My foursome had just stepped onto the 16th tee at Allegheny Country Club near Pittsburgh. There was no mistaking it because a female voice coming from somewhere near me announced, “Hole number 16.”
The other amateur in the foursome asked me, “You got a name for her? Helen? Something? What do you call her?”
The voice came from the GolfBuddy Voice, a tiny golf GPS rangefinder that speaks. This was my third round with GolfBuddy’s Voice riding shotgun, my first with other humans in the group, and it was a source of instant yardages, not to mention repeated conversation. And no, for the record, I don’t have a name for her. I may talk back to the voice occasionally, just as I do with the GPS device in my car, which I delight in telling to shut up, but I haven’t given her a name and have no plans to do so.
Let’s get it out of the way up front: the GolfBuddy Voice is a winner. There really isn’t anything new about GPS rangefinders. A bunch of companies have jumped into the business. But the GolfBuddy Voice is a new way to deliver the information. I have to admit, I’m pretty much hooked.
What’s great about the GolfBuddy Voice is its size, or lack thereof. It’s about the size of a matchbox -- 1.7 inches by 1.7 inches. It’s got a view screen in front and a clip in the back, so you can attach it to your belt or your sock or a pocket. I slipped it onto the side of my cap. When I needed a yardage, I simply reached up and pressed the button, and the voice recited the hole number and yardage to the middle of the green. Press and hold the button to get the yardage to the front of the green. Press and hold a second time to get the yardage to the back. Amazing.
It’s that simple. It’s great because it’s hands-free and quick. The guys in my foursome got a kick out of the voice, but because we were playing in a pro-am, one of us still shot the pins with a laser rangefinder for exact yardages to the flagsticks. But GolfBuddy Voice had already provided us with the middle-of-the-green info, so we had a general idea of the yardage. The laser served as confirmation.
I especially liked the hands-free feature. If you’re walking and carrying, a laser or GPS device adds weight. If you’re playing in a cart, you’ve got to retrieve it. And if you’re playing on a day when it’s cart-path only, you may be carrying a couple of clubs and a towel from the cart to your ball. GolfBuddy Voice is handy because it’s always with you yet out of the way.
It’s also intuitive and pretty much idiot-proof. How does it know which course you’re playing? It searches for a satellite and finds the course itself. There are no subscription fees or downloading required. It should be good anywhere but might have trouble if the course is brand new. (Gee, are there any of those anymore?) Basically, all you do is turn it on when you get to the course. It runs on a battery, and I got three rounds in before mine went low, although two of those rounds were pretty quick. It’s supposed to last eight hours, so two rounds is closer to average.
If you’re looking for small and convenient, and you’re happy with GPS yardages, GolfBuddy is a great choice. My home course, Treesdale Golf & Country Club, has carts that come equipped with GPS systems, and the yardages I got from those matched GolfBuddy Voice’s almost identically. I didn’t test it against Sky Caddie, a GPS rangefinder that’s based on actual ground-walked measurements, but my use of Sky Caddie has convinced me it is extremely accurate.
I noticed only two small glitches with GolfBuddy Voice. At Allegheny, it mixed up the ninth and 18th holes. They run parallel to each other, separated by the 17th. When I reached the ninth tee, it informed me that I was on “Hole number 18.” And at 18, it told me I was on “Hole number 9.” It still spit out the proper yardages, however. (No, the course has not reversed its nines in recent years, if ever.) The other problem I ran into illustrates the GPS-vs.-laser debate. On the only short par 3 on the back nine, GolfBuddy Voice called it 146 yards to the center of the green. That didn’t look right, and even though I pushed the button repeatedly, the yardage didn’t change. Lasers showed it to be 130 yards and, as it turned out, the pin was just about in the middle of the green. The laser was right, and the differential on that shot was concerning.
Still, the GolfBuddy Voice was the easiest and most portable GPS rangefinder I’ve come across. It was fun to use and is now available in stores and golf shops at a suggested retail price of $179. According to a press release, it can speak eight different languages. Wonder if I’d play better if I got my yardages in German? I am going to check that out, ja.