Equipment Review: SkyCaddie SG4 Golf GPS

SkyCaddie SG4The SkyCaddie SG4 is the latest generation of GPS-enabled golf range devices produced by SkyGolf.

I’ve had my eye on the SkyCaddie for a few years since I saw an earlier generation model featured on an infomercial on the Golf Channel. Today, I finally went ahead and bought one and gave it a 9-hole test run this afternoon.

Features

  • The SkyCaddie uses GPS satellites to give accurate yardages to the green from anywhere on the course.
  • There are thousands of pre-mapped courses that can be downloaded (with a paid subscription) to the unit by connecting it to a PC with the supplied USB cable. On each hole, you can get yardages to front, middle, and back of the green from anywhere.
  • Yardages continually update as you move around each hole.
  • Measure the distance of any shot by pressing two buttons prior to the shot and then one button when you arrive at the ball.
  • IntelliGreen feature shows an outline of each green with an arrow indicating your angle of approach.
  • Cursor can be moved around the IntelliGreen display indicating the yardage from where you are to any pin placement on the green.
  • Courses not available for download can be manually entered. The process is simple and takes just a few seconds on each green.
  • Courses in the SkyCaddie database that are “Four Star” were professionally mapped and have additional yardages to targets like hazards including the distance to clear. It can show lay-up yardages, trees, mounds, and other course features. Also, the SG4 tells you the distance left to the green from these targets.
  • Courses that haven’t been professionally mapped can be shared with others online through the SkyCaddie course database.

Conclusions

After one round, I’m absolutely thrilled with the SkyCaddie SG4. I’ve had my eye on one for a long time, and I wasn’t disappointed. Since one of my goals is meticulous stat keeping, I’ve been struggling trying to document my shot lengths for each club manually, and now the SkyCaddie comes along and does it without any trouble whatsoever. I’m also thrilled that I don’t need to wander around looking for sprinkler heads to get approximate yardages anymore. The actual SkyCaddie unit itself feels well-made, but obviously I haven’t had it long enough to comment on it’s durability. After I give it 6 months of heavy use, I’ll post a follow-up. But right now, it’s a thumbs up.

The Good

  • Accurate yardages from anywhere, so far as I can tell. None of the yardages the unit gave me seemed off. But I intend to do some cross checking with my laser range finder next time out, and will report back if there are any discrepancies.
  • The added target information on the “Four Star” courses is great. Even without that, though, the yardages to front, middle, and back of each green plus the ability to measure shot distances is a huge benefit.
  • If you don’t want to pay for a subscription to be able to download course information from the online database, you can manually add your own custom courses
  • Getting up and running out of the box was a breeze. I had no problems whatsoever. The unit is extremely easy to use. After playing around for a bit at home and after playing a few holes on the course, I was pretty familiar with most, if not all the features.
  • Yardages continually update so when you need a distance, you get it instantly. I was a little worried that getting readings would take a few seconds each time, but it turned out that wasn’t the case at all. I was even wearing it clipped to my belt a little to the right of my buckle with my shirt over top of it and when I unclipped it to get a reading, there was no loss of communication at all and the yardages were instantly waiting for me.
  • The unit is a very manageable size. It’s got no protruding antenna like it’s predecessors. The unit measures 4.7″ x 2.2″ x 1.3″ (about the size of one of the modern cell phones with all the e-mail and other capability, though maybe not quite so wide).

The Bad

  • The price is steep. I paid $349.99. That’s pretty high, and for many people it would be hard to justify that price. I was in that boat myself, which is why I’ve been coveting it for two or three years. But I came into a few extra bucks recently, and given my overall golf goals, it seems like a good investment.
  • There is a subscription fee. While it isn’t required, not subscribing deprives you of some nice features. For instance, you wouldn’t be able to download any course information from the web. You’d be forced to map out your own courses (minus the IntelliGreen capability). Aside from that you can use it to measure shot distance, but that would be about it.
  • There are three tiers of membership. The lowest tier includes only courses in your state (for people in the U.S.). The middle tier includes courses all over the U.S. and the upper tier includes courses all over the world. I’m not sure how it’s delineated for people in other countries. Also, the tiered memberships vary in the number of user-defined coursed that can be stored online in the “SkyVault”. I chose the lowest tier membership because I typically play in New Jersey. That was $29.95 per year. The middle and upper tier memberships are $49.95 and $59.95, respectively.

So far, I have to say that the good definitely outweighs the bad. If you’re a serious player who relies on yardages but is sick of having to hunt down sprinklers and then pace off to your ball, then you’ll love this thing. The cost is the only real down side that I can see so far. If that’s not an issue for you, then I’d say definitely give it a try.

Comments

  1. Greg Bartz says:

    The membership thing (and the money… mostly the money) has me holding back on getting one of these. How many courses can the unit hold? Can you save them off to your PC?

    Once you get some experience with it, could you comparison and pros/cons between the gps and the laser rangefinder?

    Thanks,
    -Greg

  2. Double Eagle says:

    From what I can tell, you can store ten published courses in the unit, and an additional five courses that you manually create. My understanding is that your play list and custom courses are stored online as part of your membership, not on your local PC. It seems pretty transparent though. You can store 30, 50, or 100 user-defined courses, depending on which membership you get.

    Here’s a helpful chart of the different membership plans.

    Good idea on the comparison with the laser range finder. After I use it for a couple of weeks, I’ll post a follow-up to see if it really beats out the laser, and to see if I still feel as positive after the honeymoon is over.

  3. Dave says:

    Thanks for the SkyCaddie review. I would have had the same concerns upfront as you, but it sounds like it works as advertised (it should for that price).

    I’ve thought about golf and money, and I’ve concluded that I’m willing to pay upwards of a thousand dollars to get a single stroke off my handicap. It sounds excessive, but when I add up the price of lessons and equipment, let alone greens fees, a grand seems reasonable. From that point of view, $350 doesn’t seem so bad. That’s comparable to the price of a name-brand driver. I wonder which would actually do more to lower your score, a new driver or a SkyCaddie? In a typical round, I hit multiple shots where I’m basically making an educated guess on yardage. I’m sure that costs me strokes.

    One question: do you know anything about the USGA rules on GPS devices? I’ve heard they are legal, but I never see PGA caddies using them.

  4. Double Eagle says:

    If I had to guess, I’d say that a SkyCaddie would do more to lower scores, assuming your short game is precise enough that knowing whether a shot is exactly 65 yards (for example) makes a difference.

    With a driver, most times, they aren’t going to make you find the fairway without some swing doctoring. If a new driver gives you a few extra yards it’s not going to mean much without a decent second shot. It’s nice, but driving the ball 300 yards instead of 295 isn’t going to buy you much. So, unless you’re upgrading from a hickory-shafted brassie the benefits will probably be relatively small.

    As for the legality, the USGA recently established decision 14-3/0.5 which states that the Committee can establish a local rule permitting the use of artificial distance-measuring devices. So the short answer is that SkyCaddie (and lasers) are allowed by local rule. In absence of a local rule, they’re forbidden by rule 14-3. That’s why you don’t see them on TV. But I’d bet that you can see them in practice rounds.

    That also technically means that if I want to post a legitimate handicap score, I shouldn’t use the SkyCaddie. I’ll have to think about how I feel about that.

  5. Dave says:

    That’s a good explanation of the rule. I’m not sure how many clubs actually have a local rule on range finders. Usually local rules are written on the scorecards, but I’ve never seen anything about range finders, even at places that have GPS in the carts. I suspect that less than 1% of players care if their range finder is against the rules or not. I play by most of the rules, particularly those that have to do with actually playing the ball. But, for example, I don’t sweat the rules on giving advice. If someone asks me what club I just hit, I’m more than happy to tell them, and I wouldn’t feel like that invalidated my score for the round. I think in a tournament, I’d follow all the rules, but not in a Sunday-morning round with friends.

    If you wanted to be strictly legal, you could use your SkyCaddie to make notes on your local course and then just use the notebook.

  6. Double Eagle says:

    Good points, Dave. You and I are on the same page.

    The way I see it is, if the SkyCaddie helps me out and I post a score from a practice round, then in reality I’m only hurting myself. If my handicap is too low then it gives an advantage to my opponent, not to me.

    I feel the same way about advice. I usually don’t ask for any, but I figure if someone asks me, it’s not affecting my game so it’s not a big deal to me.

    Playing in a tournament or a money game (neither of which I do often), then I play 100% by the rules.

  7. Dave says:

    The rule I have the most trouble with is the stroke and distance rule for a lost ball or ball out of bounds. It’s no problem if I jack one OB and I know it right away, I can just tee it back up and hit my third shot. What I can’t deal with is walking up to where my ball is and then not being able to find it. Inevitably, there’s a group right behind me, and I can’t bring myself to walk back to the tee and make everyone wait. The best I can come up with is to just drop one where I think my ball should be and consider my next shot to be my fourth (as if I re-teed and hit my third shot to there). I hit provisional balls when I’m not sure I’ll be able to find my tee ball, but once in a while there’s that ball that you’re sure is in play but then evaporates when you get up there.

  8. Double Eagle says:

    Ugh. That is the absolute worst situation. I hate that. I pretty much play it the same way. If it’s clear behind me and I’m posting a score, I’ll usually go back. But when there are people behind, I can’t bring myself to do it. Plus, holding up anyone playing with me stinks too. My absolute worst pet peeve in golf is hitting a ball into an area I can clearly see, then not being able to find it when I get up there. In some rare occasions I find it by accident, usually not where I was looking in the first place.

  9. sauzatime says:

    I’m considering a SkyCaddie purchase myself and therefore would love to read your follow-up review. Any chance it’s coming soon?

    cheers!

  10. Double Eagle says:

    Thanks for pointing that out, sauzatime. I had forgotten all about it.

    Check back later today.

  11. Edwin says:

    Thats a very comprehensive and informative review, thanks. Whilst you looked at the functions, and the pros and cons relating to these have you now got a view on how other players react to you using a golf rangefinder.

    I always wonder whether they first go through the interested and intrigued stage and then move to envy or annoyance.

    A golf rangefinder can give you a large advantage but as you observed it comes at a price and a monthly subscription as in this instance. Everyone is in a golf equipment race – better irons, better drivers etc and does this mean that eventually everyone needs a golf rangefinder, at a price, just to maintain score with the basic hackers?

  12. Double Eagle says:

    It might, Edwin.

    The thing is, the precision that is gained by using a GPS instead of yardages from markers on the course probably won’t help most players play better anyway.

    It may save them from a few big mistakes that might come from being mentally sloppy when determining yardage.

    On the flip side, it speeds things up, giving yardage information much faster.

    Someone who just goes out and knocks it around for fun on the weekends can probably do without. But you’re right, for someone constantly looking for the next advantage, this fits the bill. However, I think it’s more a matter of convenience and precision that goes beyond just keeping up with other hackers.

    A good player without a GPS will still beat a hacker that has one most of the time.

  13. Edwin says:

    I think you are right and raise a valid point. At the end of the day it is time spent practicing that is the largest influence and the next 5% can be gained through the correct and appropriate use of add on equipment.

  14. mtgolf says:

    I and several of my friends own an SG-4. They are great when they work, but they tend to break down. I to send mine back and pay for repairs shortly after 1 year. I have a friend that has already had to send his back for repairs twice in slightly over a year. I understand from the pro shop where I purchase it, they have had to send a lot of SG4s back for repairs.

  15. Double Eagle says:

    I’m going to be posting an update mtgolf, for that very reason. After about a year, I’ve been having trouble the last several times I tried to use it.

    I was thinking that it may have had to do with the SG4 being stored in my car glove compartment in the hot and cold weather, as well as banging around hooked to my bag during rounds. It seems it’s not just me, but no doubt those things didn’t help the situation.

  16. Dot Bailey says:

    I purchased a Skycaddie SG4 10-07. It worked great the first 6 months. Than I started having problems, sent it in. They said 5-7 day tournaround. After 21 days I had to call them (which I must say is an hour wait anytime you call support). Then they sent me another one after I called and complained. I’ve had it 2 months and now it isn’t working. Their product isn’t all they say it is, and their service is even worse. I’d think twice before buying one if I were you. I will NOT buy another Skycaddie.

  17. Jack Harney says:

    I bought the G2 a couple of years ago, and although there were glitches, Skycaddie’s customer service was very good. I bought a G4 earlier this year, and unfortunately, the Company’s customer service has taken a nosedive. Here’s a tip: If you have to send one back for repair or replacement, call them after one week or else your unit will sit there for however long it takes you to get irritated and go through the 45 minute hassle of being on hold, before they will either tell you how much you owe, or realize they have to ship it back to you. I will not buy another SkyCaddie.

  18. Double Eagle says:

    I keep hearing more and more of these types of experiences, Dot and Jack. I haven’t sent mine back for repair yet, but I think I will so I can evaluate their customer service and report back here in a new post.

  19. Parro says:

    I have been using my skycaddie for two seasons. Last month the plug would not screw into the unit and I couldn’t charge it. I called tech support and they said that I could either send it back and they would replace it or apply scotch tape to hold the plug in. I opted to send it in. They received it 8/8/08 and as of today 9/5/08 I have not heard from the company. They say I just have to wait my turn. Bad support and bad design. The connection should not be a small screw that can strip easily. They should consider a re-design with a USB plug. I have found the unit helpful but on our course there are about 4 holes where the distances are 10-15 yards off and the unit occasionally freezes forcing me to reset it by opening the back and removing the battery.

  20. Ken says:

    Sky Caddie the gift you keep paying, and paying for. Let my subscription lapse. figured my 10 course data base was enough. Guess what? you dont pay another 29 bucks Your back to Zero.

    bUY THE NIKON G500 LASER.

  21. Double Eagle says:

    Ken, I agree that the subscription concept is kind of weak. I thought, like you, that having my primary courses in there would be enough. That is, until I let the subscription lapse and it wouldn’t even let me use the ones I already had in the unit until I renewed.

    At the same time, the SkyCaddie does have some advantages over lasers (I do own a laser). For instance, it gives yardages to places that you can’t see. Plus, on a calm day, it’s hard to get a read on a flag a long way out (I can’t speak for the Nikon G500 – I’m just talking about my Bushnell). Also, for courses that are fully surveyed, you get width and depth information on the greens, so you don’t have to guess as much as with a laser that will just give you distance to a flag or mound or other obvious features.

    Given that, I opted to keep both the laser and the SkyCaddie in play for 2008 (and beyond). I can understand the motivation to just stick with the laser, but to me, the subscription fee wasn’t enough to make me stick to the laser.

  22. John James says:

    I have seen nothing but rave reports on the Skycaddie. Hmmmm! I bought a Skycaddie 5 and I have played on five different courses with 4 star ratings. Three of the five courses did not show any water, sand or other hazard, even though there were plenty on each course.
    I ended up in water hazards that were not visible from the tee, bunkers that were not visible from the fairway and now I am wondering were the BENEFIT of the Skycaddie comes in.
    If SIXTY PERCENT of the courses I’ve played don’t identify hazards. “Why did I spend all this money”? To save myself a little time by not having to walk off some yardages? Seems rather pricey to me. Am I the only one?
    John

  23. Double Eagle says:

    John,

    I doubt you’re the only one. However, I can only really comment on the few courses where I used it. Most importantly, I use it at my home course. It hasn’t missed any hazards or important detail and the yardages are pretty right on.

    Maybe it has something to do with the individual that charts each course. Frankly, I’d contact SkyGolf if I were you. The four-star courses are supposed to have been charted by professionals. I’d find it pretty unacceptable if my course was charted so poorly.

  24. Robert says:

    The subscription deal is a rip-off. I purchased my unit over three years ago and would purchase a subscription when I would take a trip or need new courses. With the economy I haven’t played much or traveled but all of a sudden I noticed the subscription if ending notice on my unit. Why should I have to pay to download the same information each year if they do not update it? Please don’t tell me the government is making them rent time on the gps.

  25. Double Eagle says:

    I agree, Robert, the subscription does seem sort of cheesy if you already have the courses you need. I’d be very surprised if GPS service itself required a monthly fee. More likely, it’s the only way for the company to stay afloat. Once the market is saturated with golf GPS units, then maybe there just aren’t enough replacement units being sold to make sure they can continue to add courses to the database and that sort of thing. Not really a good reason, but probably what it is.

  26. clloydm says:

    First, the original download of your courses is not permanent. If you do not renew it does not just prevent you from adding courses or updateing the ones you have it completely deletes them all on the first boot up after expiration. I paid for the downloads, I requested courses be added, which were not, I have not had an update to any course I play. My SG4 is now a very pretty paper weight, not even a particularly good GPS as it has not the capability of WAAS. Error rates of 10+ yards are common.

  27. Gord says:

    My Sky Caddie experiance was not so good. I bought a SG4, I got two rounds on it before I had to send it back. It would not charge, we put in a different battery still would not charge, tried a new charger still would not work. I paid for the machine in the spring before the season started, paid to program in the courses, used it for two rounds and have not seen it since. Of course the warranty was expired before the snow even melted up here and Sky Golf would not help me out in any way with the cost to repair even thhough the machine was clearly defective right out of the box. Sky Golf does not offer great customer service, the warranty is a joke do not expect them to help you out when something like this happens because they won’t…..

  28. Grant says:

    I think the skycaddie sg4 is a great product and one I have used for a couple months now. Besides the payment plans, it is great to have while playing and it is pretty accurate in my opinion.

    I do reccomend the sg4 to anyone who wants better yardage.

  29. Dot Bailey says:

    I won an SG4 Sky Caddie and I wouldn’t give 2 cents for another one. It only works on half of the course I play. I’ve had it repaired by
    Sky Caddie two times for the above problem and now it is broke again. The same thing. Only now Sky Caddie wants me to pay for the repairs when it has the same problems it has always had. Only then it was under warranty. Their fees are too high. Thumbs Down on Sky Caddie, their website, and their SG4 equipment.

  30. John Pazour says:

    I’ve had an SG4 for three years now and when it fails I’ll get another gps but NOT from Sky Caddie. It worked fine for the first year and then the Mickey Mouse charger/computer interface connector screw got stripped. Apparently this is a common problem. The annual fee is a pain and if the unit is idle for 10 days I have to do a gps reset. I would send it in to have the connector screw/nut fixed, but in this and other forums the assessment of the service department is deplorable. It is a shame to see what started out as a reputable company fail so misserably in customer relations.

  31. JTS says:

    The SkyCaddie SG4 has a lot of problems. Mine also had cord connection problems, which they replaced. But, the real problem is the GPS satellite hook-up, which is a common problem that SkyGolf will not admit to. There is an obvious design error that they (and the consumer) are stuck with. When you call in, the tech support people are usually very nice (once you get thru), but they won’t admit to the problem & will do nothing to help you.
    I would have my doubts on anything SkyGolf makes as a result of this. There are too many other brands out there now. Check carefully before you buy.

  32. Richard says:

    I love my SkyCaddie device, but I HATE their policies and customer service. No golfing tool is worth the hassle of dealing with renewing memberships. Read carefully what you sign up for. I paid for a year subscription and they gave me 4 months. When I complained they told me it was my fault because I didn’t renew fast enough. I’ve never dealt with a company that is so arrogant and out of touch with what customer service should be. Find an alternative…

  33. Double Eagle says:

    That seems to be a pretty common opinion, Richard. I’m really starting to dislike the subscription myself. I don’t use it too often because I play probably 99% of my golf at my home course where I know the yardages in my sleep. And I continue to hear bad customer service stories here and there.

  34. G Whitaker says:

    I’m very dissatisfied with my Skycaddie ownership experience. The downloads are unreliable and the support is poor. I don’t recommend anyone make the same mistake I did! I have one for sale cheap if anyone is interested

  35. E COURTNEY says:

    The threads on the connector screw on my SG4 stripped. They replaced it with a refurb about a year ago. Have been very careful not to overtighten and now it is stripped again. It is a terrible design flaw to mate a stainless steel screw with brass threads. They should do a recall and retrofit or institute a generous upgrade policy.

  36. John Pazour says:

    I have the same thread problem on my SG4 and after the terrible reputation SkyCaddie’s customer service has I’ve used electrical tape for a year when recharging or loading new courses. Their upgrade policy towards a SG5 is lousy.

  37. DJHussey says:

    I know it’s already been said several times, but I too hate SkyCaddie’s policy on memberships. I’ve had my SG5 for several years, having paid several hundred dollars for the unit. After a year, I moved overseas and haven’t played a lot of golf since. When I came back to the States, I find that all my courses were deleted, including the ones I manually mapped. Talking to Customer service, I’m told I have to renew a membership, or at least save my courses to their program. Now I mapped them, and I already paid for courses that haven’t been updated, abd yet I am supposed to pay either $30 for my 2 weeks at home, or $60 to have all the courses in case I happen to play in Europe (which won’t happen). Why is this any different than a GPS for driving, where you get maps for the roads, and if you WANT an updated map, you pay for it. They don’t turn off the unit in a year, or require memberships. The GPS signal is free, and they can make a profit operating, why can’t SkyCaddie? They only thing we as consumers can do is to say “no”. Go with another company, or device.

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