It's been close to two years since I posted my Apple Watch golf app review in 2019. The gist of my initial reaction to the Apple Watch golf experience was that while there was a lot of promise in many of the various apps, I was generally underwhelmed with the jack-of-all-wearables and preferred a golf-focused watch instead.
Since that review, iOS app developers have been hard at work cleaning up code for a faster experience and releasing new features. User experiences have certainly improved. In fact, my new favorite Apple Watch golf app in 2021 didn't even exist in 2019.
I've spent this spring revisiting a handful of top Apple Watch golf apps to assess their GPS and scoring experiences, as well as how their data ties into their mobile and desktop app experience. One of the most notable advancements for Apple Watch golf is shot tracking and strokes gained analytics. Once the bastion of club tag brands like Arccos or Shot Scope, you can now gain valuable strokes gained and advanced scoring insights using only a third-party Apple Watch app tethered to your iPhone. No tags required.
For these tests I'm still using the Series 4 Apple Watch (44mm). Apple has advanced two generations up to the Series 6 (from $399) and more affordable SE version (from $279). One of my greatest complaints about the device itself - the constant battery drain - appears to still be an issue. Apple says the Series 6 can run 18 hours during normal use. I found during several of my rounds my Series 4 didn't last all 18 holes. Some apps seemed to drain the battery more than others. Other times, I ran into software update issues: I couldn't use the watch app if I didn't update my watch, which also required updating my phone, which also required plugging into power, and being on WiFi. Not good for a guy who typically rolls into the course parking lot as his group is being announced to the tee.
All Apple Watch golf rounds must be started on your phone, and from there you open up the app on your watch, which pairs with the phone. These apps also generally have pretty flyover displays on the phone and some added features like club recommendations. Because I prefer to not use my phone during a round unless I'm clueless about the golf hole and need a flyover map, I've focused mainly on the watch-only experience, followed by what the tracking provides in the app after the round.
Here are my picks for the best Apple Watch golf app to use in 2021:
The best Apple Watch golf app for 2021: V1 Game
Since launching in 2020, V1 Game has vaulted up the ranks of established app makers to become the best app for serious golfers using Apple Watch. Its shot tracking is the clear-cut winner among the apps that don't require club tags, while the app dashboard provides illuminating strokes gained and traditional analysis using your scoring and shot data. The watch has a clear and simple display with GPS showing front-middle-back yardages to the green. But here's where it particularly stands out:
Auto-shot detection and A.I. breadcrumbs. When you hit a shot during a round, the watch detects it, vibrates and prompts you to select the club you hit. Voila. But the secret sauce is what happens when it misses a shot. Every shot tracker I've ever used - club tags and wearables alike - misses shots. But V1 Game does the best job at predicting where those shots likely happened. It uses a combination of artificial intelligence and breadcrumbs tracing your steps with a little blue line. So when reviewing your round afterwards, it's that much easier to identify the location of a shot it missed and tag that spot with a shot. Golf is, after all, a game of misses.
Unlike Arccos and Shot Scope, which rely on the user to set the pin location to determine proximity of approach shots to the hole and putting stats, V1 Game instead prompts the golfer to input their first putt length and how many putts were needed. (Because you aren't tagging the specific location of your approach shot on the green, it means your irons yardage data won't be as accurate).
The V1 Game watch app has real-time shot measuring from your last recorded location. This is a favorite feature of mine for any wearable because if you hit the ball offline, knowing exactly how far you've walked off the tee gives you a good idea of when to start looking seriously for your stray. It also helps give you a better idea of how the wind affected your previous shot.
But shot tracking doesn't really matter if the statistics dashboard isn't insightful, and V1 delivers here in a way that rivals Arccos. It slices and dices your rounds and shot data in a multitude of ways. V1 Coach tells me which facets of my game are losing the most shots and where I should spend my practice time. Right now, it looks like I'm losing strokes because I'm not jarring enough 6-10 footers.
V1 Game has two pricing tiers. The "Birdie" tier is $59.99/year and provides Apple Watch functions, shot tracking and strokes gained analytics. The "Eagle" tier ($119.99/yr) offers "Virtual Coach" and "Virtual Caddie" that provide both in-round assistance based on your swing history and post-round analysis. This is the most expensive Apple Watch golf app per year but it delivers the goods. Download V1 Game here.
Best value Apple Watch app for scoring and stats: The Grint
I touted The Grint's app in my 2019 Apple Watch column, and I'm pleased to report they have rebuilt the Apple Watch app from the ground up and it's now faster and smoother than two years ago. As long as you don't crave strokes gained or intuitive shot tracking, The Grint is an excellent option for an Apple Watch scoring and GPS. One of the shortcomings of shot-tracking-first apps is your score almost always requires review and edit because they miss putts or chips or penalty strokes. Scoring using the Grint app is clear and fast. Its hole-by-hole scoring feature allows you to easily enter putts, driving accuracy and tag any hazards (drops, bunkers, O.B., etc.). I like The Grint so much that even though it's not my go-to in-round app, I still enter my scores and detailed stats after the round for an official handicap index and additional game insights.
The Grint has always straddled a line between serious performance and playful, social features. In this most recent update, they added a sudsy beer icon to the top right of their watch display so you can, if you choose, enter how many drinks you had during your round.
Is there a free version of The Grint for Apple Watch? You can use The Grint's phone app for free, but you have to upgrade to The Grint Pro for watch integration. TheGrint Pro is just $39.99 per year, making it a great value compared to others typically costing $49.99 and up.
Another Strokes Gained watch app: SwingU
For those who want Strokes Gained stats without club tags, SwingU is a worthy runner-up to V1 Game and less expensive, too. Their "SwingU Versus" features a strokes gained stat for Driving, Approach Shots, Chipping & Pitching, Bunker Play and Putting.
The watch app has a shot tracker but it must be tapped each time to start and end the shot. In addition to GPS, if you scroll down on the face you'll receive a "plays like" distance, recommended club and wind speed. My favorite in-round feature of SwingU is that it's the only app I've used that will reliably toggle the watch face to the scorecard when it detects you've reached the green. It might sound insignificant but every additional tap that is eliminated when using Apple Watch does wonders for my user experience.
SwingU has its roots in instruction so game improvement is a big deal with the membership. It uses AI to analyze your game data and send you drills and tips based on what the data suggests you're struggling with. The premium membership features a large instruction library of over 600 videos from top instructors.
Can you use the SwingU app for free on Apple Watch? Yes! The free app version of SwingU features phone and watch GPS, handicap and scorecard but the advanced analytics of SwingU versus, shot tracking, "plays like" distance and the video library requires the Premium version for $99.99 annually.
GolfShot: New auto shot tracking watch app
Another new entrant into auto shot tracking in 2021 is the GolfShot app. Toggle auto shot tracking to 'on' in the phone and the watch will detect swings. It's up to you to swipe left and use the crown to select the proper club. At the bottom left of the display, the watch shows distance traveled from the last shot and the club used. For game tracking, GolfShot provides shot history and statistics based on location but comes nowhere close to V1 Game's coaching, putt-length data and strokes gained features.
The GolfShot watch app is solid but the phone app is visually stunning. They've created cool, animated flyovers of holes and you can also try out their Golfscape Augmented Reality feature that provides a cool way of checking out distances to hazards. It's particularly helpful on holes with blind hazards. For golfers who want to use their iPhone and watch during their round and play a lot of unfamiliar courses, GolfShot is a very compelling option.
Is Golf Shot free on Apple Watch? No, you have to upgrade to Pro for $49.99 per year.
Arccos adds Apple Watch shot tracking function
Arccos is a leader when it comes to shot tracking and strokes gained analysis for amateur golfers. Last year, they added Caddie Link, a belt clip that will track shots and set pin locations instead of having to keep your phone in your lead pocket. This year, they've added shot detection to their Apple Watch app. Arccos also features a Virtual Caddie that is visible from the watch or phone that offers club advice using AI and real-time weather and elevation. It also has real-time shot measuring.
Setting the correct pin locations and putting distances is one of the most time-intensive and cumbersome things about using Arccos, but it's critical for precise data. At this time, you cannot set the pin location from your watch. Until that feature is installed, the watch app loses a little of its luster and you'll still need your iPhone handy or Caddie Link. I also found in testing that the watch missed more shots than Caddie Link or my iPhone and the watch battery seemed to drain quicker than other apps.
Hole 19: Solid features with basic GPS for the free version
The vast majority of Apple Watch golf apps require some sort of paid subscription. Hole 19 is a solid Apple Watch app with a premium version featuring scoring and advanced stats or a free version that provides GPS only off the watch. Premium includes the shot and distance tracker, club recommendations and more advanced analytics. $49.99 per year.
Are you an Apple Watch user? Tell me about your favorite golf app and why in the comments below!