Optical Golf Rangefinder: The Old School Way

Do you wonder how people used to measure the flagstick distance in golf, before all these new inventions? While we are very used to electronic devices these days, it wasn’t always an option for people. They just didn’t exist back then, they were using optical golf rangefinders.

People have used rangefinder devices since the 1880s. An optical golf rangefinder is one of the earliest rangefinder models.

You might wonder how it was possible to use a rangefinder in olden times. Well, there were certain mechanisms and principles on which range finding devices used to function.

In this post, we will exhibit how an optical golf rangefinder used to work. Before that, we must know what an optical golf rangefinder is.

Optical golf rangefinder

An optical golf rangefinder is the first rangefinder device made for golfers. You might find some people who still use this device. It is used by golfers to measure the distance on the field. You can still fund these devices and use them to get accurate results. Along with Golf Laser rangefinder and Golf GPS rangefinder, it is one of the most popular rangefinder devices. If you are budget-friendly, you can get this type of golf rangefinders. They are cheap and doesn’t require additional maintenance cost. You don’t have to utilize batteries for this device. However, the results are not as reliable as of the latest rangefinder devices, you can still use it for short ranges.

How does it work

To know how it works, you must know how it looks and all its components. Optical golf rangefinders have two lenses. These lenses are on opposite ends. There is focusing knob as well. You can also find an in-build scale inside the device. As per the scale, this knob converts the scale-reading into the distance. Pretty complicated, right? Let’s divide the working into parts.


It is a monocular device, i.e. it only has one eyepiece. You have to use one eye to focus on the pin. Inside this device, there is a built-in scale for measuring distance. There is also a preloaded chart. You have to focus the eyepiece lens on the height of the pin. Once the height of the pin is measured through the scale, the optical rangefinder uses the height measurement and converts it into distance using the preloaded charts.


To get the accurate distance, you have to focus the rangefinder on the centre of the pin. Make sure you keep the pin in centre focus to get the height captured. You have to use steady hands.


Optical golf rangefinder works on the principle of parallax. It is used to measure long-distance objects. Astronomers mostly use it. This rangefinder uses this principle to measure the distance. Let’s see how it works. It works by using a form of triangulation. As we have discussed, it consists of two lenses. These lenses are on opposite ends of the rangefinder. This rangefinder is focusing on the pin. You can clearly see a triangle forming. The pin is the focal point, and it has two lenses on the opposite side. If you focus this on the pin, it will form a triangle. Now you can see the pin through one lens while the other is also focusing on it. From two lens two images are created. The focusing knob then makes these images combine with each other. The knob then moves the scale to cover the reading into the distance.

The Good and Bad of Optical Golf Rangefinders


•    It is cheaper. You can easily use this device if you have budget problems.
•    To don’t have to spend additional money on batteries and downloading.
•    You will get accurate results for short ranges.
•    It is lightweight and easy to use.
•    You don’t have to worry about the rain of other weather conditions while using it.


•    You will not get accurate distance as laser or GPS rangefinders.
•    You have to totally depend on the size of the pin to get the distance.
•    You need stead hands to focus on the pin or else you won’t get accurate results.
•    You can only use it for short ranges.
•    Nowadays, people rarely use them.


Optical golf rangefinder uses simple mechanics and visuals to measure the distance in golf fields. Your grandfathers and great grandfather might have used an optical golf rangefinder while playing golf.

It is a legacy that still continues. Although the techniques and technology behind rangefinders have changed, they still serve the same purpose, i.e. to measure distance while playing golf.

It was mainly written for the laser version, but the same principles still apply.

You might criticize this rangefinder as much as you want, but you can’t deny the fact that all the latest rangefinders are simply an improved version of optical golf rangefinders.

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