We all know the routine. It's fairly well ingrained in every decent golfer, and it goes a little something like this:
- Arrive at your drive and set down your bag.
- Wander around looking for a sprinkler head.
- Pace forward or backward to get a better yardage.
- Estimate how much the angle of your approach affects the yardage.
- Estimate how deep the green is and where the pin is placed, and add those calculations to the mix.
- Perform complex math in your head, give up, and then just guess at the correct yardage.
- Choose a club and hit the ball.
Imagine cutting three steps from that ordeal:
- Arrive at your drive and set down your bag.
- Look at the location of the flag on the green.
- Unclip a device from your belt and read a number or two from it to get the precise yardage.
- Choose a club and hit the ball.
The SkyCaddie - formerly known as the "SkyGolf GPS" or the "SG2" - can make the abbreviated process a reality. Though use of a yardage-measuring device is currently illegal for tournament play, the SkyCaddie can be used in handicap rounds and casual play.
The SkyCaddie uses freely and widely available GPS (global positioning system) signals to calculate to within one yard your precise location on the planet Earth. If you've also programmed in other points of interest - such as the location of the middle of the green - the SkyCaddie can tell you exactly how far you've got to the middle of the green.
The SkyCaddie unit is a bit larger than your average flip cell phone. It's black, it has a short, stubby antenna that's not going to snap off, and it's solidly built. The buttons are easy to press and the display is easy to read. It clips nicely onto your belt or, as I prefer, to a golf bag strap. Laser-based range finders are bulky, and compared to them the SkyCaddie is rather svelte.
How's It Work?
When you first receive your SkyCaddie, you must register at SkyGolfGPS.com to activate the device. You do so by plugging in your SkyCaddie via a serial port (if you have USB ports only, you'll have to buy your own serial-to-USB converter, as one is not provided) and downloading some software. The process takes a matter of minutes.
Next, you'll probably jump into the course search with "over 5000 courses." Once you find your courses you upload them to your SkyCaddie and head out for a round of golf.
Unfortunately, at the time of this review, only one of the 35 courses within 45 minutes of me is even listed as having GPS information, and it's user-supplied front/center/back of green information. Any course can have one of four levels:
|Level||What This Means|
|4||"SkyPro" course with IntelliGreen|
|3||"SkyPro" course without IntelliGreen|
|2||"SkyPlayer" course with tee/layup/green targets|
|1||"SkyPlayer" course with front/center/back of green targets|
If your course is a SkyPro course, congratulations. You'll have access to the full range of information - layup yardages, hazard distances, and more. You may even have IntelliGreen - an option that will "intelligently" rotate the image of the green depending on the angle of approach. If your course is a SkyPlayer course, well, you're gonna have to eye some things up. And if your course isn't listed, well, you're not out of luck at all. You just have to add it yourself.
Though the SkyCaddie can be used without one of the "SkyPlayer" memberships, some users may opt for some of the membership options available at a yearly cost. I tend to play very few courses and I certainly don't need to store them in an online "SkyVault," so I don't plan to renew my trial membership. However, if you play a lot of golf at different courses - and have a lot of "SkyPro" courses, a membership may make sense to you as you'll have access to all of the SkyCourses, the IntelliGreen graphics, and a SkyVault for storage. Several plans are available:
|Level||Number of Allotted Courses||Number of SkyFolders||Price|
|Par||5 courses in user's state or province||1||$19.95/yr.|
|Birdie||Unlimited courses in user's state or province||3||$29.95/yr.|
|Eagle||Unlimited courses in user's country||5||$49.95/yr.|
|Double Eagle||Unlimited courses worldwide||10||$59.95/yr.|
My home course, Lake View Country Club, is not listed at SkyGolfGPS.com. When it may be, I don't know. Instead, I took the opportunity to enter data into the SkyCaddie myself.
It's a relatively simple process. As you play a round of golf, pause at the center, front, and back of each green. press the "record" button, confirm your location, and wait five seconds. The precise location is stored and you can move on to the next hole. I recorded all 18 of my course's greens while playing with a threesome. I didn't hold up play and my playing partners only teased me the first seven holes! <grin>
It's in subsequent rounds, the SkyCaddie truly shines. I turn the SkyCaddie on when I step onto the first tee and it gathers information from the GPS satellites. By the time I'm ready to hit my first approach shot, the display tells me three yardages: distance to the center, back, and front of the green. I adjust the yardage based on pin location, wind, and elevation in my mind, choose a club, and play. I no longer care about sprinkler heads, how accurate their yardages may be, or how much playing from a different angle than "dead center of the fairway" might affect my distance.
The SkyCaddie is actually most useful near the green. Very few courses even bother to mark yardages inside of 100 yards, and as a student of the Pelz method for short-game scoring (you know: three wedges, four swings, twelve distances), getting precise yardages inside 100 yards is critical. I've worked hard to dial in my wedges to within a yard or two, so knowing that I'm facing a 55-yard shot and not a 65-yard shot is of critical importance.
The first few times I played with the SkyCaddie, I ran through the normal "sprinkler head" routine and came up with a yardage to compare it to the SkyCaddie's. In each case, the SkyCaddie was surprisingly more accurate. If I hit the club I would have hit with my number, I often failed to get pin high. With the SkyCaddie's number, my shots were pin high all day long.
It's tough to attribute a "stroke-saving" number to an accessory like the SkyCaddie, but based on my unscientific testing (nobody's golf game is exactly the same day to day), I am comfortable suggesting that the SkyCaddie - even with only front/back/center green measurements - has shaved two to three strokes from my game.
In fact, I'd go so far as to say that I hope never to play without the SkyCaddie (or some more feature-packed successor) again. I've used GPS units in carts - they're expensive to install and slow down play. The SkyCaddie is accurate and fast. Walk to your ball, look at the LCD, hit the ball. It couldn't be better.
Except that it does. I only tested the most basic aspects of the SkyCaddie. "Enabled" courses - particularly those with IntelliGreen - promise to offer up a great bit more information. Perhaps a course near me will be "enabled" soon, but I'm not holding my breath. In the meantime, I'm happy to use my numbers on my home course.
As with any bit of technology, there are some frustrations. First, the SkyCaddie is not Mac compatible. Though this may not matter to 90% of the world, a small - and vocal - portion of the computer users out there will certainly want to take note. Furthermore, on the PC, the SkyCaddie requires Internet Explorer 6.0 or later. You'll have a helluva time getting the SkyCaddie to work if you've set Firefox or any other browser as your default.
Much of the work you do to set up your SkyCaddie is done at SkyGolfGPS.com in Internet Explorer or via the "SG2 Browser" application. The SkyGolfGPS site allows you to maintain your profile and edit the contents of your SkyCaddie. You can add courses to folders and synchronize the data to your SkyCaddie. If you're planning a trip to Arizona, you could load your SkyCaddie with the courses you'll be playing.
In theory, that's great. In practice, it took multiple synchronizations to get the data to the SkyCaddie. I'm not a novice computer user - I'm a software developer and an IT consultant - but the SkyGolfGPS.com experience is one I'd rather do without.
The SkyCaddie costs $349.95. You get a serial cable, a wall-charger (a three-hour charge lasts 10 to 12 hours on the course), and a belt clip. The SkyCaddie is smaller than a laser-based range finder and doesn't require a line of site to the target.
My only gripes are the lack of "enabled" courses in my area and the frustrations of being forced to use a PC with Internet Explorer.
The SkyCaddie is easy to use and deadly accurate. It's shaved strokes off my game and may pay for itself in bets won before the season is through. You can use the SkyCaddie on any course in the world so long as you're willing to put in the center/back/front data yourself.
Despite the minimal frustrations, I recommend the SkyCaddie. If it's good enough for the Tight Lies Tour, well, it's good enough for any ol' duffer, eh?