How Do Golf GPS Watches Work?

Brad Carey12 Mar 2022

Like courts of law, most people need evidence before they make important decisions. In this particular case, the evidence you need is proof that GPS watches work and the decision you want to make is probably to decide whether or not to shell a few hundred dollars on one. If this is you, then read on. We’ve used the watches before so we know how they work. Nevertheless, we are sure that our testimonials are not the type of evidence you are looking for. So we decided to do some research to gather more concrete evidence. What we found out during the research was pretty interesting and validated what we already knew about the gadgets. Check out our findings below to know how exactly golf GPS watches work.

Understanding the science of GPS

To understand how golf GPS watches work, one must first understand how the GPS works. This is because the GPS is the fundamental technology that enables the watches to provide useful data to golfers. GPS stands for Global Positioning System. It is a radio-navigation system that uses satellites to provide time and positional/ locational information to a receiver on earth. It was built by the US Department of Defense for use in military affairs but was decades ago made available worldwide for civilian use. Simply put, the technology works this way. There are special GPS satellites that have been fitted with accurate atomic clocks. The clocks are synchronized and any deviations are corrected within 24 hours. The exact locations of the satellites in space are known. All the satellites constantly send radio waves towards earth with data about their time and position. Considering the fact that the speed of the radio waves is constant, the difference between the time a satellite emits its special radio waves and the time they are received is proportionate to the distance between it and any GPS receiver that receives the radio waves. For a GPS receiver to show you your accurate location, it must receive radio signals from at least four different GPS satellites. When it receives the data, it computes the relative position of the receiver from each satellite using trilateration to provide its center position and the time. As it can be seen here, the purpose of the receiver is to receive and compute radio waves from specific satellites with information about time and location. Modern GPS receivers are accurate to within a foot. However, some atmospheric conditions can prevent GPS satellite signals from reaching a receiver and interfere with the accuracy of such devices or prevent them from working altogether. From the working mechanism we have presented above, two things should be easy to tell. First, the technology to tell time and position accurately exists and it was designed and developed by the US Department of Defense. This means that it is a robust and reliable technology whose precision is relied upon by the greatest military on earth. Therefore, civilians can definitely trust and depend on the technology. Secondly, we can tell that the technology can tell both position and time accurately through the transmission of radio signals with data that can be received on earth by a GPS receiver and mathematically computed to get an accurate position. This shows us that the receiver is just as important as the rest of the GPS system. Without a receiver that properly monitors radio signals and computes the data it receives, the resulting time and position shown will be inaccurate. The problem is that GPS receivers are made by different manufacturers in slightly different ways. Thus, some can do the monitoring of signals and the calculation of the data received perfectly, while others can’t. This is why some GPS receivers are so accurate while others are not.

How golf GPS watches work

Golf GPS watches are essentially GPS receivers. The work they do when put in GPS mode is to monitor (wait) for GPS radio signals from the satellites. Once they receive position and time data from at least four satellites, they compute the data to determine the current time and location. However, since what is really needed is not just your location on the planet but your location on a specific golf course and how far away you are from specific points on the course, the location alone is not enough. So what manufacturers do is that they map as many golf courses as they can around the world. Mapping is simply marking the boundaries and the important positions on the golf course on a golf map and storing all that information in a library of maps. The watches are normally preloaded with thousands of maps of golf courses from all over the world. Hence when you switch on your watch at a golf course, the receiver in it calculates your position and from that information it will automatically recognize any nearest mapped course from its library and then use your position and the key mapped positions on the course to calculate how far away you are from the green, how far away the hazards are, which hole you are closest to and so on. Your watch will use its chipset to calculate the data and store it so that it can show you any type of information you ask for. Depending on the model and the functions available, your watch could also use the same data from the satellite to provide you with more information. For example, some golf GPS watches can calculate your shot distance. In such a case the watch’s chipset is normally pre-programmed to do the extra calculations. Typically, golf watches calculate shot distances by marking the position where you take a shot and then calculating the displacement to the position where your ball lands. From this clever calculation, the watches are able to tell exactly how far your ball has traveled.

GPS is often not the only sensors in modern golf GPS watches

Nowadays, modern GPS watches can not only tell you the strategic distances on the course but also give you other information such as how many steps you have taken, how many calories you have burned, how fast your heart is beating, how good was your swing, and so on. Such watches are often sold at higher prices than the more basic ones. This is because they are fitted with extra sensors and computing power to measure, calculate, and present the extra information. Some of the extra sensors included in such watches include light sensors to measure the flow of blood and determine heart rate, and motion sensors to determine the number of steps you have taken.

Final thoughts

From the evidence presented above, it is easy to tell that there is no guesswork in how GPS golf watches should work. Any golf GPS watch with a good signal receiver, a wide library of mapped golf courses, and a decent chipset for the calculations, should be able to accurately tell your position and calculate how far away you are from strategic points on the green and to hazards. So golf GPS watches do really work and how they work is not really rocket science although the launching of the GPS satellites into space requires the actual use of rockets.

Brad Carey

Brad Carey

An avid golfer, brad loves a round of 18 on a Sunday. After getting involved in the technical side of golf, he thought he'd share his insights with others.

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