Create and Use Golf Course Maps on Your Garmin Handheld

As cell phones with GPS capability drive down the market for hand-held GPS units, more people have GPS handhelds which are stashed in a drawer, going unused.  Why not repurpose those GPS’s as golf yardage units?  You won’t have to buy a dedicated golf unit ($$$), subscribe to some service ($$) or buy maps ($$), if all you need is yards to the center of the greens.  You can make your own custom golf course maps for free.

All that your old GPS needs to work as a great golfing assistant is the Latitude/Longitude coordinates of the green centers.

The Low-Tech Method

One obvious (and somewhat tedious) method is to enter each green as a point-of-interest (POI) or waypoint using your manual entry option on the GPS.  Use Google Earth or Virtual Earth, find your golf course, zoom in on the 1st green, choose “add a new place mark” , center the crosshairs on the center of the green, read and copy the exact Latitude/Longitude coordinates (they look like:  43°34’44.48″N  61°12’46.05″W)*. Repeat for all 18 greens.

*NOTE: This format is degrees minutes seconds (or Other possibilities in Google Earth are decimal degrees (dd.ddddddd) or decimal minutes (mmmm.mmmm). To save yourself the hassle of converting these later, check how your GPS expects coordinates to be entered. It is usually a configurable option in your GPS setup page.

Sit down with your GPS and enter each green coordinate as a waypoint.  Name as “Hole 1” or “1”. etc.  The lack of an entry keyboard on the GPS makes this process — challenging.  Like brain surgery – don’t attempt when tired or after 3 cups of coffee.  Or better yet, startup the computer software that came with the GPS on your PC, hook your GPS to the PC and enter waypoint data from the comfort of your PC and transfer to the GPS.

The High-Tech Method

Visit this web site.   Find your golf course in the window by entering an address and controlling the zoom.  Pan the window to show the 1st green.  Select “Pin Marker” in the drop-down list, left-click the center of the green, click “Convert” button, enter hole #.  Move on to do the same for all 18 greens.* When done click the “Transparent map” option and then click the “Show Points File (GPX)” button.  Copy and paste all of the text into a new text file and save the file (mycourse.gpx, for example).GarminMap1

*NOTE: Got extra time? The page will also allow you to mark tee boxes, outline fairways, hazards and greens. These outlines and marks will also transfer into your GPS. They are not necessary for yardage purposes, but they will appear when the GPS is zoomed in.  If you want this graphical version, you need to use the “Show Text File” option, copy and paste as a new txt file, use cgpsmapper.exe to create an img file, and MapSetToolkit to transfer to MapSource.   The process is technical, but it works.

At this point you can open MapSource, load the GPX file and send it to your GPS.

Using Your Golf Maps

Normally newly transferred maps are activated by default.  If not, you’ll have to do this in your GPS setup page.  Also you’ll want to change the distance units to yards.  When you start playing a hole choose “Find” or “Go to”.  The waypoints/POI page will open.  If not already showing by “nearest”, change this so it does list them in order by closest.  Select the hole number you’re playing next as your destination to go to.  The unit shows the yards to the center of the green as you progress.

NOTE: It doesn’t matter that you named several waypoints “1” from different golf courses, because ordering them “by nearest” always removes any possible confusion.

If you created fancier maps showing the green outline, hazards and tee boxes then it is possible to use the cursor on the display to measure distances.   But it is more time-consuming than just reading the yardage to the green and delaying your group or those behind you would be poor etiquette.  I just leave the unit in the cup holder in the cart and drive the cart to my ball.  I punch in the next waypoint at the next tee box.

NOTE: It is possible to create a “route” for each golf course from your waypoints. This would (in theory) eliminate the need to select a waypoint at each tee box.  However, for a route to work you must approach each destination within a certain radius to trigger the next leg of the route.  This would always happen if you carried the GPS with you (since you walk on each green), but it might not happen if you leave the unit in the cart, as some greens are not closely approachable in a cart.