said, I really like the new Garmin golf watch, which retails for $249 (and I bet it you could beat that by $50 or more if you really shop around). Not because it’s a better golf GPS device necessarily — it does seem more stable than the old SkyCaddy but I’m probably imagining that — but because I’m less likely to lose it on the course. Because you wear it like a watch.

I’ve played a few rounds with it now, and I haven’t left it on a tee marker yet.

It’s pretty basic, naturally (my buddy TMFW has a candy bar GPS model that I know he didn’t spend $100 on that has all the features of the Garmin) without any of the pretty photographic or color imagery of some devices. It gives you three numbers, the distance (in yards) to the front, center and back of the green that it assumes you’re playing to. (You can easily toggle ahead or back if you’d like, but it’s pretty good at keeping track of where you are (or should be) in the round.

It’s also got an odometer function, which you can use while you’re using it as a GPS device. And the battery life is at least adequate — unless you’re one of those criminals who plays nine hour rounds. (In non-GPS mode, the battery life is at least a couple of weeks.)

It comes pre-loaded with something like 14,000 courses, and presumably it’s upgradeable via the Internet (I haven’t had to try this feature out — every course I’ve used it on so far has been pre-loaded).

And with a touch of a button you can measure your shots — something that, this time of year, I find particularly helpful. I can maybe hit my eight iron about 166 yards when it’s 90 degrees and I’m loose and oily, when it’s 48 degrees, windy and my back is stiff, it’s anybody’s guess. (132? Wow, that’s depressing.)

Anyway, while I remain somewhat dubious about the utility of golf GPS devices for average players (if you really want a yardage, a laser range finder is more accurate, though harder to use), I can’t say I don’t enjoy playing with the Garmin on the course, and I’ve used the odometer function to measure our dog walking routes.

It’s kind of a bulky watch, but no more so than other sports watches (Garmin makes a watch for runner’s, the $350 Forerunner that looks virtually identical. It can track your distance, pace and heart rate as well as your GPS location.)

And, as a timepiece, it’s perfect. (Just like your phone.) It’s apparently set by satellites.

It’s also less dorky than the golf watch I tried out a couple of years ago, that was made by some Scandinavian company and endorsed by Davis Love III. That one purported to measure your swing speed, the length of your backswing and your swing-to-swing consistency. I don’t know if it worked that well, only that iit was almost impossible to change its batteries (which it went through like )

And while I’ve only had the Garmin a few weeks, about the only thing I can warn you about is the slightly awkward charging system which requires you to line up four contacts on the back of the watch with these prongs in this odd-looking clip. Fortunately that’s easier to do than it sounds, though I was nervous I wasn’t charging the watch the first time I tried it. (Though if I’d read the instructions, I’d have known that when the face of the watch switches from the digital clock mode and reads “Garmin” it was charging.)

Consider this an endorsement with fear and loathing — the Garmin is the best product of its type I’ve yet seen. If it speeds up play I’m all for it. But unless you need another wristwatch, it’s really just a toy.


  • Comment by tmfw — Jan 26,2012 at 6:41 pm

    You’re off by 60 bucks as I recall…..

  • Comment by Philip Martin — Jan 27,2012 at 10:00 am

    I thought you got a deal on it. Sorry.

  • Comment by Uncleredeye — Jan 27,2012 at 7:01 pm

    All of these gadjets are fine, but my B & L laser has destroyed my ability to estimate distances which, I seem to recall, was half the fun in the milieu in which I swim. Anymore, I’ll stop the game and drive back home if I forget the dang thing.

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