Admittedly, I’ve been a skeptic of GPS golf watches, always finding a range finder to be more precise and convenient — and less expensive. And quite a few of my golf buddies share my point of view. However, after wearing the $400 Garmin Approach S60 for a handful of rounds, including a 36-hole day, it might be time to leave the range finder at home. The latest golf-specific smartwatch from Garmin offers all the features avid golfers and fitness fanatics need to navigate their way around the course.
Getting Ready: Setup and Configuration
It took me less than 10 minutes to complete the initial setup of the Approach S60. I followed the on-screen prompt to download the Garmin Connect app to my phone, created a free account and used a Bluetooth connection to sync the S60 with my new Garmin Connect account. From this point forward, just about every setting is controlled from the watch.
Warming Up: Design and Interface
Although the Approach S60 doesn’t look particularly sleek or flashy, it has a clean design and black matte finish that looks great both during fitness activities and as a basic everyday smartwatch. At 1.8 ounces, it’s also lightweight and comfortable to wear throughout a round. The round 1.2-inch touch screen is large enough to view and interact with the widgets when wearing a glove or when drenched in sweat (it worked in the pool, too — the watch is water-resistant to 165 feet), and was perfectly clear, even in direct sunlight.
Overall, the S60 is easy to navigate. Three buttons on the right side let you select activities and move through menus. Unlike most of Garmin’s GPS watches, the S60 has a touch screen, which you can use to swipe through a few basic widgets that summarize daily activities, weather and your last round played. The golf app follows the same general flow and has drill-down capabilities from a round summary down to the club selection and distances for each stroke.
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Teeing Off: Using the Approach S60 on the Course
From the first tee, I had no problems using the watch’s GPS to locate any of the courses I played since Garmin claims support for 40,000 courses in the U.S. At the start of each hole, the display has the standard yardages to the front, center and back of the green. It also shows the elevation relative to the green and has a compass to point you in the direction of the hole during blind shots. Zooming in and out to view hazards and check distances to anywhere on a hole proved to be useful in a number of situations, especially on a course that I hadn’t played before. For approach shots, there’s a “green view” where the pin placement can be adjusted using the touch screen to get even more precise distances.
The GPS features of the S60 exceeded my expectations. To validate its precision, I did an informal comparison of the distances provided by the S60 against a high-end range finder and a few apps available on the Apple Watch 2. While the S60 and range finder were consistently within a few yards of each other, the Apple Watch occasionally dropped the GPS connection and wasn’t reliable enough to use on the course.
There are still advantages to a range finder for more precise distance and elevation measurements, but the overall reliability of the S60’s measurements from tee to green coupled with the hole-view features make a convincing case to leave the range finder in the bag.
Back in the Clubhouse: Battery Life and Other Features
After each of the first four rounds I played wearing the S60, the battery never fell below 60 percent. Naturally, I thought this justified testing the battery over a 36-hole day of golf. While not advertised by Garmin for use over back-to-back rounds, the S60, which started the day fully charged, was still kicking at 6 percent by time I was in the clubhouse. The watch probably would have had more life left if I had paused the golf app between rounds.
The S60 is also equipped with a few additional golf features, such as the option to record each club used, adjust scores for handicap and keep score of playing partners using a few different formats. It also comes with a swing tempo app, which is supposed to time backswing and downswing, but this requires the TruSwing sensor ($149, sold separately) that attaches to your club. Honestly, I’m going to a golf simulator for any advanced swing metrics.
One complaint with previous versions of Garmin’s software was the inability to view and edit scores for individual holes during the round. Garmin resolved that with a scorecard view that you can access at any point with the touch of the side button. You can also set the watch to guess at how many swings you took from tee to green. While it won’t count putts, the feature might be useful for some of those golfers who get amnesia and don’t seem to remember exactly how many strokes they took.
In addition to the golf and fitness features, the Approach S60 comes with smartwatch-like features for those who would wear it every day. It’s easy to change the watch face using the Connect app, and you can configure which notifications you’ll receive from your phone. I set mine to show notifications for calls, text messages, Instagram comments, Google maps and from my news feed. The focused golfer will appreciate that none of the notifications come through while the golf app is active.
Although my game didn’t improve while wearing Garmin’s Approach S60, I do think the avid golfer has a sound alternative to a range finder with many of the necessary bells and whistles that we’ve come to expect from smartwatches. At $400, the S60 isn’t cheap, but it looks cool, is super-reliable, and it has all the golf and smartwatch features to justify that price.
Image Credit: Garmin