Ownership of launch monitors (accurate ones) has traditionally been limited to golf teaching professionals, club fitters, and the rich (and potentially famous). That's understandable given the cost of these systems, but that's changing...quickly. As the technology to measure ball flight becomes more accessible and more affordable, several manufacturers have entered what we call the personal launch monitor space.
While a professional grade launch monitor can set you back as much as $25,000, the launch monitors we tested start at under $200. It's absolutely true that none of these budget units can match the professional products feature for feature (none of the units we tested provide clubhead data), each offers the promise of accuracy for substantially less than their professional-grade counterparts.
That sounds great, but a launch monitor is only useful if it really is accurate, and at an absolute minimum, consistent. Can a personal launch monitor offer that?
We put four of the top personal launch monitors to the test to find out which ones actually perform as advertised.
To establish and quantify accuracy, units were tested alongside a professional-grade launch monitor. Shots were recorded simultaneously and the results were collected from each device for comparison with our control unit. Results are based on a collection of driver, hybrid, 7-iron, and pitching wedge shots. Each unit registered a total of 120 shots.
Each of the units we tested had moments of glory where the numbers it registered were dead-on accurate (in comparison to our control unit), but each suffered from the occasional wild miss as well. Some users will find it easy-enough to discount these shots and be otherwise happy.
One of the toughest measurements for this price range of monitors seems to be the Azimuth. While not reported by any of the monitors in our test, it's used a basis for some of the reported numbers, but when a ball starts too far right or left, the reliability of the overall numbers negatively impacted. Not surprisingly, straighter shots produce more reliable numbers.
Comparative accuracy was established using all shots registered by each launch monitor. As noted above, this includes shots measured from a driver, hybrid, 7-iron and pitching wedge.
The chart below show the average percent difference from our control launch monitor across all shots.
The chart below shows sample data from a single shot simultaneously captured by all four devices. This is intended to provide you with a visual from a true numbers perspective. These numbers, as they are from a single shot, may not align with the overall averages listed above for each device.
Good: The overall accuracy variance for this unit in testing was 4.92% from the control, and the numbers were the most consistent of any unit in this test. That borders on excellent when you consider that the cost for some of the big boys run 10 times the price. For those looking for an "affordable" in-home simulator, SkyTrak has announced simulation options (which including putting) coming in the near future. The reported online capabilities will likely add to the value and fun of this unit.
Bad: No built-in display. Requires an iPad.
Notes: Offers a plethora of data, reliability, and consistency at an affordable price. SkyTrak is your most accurate option under $2,000. Upcoming simulator capabilities will make it a no-brainer for those looking for an inexpensive, yet realistic indoor setup. For club fitting, SkyTrak will get you close, but doesn't offer the exacting accuracy/consistency you'd need to be 100% confident in the finer points.
Good: Distance, Ball Speed, Swing Speed and Smash Factor all represented along with games you can use to practice on the range with accuracy that is surprising at this price point.
Bad: Doesn't measure spin. Lacks a smart phone/table interface.
Notes: Simple yet extremely well-done. Well-suited for quick range sessions.
While the Ernest Sports ES12 and ES14 each fills a role, we didn't find either unit to be consistently accurate-enough to warrant our recommendation.