2021 is a better year than ever to give golf gifts for Father’s Day. Golf surged in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, and many who had drifted away from the game came roaring back, resulting in record numbers at many golf courses and resorts that continues and shows no signs of slowing.
But golf gifts are tricky, and giving clubs is a bad idea, as they are too personal and for most golfers should be custom fitted. Golf balls are a soulless pick, so it’s better to go with something like the Best Golf Apparel and Shoes of 2021 or the best in golf technology to bring Dad into the modern era and improve his game and enjoyment of it. These are the top tech picks at every price point.
Best Golf GPS: There are a lot of GPS golf course mapping options available these days as apps, watches and built into the carts at many resorts. But the top of the line is the Approach G80 from Garmin, the company known for making the very best consumer and professional GPS units for aviation, automotive, marine, wilderness travel and cycling. Garmin has several golf specific products, and the G80 takes the cake. It’s the size of a smartphone, has a bigger and better display than the watches many golfers use, 3.5” touchscreen, and comes pre-loaded with detailed and accurate maps of more than 41,000 courses around the globe, which means just about every course in the U.S., public or private, and a whole lot more. It has all the best-in-class features like touch targeting (touch any point on the map and get a distance, so you can see how far to carry hazards, lay-up, etc.), detailed green views where you can move the flag to today’s hole position, “plays like” distance that factors in elevation change, and pinpointer, a compass like feature to give you an aiming line on blind shots. That’s already more than just about any rival device, but the huge differentiator is that the G80 also has a built-in radar launch monitor. On the course and on the range Dad can analyze how far he hits every club, including the metrics now common on TV that he sees when watching the PGA Tour: clubhead speed, ball speed, tempo, and of course “smash factor.” It has a practice mode to make more of warm ups before rounds at the range, a tempo trainer, sort of a digital metronome, and for the more data driven Dad, full integration with the detailed Garmin golf app. The 15-hour GPS play mode battery life can’t be beat either – more than enough for even the rare longest 72-hole marathons in golf ($500).
High-Tech Practice Range: FlightScope is a world leader in the development and manufacturing of 3D doppler radar ball tracking monitors, founded in 1989 to measure projectiles for the defense industry and still prominent in the military products of dozens of countries. Two decades of experience in Doppler radar and phased array tracking technology has given golfers new tools, and the tech is used by top golf instructors, club fitters, Tour players and original equipment manufacturers around the world. The mevo is FlightScope’s consumer model, a highly portable personal launch monitor with multi-sport (golf and baseball) capabilities designed to help athletes at all skill levels practice better. Small enough to fit in your pocket, the mevo features Bluetooth connectivity, can be used both indoors and outdoors, and measures multiple data parameters, such as carry distance, ball speed, club speed, smash factor, vertical launch angle, apex height, flight time, and spin. The app also allows Dad to video record his swing with data overlay. PGA stars Bryson DeChambeau and Bubba Watson use these, and the mevo was a 2021 Golf Digest Editor’s Top Pick. The low handicap, data driven Dad who actually practices regularly can really benefit from adding these metrics to his routine ($499). The fancier mevo+ adds several more detailed metrics (horizontal launch angle, lateral landing, angle of attack, roll distance, spin axis and loft, shot shape) as well as the ability to use it as range simulator and virtually “play” rounds at five simulated golf courses while really hitting shots, and has a built-in video camera ($2000).
His Private Golf Course – At Home: The ultimate indulgence for the golfing Dad is a full-blown home simulator, where he can go into his man cave and hit real shots into a video screen while high speed cameras/and or radar crunch the numbers and display the results on screen, virtually practicing or playing top courses around the world, even in winter, rain or at night. The top-of-the-line simulators Tour Pros build into their mansions, the kind used in places like TopGolf Suites at high-end resorts, can run fifty to seventy grand, but you can get a shockingly good effort for $7,300 with the Skytrak Swingbay Golf Simulator Package. It’s still definitely a luxury gift, and one that will make Dad so popular his friends will never want to go home. The package includes a hitting mat like at the driving range, the launch monitor, game improvement software, the impact screen with protective enclosure and side netting, a 1080p HD projector with ceiling mount and HDMI cable. It’s a great setup for this price, but the basic package includes just practice, so if you want to add simulations of top courses you need to connect either a PC or iPad and an additional software package like The Golf Club ($479 per year), E6Golf ($299 per year) or World Golf Tour ($199 per year).
Music Loving Dads: The latest craze in golf is on-course music, which is suddenly everywhere, and if Dad likes his tunes, the new Wingman from Bushnell is the best way to deliver them. Bushnell has long been a leader in GPS and laser golf distance measuring, but the Wingman is an all-new category of device, sort of the Alexa of the golf world. It is a cylindrical speaker that combines tunes with audio GPS distances for entertainment and better scoring. It has more than 36,000 course maps, adds a high-quality Bluetooth speaker, and even comes with a remote so when Dad walks from the cart to his ball he can hit the button and hear the distances to the front, center and back of the green. It mounts securely and easily via powerful magnets to the upright bar of any golf cart, including push carts. It even has an extra USB charging port to refresh his phone or other device during golf. There has simply never been anything like this on the market. ($130)
GPS For Every Taste: When you put some of the best features of Garmin’s industry leading on course GPS, the G80 above, on your wrist, you get this new lineup. Garmin has made great golf GPS devices for years, but this trio is the just launched 2021 slate, and includes the Approach S42 Smartwatch, Approach S12 Watch, and Approach G12 GPS Rangefinder. All three have golf specific features like touch targeting distances, green view and optional shot distance tracking when paired with Garmin’s CT10 club sensor. The S42 ($300) is a full-blown smartwatch for the Dad who would wear it all the time, on and off the course, and adds activity tracking features like steps, sleep, calories, training profiles for different sports and high-res 1.2 inch color display. The S12 ($200) is a simpler device more just for golf, with a slightly larger and more sunlight readable black and white display plus greatly extended 30-hour battery life. The G12 ($150) is basically the S12 in non-watch form, designed to be clipped to the golfer’s pants pocket or a golf bag, perfect for the watch loving Dad who doesn’t want to take of his favorite Swiss sports model when he is playing but still needs the yardages.
Laser Sharp Accuracy: Despite the proliferation of affordable, easy to carry GPS devices, I still carry a laser because when it comes time to get the actual distance to the flag, on any hole but especially from the tee on a par-3, it is the easiest and most accurate way to go, because GPS never knows where today’s pin is, and that can vary by two to four full clubs. There’s never been a more sophisticated model than Bushnell’s new flagship Pro XE, and Bushnell has long led all the major professional Tours in laser popularity. The XE doesn’t just have all of Bushnell’s patented features like easy lock on “Pinseeker” targeting with vibration verification, adjustment for elevation gain and decline that can be switched off to comply with rules for tournament play and much more, from a crystal-clear display with 7x magnification to unparalleled range (1300 yards), this one even accounts for the effects of both temperature and barometric pressure on ball flight – seriously. There has never been a truer take on “plays like” distance, it’s to basic lasers what the Space Shuttle is to a regional jet. Oh, and it is completely waterproof and has built-in magnetic mount so you can slap it in the upright of a cart and carry it safely and conveniently ($550).
Game Improvement With Every Shot: Unlike many other range-based practice devices like launch monitors, Arccos goes out with Dad for every shot of every round. A wildly popular pioneer in game improvement, Arccos uses tiny light weight sensors that fit into those tiny holes on the end of every golf grip that know one ever knew why they were there and connects with the app on a smartphone using GPS to track what club was hit, how far and what direction it went, and where it landed. Later Dad can crunch the numbers and identify often surprising or overlooked weaknesses in his game, whether it is hitting too many drives left or missing a lot of short irons. Arccos is easy to use but yields tons of useful data, including precise long term average distances with each club. Now Arccos has created the Caddie Bundle for those who don’t want to have to carry a smartphone in their pocket during a round. In addition to the sensors it includes the brand new Caddie Link, a small beeper like device that clips to his belt and records the shot data independently of the phone, for data transfer after the round. The basic Arccos is $180, the Caddie Bundle is $280.
There’s An App For Golf: Just because your budget is limited doesn’t mean Dad can’t get great technology benefits that will upgrade his game. Founded in 1995, V1 Sports is a global leader in golf swing analysis software. The V1 golf teaching software and golf training apps deliver top instruction by connecting golf professionals and golfers to improve performance. Considered the pioneer in tele-instruction, delivering seamless video lessons with integrated voiceover, V1 to date has delivered over 3 million internet video lessons by more than 10,000 PGA golf professionals, including many Top 100 instructors. Golf Digest has repeatedly ranked V1 the Best Video Analysis Software in its category, and GolfPass, the website of NBC and GolfChannel, just named the V1 Game App (GPS and Shot Tracking) the best Apple Watch Golf App of 2021 – in any category (there is also an iOS version on the Google Play store). The V1 Game App starts at $5.99 per month. The free V1 Golf App has a lot of features (240 fps video swing capture, slo-mo and frame by frame playback, on-screen drawing tools, professional swing model library for comparison, cloud storage and more) but a free app makes sort of a cheesy gift, so the better option is a subscription to V1 Golf Plus for $60 a year. Like a TV streaming service, this gives an ad-free version, a bigger swing library, side by side dual video comparison in slo-mo, dual video overlays, and more. In both cases, Dad can get a la carte private virtual lessons through the app.