Garmin is now applying its expertise in GPS navigation to golf, a sport where knowing your exact position is most useful.
The Approach S1 builds this GPS functionality into a simple, light-weight watch interface. Weighing just 52-grams, it functions as a rugged, waterproof everyday watch, with large easy-to-see numbers on a screen that is bright enough to see clearly, even in direct sunlight.
You control it via four buttons on the perimeter of the face which are dead simple to figure out. There's the light/power button on the top left, OK/menu on the bottom left, and then the Up and Down buttons on the right side help you cycle through its handful of menu options.
The rechargeable lithium ion battery lasts for three weeks for normal watch functions and about 8 hours in GPS mode — more than enough to get in a round or two. The recharging clip is a tad fiddly in that it has multiple contact points that you have to line up, but overall, that's not a significant issue.
It also has an odometer if you're keen to track how far you've walked.
The best thing about the set-up is that essentially there is nothing to actually set up. The S1 sets its time and time zone automatically, and when you switch to Start Round (GPS) mode, it also automatically recognises your position provided you're playing at one of the 600 golf courses in Australia that Garmin has previously mapped and preloaded on the device. Happily, there's nothing to download and nothing that you need to subscribe to.
The complete list of Australian golf courses included in the S1 can be found here. (Note: Garmin is doing all mapping themselves and does not use 3rd party maps, and the company claims that it will be adding more courses as they get them mapped.) If you travel overseas to golf, for US$49.95 you can purchase via download golf course maps for the US and Canada (16,500 courses preloaded) or Europe (5,400 courses preloaded).
Since it identifies the hole you're on automatically, you only need to glance at the screen to see its calculations to the front, middle (displayed in a larger font) and back of the green. It measures the distance in metres or you can change the settings to yards if you're old school.
We particularly like the S1, as being a wristwatch, it's hands free — so you can just glance at it and then focus on your golf swing. You don't have to carry an extra device around the course or consult something strapped to your bag or cart. You can't mark your score on it, but we don't think we'd use those kinds of the extra features found on more expensive devices.
It won't replace using the physical markers found on the courses themselves, but it certainly is a very accurate way to help club and recreational golfers judge distances more accurately. By confirming where you are in relation to the flag, it's a real help in confidently determining which club to use and what kind of shot to play. This is particularly useful if you're playing on a course you haven't played on before. It is legal, by the way, under USGA/R&A golf rules. We predict that this will be on most golfer's gift wish lists in the very near future.