Garmin Approach G5 golf GPS hands-on

Anybody who plays golf will know that, while there is no better sound on this planet than the "schnick" of a clean, straight stroke, more often than not, the calm ambience of a course is broken by profanities and curses. That's why the golf-improvement business is massive. Anything that can favourably adjust a player's handicap is covetted.

And gadgets can play a large part in that. The Leica Pinmaster II we went hands-on with is one such device, but the laser-guided rangefinder was, perhaps, a little fiddly and precise for the average golfer. Garmin's Approach G5 GPS unit, therefore, could be much more up a lot of players' alleys.

For starters, it is as robust as Mike Tyson. Waterproof and meatily rugged, it can as happily hook onto your golf bag with its supplied carabiner clip as it can your belt, and you won't fear that it'll be damaged or lost. The non-capacitive touchscreen is sturdy too, although we wouldn't advise using a key to control it (we've actually seen that done on a different unit before).

Strangely, although we've seen it listed with some retailers as coming with a charger, it doesn't. Instead, the Approach G5 is powered by two AA batteries (not supplied), and while it claims that it can run for around 15 hours, we found that a couple of normal Duracells only lasted about one-and-a-half to two rounds of golf (27 holes).

It does suggest that you add a couple of rechargeable NiMH batteries to your shopping list, and there is an option in the menu to let it know which ones are loaded. However, the device can't charge via its supplied USB cable, so you'll need to take them out and recharge them yourself.

The upside of using them though, or Lithium alternatives, is that the screen's brightness depends on the batteries powering it. Lithium or NiMH AAs will give you a brighter, clearer screen, whereas normal alkaline batteries will offer a duller experience in order to reserve power.

The USB cable may not help with charging duties, but it does allow you to hook the device up to a computer in order to download updates or patches (with new courses, for example). At present, there are over 6,500 UK and European courses pre-loaded, with more added all the time, so it's worth checking regularly if you travel. Obviously, there is a separate US edition too.

Our nearest course, Muswell Hill Golf Club, was a doddle to find. Either the GPS will find the nearest to you, or you can search by course name or city. And the device sparked up with our tried and tested first hole - a daunting dog leg left par four.

Naturally, the GPS bit works well. It centres on your position as you make your way up the course, but there are plenty of other bells and whistles too. You can tap the screen to show the precise distance to a point on the map that isn't the pin (handy for getting out of the rough if a tree is in the way). And it doubles as a scorecard for up to a four ball.

In addition, the Approach G5 also has a Stat Tracking feature, which can give you easy to understand figures on your number of putts per round, greens hit in regulation, fairways hit and average distance for every club. However, we turned it off as it was rapidly starting to read like a horror show during our round.

Costing £330, Garmin's top of the range golf GPS may seem steep, especially as there are several iPhone and Android apps out there that perform a similar function. But there are several courses where it is frowned upon or even against club rules to use your phone for any purpose, and would you really want to get your expensive and precious iDevice out in the wind and rain?

Or, if you're on a tighter budget, you could always opt for the Approach G3 for £250 or the Approach S1 golf GPS watch we checked out at the end of last year.

Are you an avid golfer? Do you use a GPS device or other gadget? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below...