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Garmin Approach S42 review

We put one of Garmin's best golf watches to the test

a photo of the Garmin Approach S42 on the wrist
(Image: © Future/Tom's Guide)

Tom's Guide Verdict

The Garmin Approach S42 is a stylish-looking and near-complete golf watch with great battery life and ample features for out on the green that will satisfy golfers of all levels.

Pros

  • +

    Great battery life and fast charging

  • +

    Responsive touch screen

  • +

    Accurate GPS

  • +

    Stylish

Cons

  • -

    Lacks a heart rate monitor

  • -

    Could use second external button

Garmin has been a leader in golf GPS devices for well over a decade, and in that time, I have used or tested many of the golf watch models. But even after getting to test the more premium Garmin Approach S62, the $299 Garmin Approach S42 has become my favorite wearable for the green yet.

My current partner on the golf course and in the clubhouse, the Garmin Approach S42 has everything I look for in a golf watch — accurate GPS, a long-lasting battery life and great looks. Garmin’s midrange golf watch comes with very few things left out, making it approachable to more than just golf techies. There’s no heart rate monitor, so it’s not a true fitness tracker like most of the best Garmin watches. Instead, the S42 is designed for the dedicated golf experience.

Garmin Approach S42: Price and availability

The Garmin Approach S42 is available now and costs $299. There is only one size option, 43 millimeters. Our Garmin coupon codes page shows any available deals that could save you a little extra, so have a look to see what's on offer.

Garmin Approach S42 review: Design and interface

Out of the box, the Garmin Approach S42’s design impressed. Weighing only 1.5 ounces with a 43-millimeter width, the device doesn’t overwhelm my wrist or get in the way of my swing. The 11.7-millimeter thickness does not give away how powerful this unit is, too.

The watch hits all the right style notes. My unit’s light sand band and rose gold colored trim definitely brings up my green fashion game and looks sharp no matter the setting. A second option with a larger strap comes in an also sharp looking black/gunmetal. I get all the function I need when playing my local muni, but I still feel right at home in a country club taproom.  

a photo of the screen of the Garmin Approach S42 in direct sunlight

(Image credit: Future/Tom's Guide)

Another noticeable design feature is the classic watch face that’s unassuming indoors, but because it is a golf watch, the display was made to be used on sunny days, providing easy-to-see graphics on the 240 x 240-pixel screen. 

Garmin only offers one external button to the watch. This helps the watch look great, but a second button might make navigating the unit’s features and tools more efficient. And those features are extensive: Clock features, including an alarm and stopwatch, eliminate the need for a wristwatch. Meanwhile smart applications, after pairing with your smartphone, provide a bevy of uses including notifications, weather and find my phone. 

Garmin Approach S42 review: Golf playing features

As usual with Garmin, the Garmin Approach S42 golfing features are tireless. The watch is pre-loaded with 42K courses and demonstrates impressive accuracy. Handicap scoring and yardage to lay-ups are among its many player friendly options as well. 

a photo of the Garmin Approach S42

(Image credit: Future/Tom's Guide)

I found no trouble pairing the S42 to the Garmin Golf app on my iPhone. While the app isn’t essential to using the watch, it does provide a complete suite for mapping any course in the database. I challenge all but techiest golfers not to be satisfied with all the tools this watch-and-app combination provide. 

But if you want to take your game management to another level, you can add the Approach CT10 sensors. These devices fit onto the grip of your clubs and provide more specific swing data. I like how the sensors are able to map virtually any shot, record them for reference, and use this information to make better course and club-selection choices. That said, I personally don’t find the sensors necessary for every round.

a photo of the different courses loaded onto the Garmin Approach S42

(Image credit: Future/Tom's Guide)

Despite all the S42’s high-tech abilities, it’s ultimately the simplicity that makes me a fan. It feels like Garmin took input from players like me, who prioritize accuracy and usability over bells and whistles. Immediately upon launching golf mode, the satellites quickly find any course I’m playing, even starting me on the hole I’m on if I didn’t start on the first. (This is common in tournament play.) 

The watch helps me keep score, reminding me to update my total after stepping off the green. When I take a swing, the unit automatically starts recording that shot’s distance until I reach my ball again, and take another swing. This is useful both for finding my ball and developing a keen sense for the yardages each of my clubs provide. 

a photo of the screen of the Garmin Approach S42 in direct sunlight

(Image credit: Future/Tom's Guide)

Finally and most importantly, the yardages displayed to both the pin and to hazards were almost always spot-on accurate in my testing. I augmented this by double checking with my reliable laser rangefinder. I can now mostly do away with carrying that extra device, trusting the Garmin Approach S42’s accuracy. Better yet, the watch lets me customize a pin position quickly and adjust it based on where I see the flag.

An important thing to note: the GPS can also be used to track speed and distance if you opt to wear the S42 on a run, or other activity off the course. But lacking a heart rate monitor, this watch is far from my first choice for tracking non-golf workouts.

Garmin Approach S42 review: Battery life

I found the Garmin Approach S42 battery life to be a major selling point. Garmin claims it gets up to 10 days of use without GPS and 15 hours of use while in GPS mode; however, during testing I exceeded that. I played four full rounds on a single charge, banking 4-5 hour rounds.

a photo of the bezel on the Garmin Approach S42

(Image credit: Future/Tom's Guide)

Additionally, I recognized rather quick charging, making it easy to get to full power even when I forget to dock it the night before a round. Between rounds, the watch held its charge, sometimes still having power after two weeks of inactivity. 

a photo of the Garmin Approach S42 on the wrist

(Image credit: Future/Tom's Guide)

Garmin Approach S42 review: Verdict

The Garmin Approach S42 doesn’t quite replace my smartwatch, but that’s something I’ve come to appreciate. When I’m going about my regular day or gym activities, having the heart rate monitor is a must, not to mention how I like taking calls from my Apple Watch. But I know when I’m preparing to play my regular game, I have a dedicated device that does what I need on the course extremely well. Keeping my golf watch and smartwatch separate has made me happier with both.  

a photo of the Garmin Approach S42 with a golf glove

(Image credit: Future/Tom's Guide)

I would recommend the Garmin Approach S62 to anyone who prefers the single-watch experience and usually likes having all the best features possible. But the S42’s $300 price tag and sharp look make for a much more convincing sell. As someone who has used both, I can say Garmin Approach S42 gives me every feature I truly need for a successful game. 

Jeff is a retired N.Y.C. firefighter who’s other two life passions are playing golf and telling people about golf. Jeff has spent forty years trying to perfect the unperfectable game, and hopes for forty more. Even if he’s failed at all attempts to train his labrador to retrieve golf balls chipped in the backyard.

When Jeff isn’t out trying to knock the last few strokes off his handicap at the course, you can find him in the gym or baseball diamond, doing all he can to keep Father Time at bay. Jeff lives in Long Island, New York where still uses his emergency training for the greater good.