Little did I know I’d wandered in the dark for so many years.
Even in the midst of shiny fairways and glistening white sand bunkers on those sun-drenched days on the course, I played golf for decades in a veil of ignorance and confusion.
That all changed recently when I made the biggest golf purchase of my life: the Garmin Approach Z82. At $ 500, it’s one of the most expensive golf rangefinders on the market after it went on sale on Father’s Day, lowering it from its usual $ 600 price tag.
OK what drew me to this wasteful spending place? I’ve never been much into golf equipment. I’m not even that much into gear. I still play Titleist DCI 962 irons from the early 90’s. My Callaway FT-i driver was old enough for a bar mitzvah last year.
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How did this happen? How did I suddenly go from a curmudgeon Luddite to Al Czervik, Rodney Dangerfield’s rowdy, lavish character in “Caddyshack”? Or worse, Judge Smails?
The truth is, I had a revelation in May when I played my first round at the Stoatin Brae near Battle Creek. The course was great and I played pretty well. After chipping for birdie on the 12th hole, I brushed a drive on the 13th hole, leaving me about 140 yards to an uphill green. The course has an app you can download to help with the removal, but I couldn’t get the app to work. I couldn’t feel the wind off the fairway and had no idea how deep the green was. I flushed an 8 iron – right over the green. I did double bogey.
It was the same on the next hole, a short par 3 from a raised tee box. I washed another short iron – over the green, just past the trailing edge. Leprechaun.
That’s when I knew I needed help. I had to stop flying blind and cheating on myself for good performance. It is hard enough to hit a golf swing accurately, so it is especially evacuated when you take that swing only to negate that effort with complicated environmental calculations.
After that bogey on the par-3, I knew I was going to buy the best rangefinder I could get. But which one? There are so many rangefinders out there that choosing one is daunting. I figured I’d go for the most popular Bushnell model, but I had to choose between the Tour V5 Shift, which offers incline technology to account for elevation changes, and the hybrid, which has no incline but has GPS that provides information about dangers and green depths. Each costs $ 400.
Then I came across Garmin. Known for its GPS technology, the company offered slope and, of course, GPS. But what won me over was that it has a 2-dimensional overlay map of each hole on 42,000 pre-installed courses. This means you can preview the entire hole with precise distances for carry and layups before you tee off. And with GPS, it automatically loads the course when you drive into the parking lot.
But Garmin is more than that. Its viewfinder is very different from most rangefinders. Instead of a binocular-style magnified lens, the Garmin has a high-resolution OLED color screen that makes it seem like you’re playing a video game with all of the color graphics on the rectangular screen.
I tried it on a course I’d never played before: Arthur Hills’ The Legacy in Ottawa Lake. I was blown away by the graphics, information and how quickly it woke up from GPS standby mode.
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But there was one big unexpected bonus: the Approach Z82 has Bluetooth, which allows you to connect it to your phone using the Garmin Golf app. When you do this you will get a wind indicator. The Legacy is on farmland and there was a steady and challenging wind of 12 miles per hour throughout the loop. I still dipped a gap wedge in the water on the island green of the eighth hole. But that was all my fault for under-clubbing. I’m not blaming the caddy for that.
And this is how the Approach Z82 feels: a caddy. And not just that high school kid carrying your bag and cleaning your golf ball. A caddy that tells you how the hole plays, where the wind is coming from and, thanks to a cool feature called “PinPointer”, tells you where the flag is when you hit it blindly.
In fact, once I got used to the device after a few holes, I remembered something that had happened more than a decade ago. I was playing at a fancy San Diego country club and my caddy was a California mini-tour player who made a few dollars more. He was amazing. Not only did he provide information, but he also had a sense of my abilities and weaknesses. He encouraged me at the right time and warned me to others. It was the first time that I felt like I had a teammate in golf.
The only thing missing was a voice function that would enable the Garmin to give me an “attaboy” after a good shot.
Of course, no technique is perfect. Here’s an overview of the highs and lows of the Approach Z82.
What I loved beyond what I mentioned earlier
• Rechargeable with 15 hours of battery life in GPS mode. After I finished my 4.5 hour lap, it still had a 68% battery charge.
• Not only is it waterproof, it is exactly IPX7 specification (immersion at 1 meter for 30 minutes).
• There are tons of features like a digital scorecard and statistical tracking, but most of the time it’s a simple, easy-to-use device that knows where you are on each hole and even switches to a close-up of the green when you are within close range.
• It feels solid in the hand yet is light at 8.2 ounces.
The Approach Z82 could be better here
• The pocket-sized carry case is fine, but it is a bit bulky and should have a more secure closure.
• Grass bunkers were not recognized as a threat – at least not with Legacy.
• It is supplied with a micro USB charging cable, but without a power supply unit or cleaning cloth.
• A built-in magnet, like Bushnell and other models Begin to use, would be great so you can glue it to the cart bar for quick access.
• Wind information is a great advantage, but it does not flow into the true play distance as it does on a slope. If it were, it would be a game changer.
I know the price is high, especially for golfers who do not have too high demands on their knowledge of the course or who tend to play the same courses over and over again. But on a windy day on an unfamiliar course, the Approach Z82 saved me at least four strokes and it felt like something more than just an expensive golf accessory. It felt like a teammate.
Contact Carlos Monarrez at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.