2020 PERSONAL LAUNCH MONITOR BUYER’S GUIDE
Golf launch monitors have become ubiquitous with the pros. At every PGA TOUR event, you see a variety of launch monitors on the range. Foresight, TrackMan, and FlightScope are the leaders. Bryson DeChambeau, the 2020 U.S. Open champion, uses launch monitors from two brands to dial in his game.
Given that many of the best players in the world use these devices to drive both equipment and on-course decisions, it’s understandable that average golfers would be hungry to do the same.
Personal golf launch monitors are the Holy Grail for the average golfer looking to improve their golf game. Technology is developing rapidly, and personal launch monitors have improved over recent years. These gizmos might still need a few years to become more accurate and provide more data points, but they’re able to offer enough information to help you reasonably dial in your game, with your expectations managed.
The enterprise stuff is expensive … really expensive. But for $500, there are a number of pocket sized devices that offer plenty of data for a reasonable cost.
If you’re considering purchasing a personal launch monitor or want to see how these devices measure up, read on.
How We Test
We're here to help you find the perfect Personal Launch Monitor to fit your needs.
To do that, we put the leading devices in the category through a thorough and fully independent testing process that leaves no feature unexplored, no detail unchecked, and no stone unturned.
To determine the accuracy and reliable of the data offered by the devices tested, we tested them side by side with an enterprise-class Foresight GCQuad launch monitor inside and out. Foresight is trusted by the R&D teams at every major golf equipment company and is renowned for the accuracy of the data it provides.
The metrics we consider when rating Personal Launch Monitors include Accuracy, Ease of Use, Portability, and Features.
Golf Launch Monitor Technologies
Most, if not all, launch monitors available today are powered by one of two technologies: radar or cameras.
Radar-based systems use Doppler radar to follow the flight of the golf ball. Doppler works by bouncing microwaves off an object; in this case, a golf ball. By continuously sending waves and receiving the reflections, Doppler-powered devices track the movement of the ball through space.
Enterprise radar launch monitors like TrackMan and FlightScope X3 feature larger Doppler radars which are capable of tracking a golf ball over its entire flight. Less expensive consumer-grade units like the Voice Caddie SC200 Plus and the Rapsodo have smaller Doppler units that don’t quite track the full flight of the golf ball.
With the exception of SkyTrak, all of the models we tested are radar-based.
As the category suggests, camera-based launch monitors use high-definition cameras to measure ball data at, and immediately following, impact. While camera-based systems can’t measure the full flight of the golf ball, they typically provide more accurate axis tilt and spin measurements and are far more reliable in limited-flight scenarios.
Depending on the quality of the cameras, some camera-based launch monitors struggle under certain lighting conditions and in highly reflective environments.
SkyTrak is the only camera-based system included in this test.
Most Accurate Personal Launch Monitor - Rapsodo
The Rapsodo is a small compact unit that packs a punch. Although it provides limited metrics, it's the most accurate unit we tested. The lack of data is partially offset by features like shot tracking, launch, and dispersion charts and the ability to film your swing. Oh and it comes with a shot tracer to see your shot direction.
Golf Launch Monitor Features That Matter
All of the devices we tested provide Ball Speed, Club Head Speed and Carry Distance. If you’re looking for club head data, offline and dispersion numbers, you might want to look at the enterprise solutions like ForeSight and Trackman.
While you’re going to get the most accurate information from enterprise solutions like Trackman and Foresight, personal launch monitors have improved to offer reasonably accurate measurements to help you improve your game.
Ease of Use
Even the best golf launch monitors on the market must be easy to use. For most of us, practice time is limited and it shouldn’t be wasted trying to configure, connect and use a device meant to help us improve faster. Some units require more precise placement at setup.
While measuring the flight of the golf ball is the primary purpose for all of the units we tested, most offer some additional features. Some units allow for simulator play while others include features to record your swing or leverage GPS functionality on the golf course. Others add elements of gamification like long-drive contests and closest-to-the-pin challenges.
Rapsodo is a perfect launch monitor to record your swing while getting some data. SkyTrak and Mevo Plus provide games, range sessions and courses to play, no matter the weather. Garmin G80 is not only a launch monitor but also a GPS device so you can get some numbers to your target and some data points.
While the Voice Caddie and Garmin offerings are entirely self-contained, the other devices we tested require an app to communicate with the launch monitor and relay data to the user. We found the applications to be generally easy to navigate and hassle-free.
The Best PLM 2020 - Features
|Ernest ES B1|
|Yes||3 lb||In + Out|
|FlightScope Mevo Plus|
|Yes||1 lb||In + Out|
|Yes||7 oz||In + Out|
|Yes||4 oz||In + Out|
|Yes||9 oz||In + Out|
|Voice Caddie SC200 Plus|
|No||7 oz||In + Out|
|Voice Caddie SC300|
|Yes||1lb||In + Out|
EXPERT TIP - Practice with the Ball You Play
If your plan is to use a personal launch monitor to gain performance insights while banging limited flight, beat to hell, or generally inconsistent range balls, you're wasting both your time and money. Practice with the ball you play (or at least one that's similar) so the data you collect is consistent and meaningful.
Personal Launch Monitors – Top Five Takeaways
What’s Your Budget?
The price range for the units we tested is just under $400 to just under $2,000. If you want enterprise-level accuracy and features (head data, for example), you’re looking at $7,000-plus for a used Foresight GC2. If you go all out, you’re upwards of $25k for a brand-new, fully featured unit.
Indoors, Outdoors or Both?
If you’re going to use your launch monitor almost exclusively indoors, our first piece of advice would be to save your money for a SkyTrak. Consider buying used if you’re on a budget.
Those leaning towards a more affordable launch monitor indoors need at least eight feet of flight distance before the ball hits the impact net.
If you’re splitting time between indoor and outdoor use, consider FlightScope’s Mevo or Mevo Plus. They can handle either environment, the option to use metal dots can improve tracking a bit and the video features are well executed.
Business, Practice or Fun?
If you’re a fitter or teaching professional looking to leverage data, more than likely, you’ll need to look at the enterprise solutions. SkyTrak does offer some fitting capabilities and the bag-mapping feature (also available in the Rapsodo MLM) is impressive.
For recreational golfers looking to measure their distances, some of the $500 radar units do a reasonably good job. At the $500 price point, the most accurate unit we tested provides enough data points to help you improve and understand your game.
For those just looking to have a good time with their friends, units that offer games like closest to the pin or long drive may offer the most bang for the buck. Mevo, Rapsodo, SkyTrak, and Voice Caddie all include a selection of games that extend the capabilities of the device beyond just capturing data.
Depending On Your Needs
If you’re a golfer who wants the most metrics and most accurate readings on the market, you’re likely not going to be satisfied with a personal launch monitor. If you’re looking to improve your understanding of the data associated with your game like ball speed, clubhead speed and carry, and not break the bank then there are models like the SC200 Plus, Rapsodo, and Mevo Plus that are reasonably accurate.
Short Pitch Shots and Carry Distance
There are some short comings that personal launch monitors are still working to improve on and develop. While consistent readouts 60 yards and under is an area in need of improvement, you can still derive some short game data from personal launch monitors. Some, like the Rapsodo and Voice Caddie SC200 Plus, are consistently off by five to 10 yards so you have to know your baseline and do the math.
All of the devices we tested provide Ball Speed, Club Head Speed and Carry Distance. Other metrics produced by each unit are detailed in the chart below.
The Best PLM 2020 - Metrics Offered
|Product||Club Speed||Ball Speed||Launch Angle||Shot Tracer||Spin||Carry||Total|
|FlightScope Mevo Plus|
|Voice Caddie SC200 Plus|
|Voice Caddie SC300|
EXPERT TIP - On A Budget?
In 2020 we're starting to see a successful personal launch monitor take it's shape and for $500 you can reasonably expect some of these devices to give you information to help you in your game. The Rapsodo was more than 90% accurate on all data sets, with the exception of spin.
Golf Launch Monitors – More Tips
- Some of the golf launch monitors tested work better indoors while others work better or exclusively outdoors. Before you purchase a launch monitor, make sure you know where you’re going to use it.
- If you’re only going to hit a few dozen balls at a time, battery life may not be relevant. For longer sessions, especially when using video features, battery drain can be an issue.
- Golf launch monitors are a part of nearly every fitting experience but don’t expect to fit yourself with a consumer-grade unit. They’re not consistent enough and don’t provide the necessary data.
- Personal Launch Monitors have improved dramatically, but still have some room to grow. Models tested do a reasonably good job of measuring ball speed and launch angle for the most part. However, real spin measurements, come at a cost.
Best PLM 2020 - Results
|Flightscope Mevo Plus|
|Voice Caddie SC200 Plus|
|Voice Caddie SC300|
Personal Golf Launch Monitors FAQ
Q: What’s the difference between a personal launch monitor and an enterprise solution?
A: Several thousand dollars and accuracy. Enterprise solutions like Foresight and TrackMan are more accurate and provide more more data points.
Q: What data can I get from a personal golf launch monitor?
A: If you’re in the under $2000 price range you can reasonably expect your launch monitor to give you ball speed, carry, launch angle and spin. If you’re looking for club head data, offline and dispersion numbers, you might want to look at the enterprise solutions like ForeSight and Trackman.
Q: What is Smash Factor?
A: Smash factor is a common club performance metric. Several of the devices we tested provide this with varying degrees of accuracy. The Smash Factor formula is simple. It’s ball speed divided by head speed.
Q: Are all personal golf launch monitors accurate?
A: Not all are as accurate as enterprise solutions like, Foresight and Trackman. But according to the results of our test there are accurate units. The Rapsodo was more than 90% accurate on all data sets, with the exception of spin.