In-Cart GPS Solutions Come Up Short On Golf Courses

In-Cart Golf GPS System

When I go golfing, I’m always pleasantly surprised when I get into my cart and see a big monitor mounted with an in-cart GPS solution.  To me, it says the golf course is willing to go the extra distance to make sure I have everything I need to fully enjoy my round.  They, afterall, have made a significant investment outfitting their fleet of carts with these units, not to mention the steep ongoing monthly maintenance contract they are paying.

In-Cart Golf GPS System

But as the round goes on, the excitement of the in-cart GPS begins to wear off, and the functional limitations of it become a reality.

The Golf Cart is the GPS

In the course of a round while I’m out with a buddy, it’s inevitable that we’ll spray a few wild shots and get separated.  It’s common to drop one golfer off at their ball, so I can go and look for mine.  When this happens, one of us is without the GPS.  Or, sometimes an errant shot leaves you playing from a desert area, especially out here in Phoenix Arizona, or a grassy or forested area in other parts of the country.  There are even some courses with immense sand bunkers that you need to hike into.  The golf cart can’t always get into some of these areas, so again, you can’t use the GPS.

On par 3’s, for those golfers who are really dialed in and need exact distances, the golf cart can’t come with you to the tee box.  On some holes, the tee box is a short walk away from the parking area, so this can have a big impact.

The biggest problem with in-cart gps solutions came to light in a recent round I played on a beautiful golf course in Fountain Hills, AZ.  We were so excited to be playing this course.  We rolled into the proshop gleaming with enthusiam and then heard those dreaded words: “Cart path only.”

That’s always a drag, but the extra walking is probably good exercise.  But, this rendered their in-cart GPS solution totally useless.  The sprinkler heads were a far superior measure of distances on that day.

A better way

Clearly, having a portable GPS unit is the way to go.  It addresses each of the problems described above.  I always have my phone on me, so that day in Fountain Hills I just pulled out my phone, opened my favorite golf gps app, and I was back in business.  Whether I’m hitting my shot from the fairways, the desert, a swamp, or anywhere – my phone is in my hand running my golf gps app giving me the yardages I need to know to execute the best shot possible.

But the in-cart GPS is more accurate

You see that big GPS antenna mounted on the roof of the golf cart and it makes sense.  It’s GOT to somehow be more accurate, right?  Well, it turns out it’s no better than the Birdie Apps golf gps app.  We’ve done extensive field testing with our app.  In over 10 trials, we’ve golfed at courses that have in-cart GPS solutions and compared the yardages side-by-side with the cart and our app.  That’s 180+ holes total, so statistically speaking, this is a large enough dataset to draw conclusions from. The vast majority of the times the yardages were the exact same, and only occasionally there was a 1 yard difference.  So in terms of accuracy, the handheld GPS devices perform extremely well.

Golf GPS Features

The in-cart solutions do a great job at being hands-off.  They detect where you are and display the current hole.  As you drive to the next hole, they automatically change.  That’s a really nice feature.  Some of the nicer golf gps apps do that, too.  Birdie Apps, for example, has a setting that automatically changes from Hole View to Green View when you get within a certain distance, which is configurable.  It can also detect when you’re near the next tee box and automatically change holes.

Some of the newer in-cart gps solutions come equipped with touch screens, so you can get distances to any point on the map.  This is hands down the most important feature of ANY golf gps solution in my opinion.  Although, with the touch screens mounted from the ceiling of the cart, I did find it unnatural to be reaching up and interfacing with the unit.  But, to be fair, it does work well.

On my smart phone, this was completely natural.  Since Birdie Apps allows you to touch ANYWHERE on the map in both Hole View and Green View to get distances, you will always know the exact yardage to where you’re trying to the land the ball, all while using your own phone which feels much more natural.


The in-cart GPS solutions are pretty fancy.  They definitely give a great first impression.  But after using them and seeing their shortcomings first hand, and comparing them to alternative options such as Birdie Apps free golf GPS app, it’s clear they are not the best choice for golfers that require convenience, dependability, and accurate distances out on the golf course.


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