Review: Bushnell Phantom GPS

January 17, 2020

Growing up around bird watchers, an astronomy hobbyist, and hunters, Bushnell was practically a household name for me. In actuality, it is probably a household name for most people as the company was founded on the idea of bringing affordable binoculars to the masses. Back in 1948, David P. Bushnell brought back some binoculars from Japan and sold them for about half of what other companies were selling binoculars for. The venture was so successful that he renamed his import business to Bushnell Optical. Over the years the company expanded into other areas of outdoor recreation, eventually getting into the golf market.

While Bushnell might be known for their optics and in the golf world, their laser rangefinders they also have been selling GPS devices to track distance on the golf course for over a decade now. Back in 2009, the company launched its first handheld GPS device, the Yardage Pro. Partnering with L1 Technologies and their iGolf brand to download course information, the Yardage Pro required a $34.95 per year membership fee, which gave you access to download up to 100 different courses that were stored on your computer and synced with the device. Over the years Bushnell’s GPS devices got smaller with the Neo, the Neo+ and eventually the NEO Ghost. As these GPS devices were developed and technology advanced, the subscription model was eventually dropped and course information was stored locally on the device.

The NEO Ghost was originally launched in 2015, and three years later the follow-up was launched the Bushnell Phantom. Almost identical to the NEO Ghost in terms of functionality and looks, the biggest changes included the addition of a magnetic mount they called Bite Technology, the addition of Bluetooth to do course syncing with your mobile device.

Product Reviewed: Bushnell Phantom

  • MSRP: $129.99*
  • Launch Date: February 2018

Coming in four colors — black, blue, green and red — I chose my favorite color: green. The blue and green colors are more neon than not and though they aren’t the day-glow neon of the 90s, they come delightfully close.1 It’s a very solid feeling device that I feel like I could drop on the floor and have it come out working and in one piece, but I won’t test that theory out.

In the box, there is a very short quick start guide, a micro-USB charging cable, the device itself and a metal clip that attaches to the back BITE magnet so you can clip it to your belt. The back of the device protrudes in the middle slightly, while the clip is a little concave, allowing it to snap to the device and seems to hold in place fairly well.

The fact this only comes with a quick start guide and not a full manual is a little confusing, but there are only six buttons on the device, all of which are labeled, and it seems very straight forward. Just for research-sake however, I went and found the full manual on the Bushnell Golf website and was surprised that there is quite a bit of functionality that I otherwise would not have guessed at. First, briefly pressing the PWR button turns on a backlight, which I guess is helpful if you’re deep in the woods and need to know how far you’ve wandered from civilization looking for your ball.

Next, besides the primary function of giving you the distance to the front, middle and back of the green, you are also able to press the SELECT button and see the distances to the four most significant hazards on the hole. It’s more than just bunker or water hazard, it describes the location and hazard in a fairly extensive shorthand. Here is the full list:

  • BGB Back Green Bunker
  • BGW Back Green Water
  • CRK Creek Layup
  • CRKC Creek Carry
  • EOF End of Fairway
  • FGB Front Green Bunker
  • FGW Front Green Water Layup
  • FGWC Front Green Water Carry
  • LFB Left Fairway Bunker
  • LFW Left Fairway Water Layup
  • LFWC Left Fairway Water Carry
  • LGB Left Green Bunker
  • LGW Left Green Water
  • MFB Middle Fairway Bunker
  • MFW Middle Fairway Water Layup
  • MFWC Middle Fairway Water Carry
  • RFB Right Fairway Bunker
  • RFW Right Fairway Water Layup
  • RFWC Right Fairway Water Carry
  • RGB Right Green Bunker
  • RGW Right Green Water

I think that a visual GPS with these hazards would be a little easier to use, but I understand the limitations of this device for its simplicity and keeping costs down with just a monochromatic screen.

There are some other notable functions. One is the SHOT button, which when pushed starts calculating how far your last hit went. So for instance, if you are hitting off the tee box, you can press the SHOT button, move to your ball and then see how far you hit. At first, I thought this might be a nice little score tracker that you pushed each time you hit the ball, but unfortunately, it was not. Still, it’s a nice function. In the options menu, you can also set a tee time, which makes the Phantom enter its Golf Mode and search for your course seven minutes before your tee time. Why is this helpful? Let’s get into actually using the device and I’ll explain why.

Use on the Course

The first time I used this device I showed up about 30 minutes before our tee time so I could get some putting in. Thankfully I turned on the Phantom well before our tee time to mess around with it, because once I selected Play Golf it took an excessively long amount of time to find the GPS satellites. I didn’t time it, but it was well over five minutes and probably closer to 10. Digging back through the manual, it does note that the first time you play a course or area, it can take longer to find the satellite signals and should be faster for subsequent rounds. This is where that tee time function would come in handy, because I can just imagine rolling up five minutes before your tee time, throwing your bag in the cart and speeding over to the first tee box. As you grab your driver, glove half on and hurriedly greet your buddies, you reach to turn on your Phantom and it starts the slow process of finding a satellite signal.

Me: Guys hold on, my GPS is still connecting.

Them: Come on Brian, who cares if it’s 410 yards or 425, you’re only going to chunk it just past the red tees anyway and then claim a breakfast ball even though it’s two o’clock.

My guess is if you’re usually the type to arrive right at tee time, you probably aren’t going to bother entering in your tee time to the device the night before anyway. So perhaps the question of whether this function is really useful or not might be a moot point.

I played two separate rounds with this device, one using it mounted to the cart and the other using it clipped to my belt.

The BITE magnet on the Phantom is strong like, I’m-worried-about-the-electronics-in-my-bag-so-I-won’t-keep-the-Phantom-in-there strong. While that may be bad news for anybody still rocking a CRT monitor in their house, it’s great news for actually keeping the Phantom attached to your cart as you make-believe you’re Ricky Bobby driving over a bumpy course.2 In all seriousness though, I never once worried about it falling off and having to go search for it.

Having it right there on the cart is nice, as every time you park you just take a quick look at what the readout is, know which club you need to grab and go hit. It’s also useful if your partner in the cart doesn’t have a GPS, as it’s easily viewable mounted where it is. There are downsides to it, however. If you had a bunch of rain and it’s cart path only, having it stuck to your cart isn’t helping anybody. I suppose you could always grab it and take it with you, but for me, I like to get all situated before I start playing and then not fiddle with stuff so I can concentrate on my game. I don’t want to have to remember to grab the device every time I’m leaving the cart, and then remember to put it back again when I return. But! That’s where the belt clip comes into play.

As previously mentioned, the next round I played with the Phantom I kept it attached to the belt clip the entire round. It’s small enough that I barely noticed it there, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. The good is that it never bothered me during my swing even though I was a little concerned it would feel weird having something clipped to my belt. The bad is that while the magnet is very strong, the slick surface makes it very easy to slide off its belt-clip mount. Having it positioned too far forward, as soon as I bent over for my first wedge shot, I pushed it right off the clip and dropped it. Moving it over to my side was a much more stable position, but there were a couple of times that I got back into the cart and bumped into the seat handle, once again scraping it off the clip. This meant that for the entire round I was overly conscious of if I still had the thing attached to my belt or not. In a game where you need to clear your mind and concentrate on other things, I found that a bit distracting.

The nice part about having it with you is it was easy to pop off and get a distance read, which you couldn’t do if it was attached to your cart on the other side of the fairway. The other useful thing about keeping it on your person is I remembered to use the shot function. Having completely forgotten to even try it out my previous round, this round I did use it a few times to see what my hitting distances were.

Accuracy and Speed

If you are like me, previously the only sort of GPS device I had used was an app on my phone. If you aren’t familiar with how a phone triangulates your position, it calculates the distance between cell towers to give you a fairly accurate position. The downside is usually that position bounces around a little, especially after having just moved as it takes a few seconds to figure out exactly where you are. With the Phantom, it’s connected to GPS satellites and updates your position almost instantly as you move around. As far as accuracy goes, comparing it to both a GPS watch I was testing, my phone, and actual yardage markers on the course, the Phantom was always within about five yards or so of any of those other numbers. Unless you’re playing at a professional level, at which point you wouldn’t be able to use this device in competitive events anyway, those five yards really don’t matter.

Random Notes

  • The device does have Bluetooth, which means you can connect it to your phone. The benefit of this is you can get course updates with the Bushnell Golf app, but as far as I can tell that’s about it. This isn’t a review of their app, but it does have a Play Golf function much like the Phantom, though from what I can tell it doesn’t use the Phantom’s GPS reading at all. Also, if I’m going to be using my phone for an overview of the hole, I probably won’t be trying to use a separate GPS device at the same time.
  • really wish the shot function on the Phantom tracked your score. I’m not even talking keeping an overall track of your hitting distances, just a straight-up stroke counter. Having used other score-tracking devices like Arccos and Garmin, I think it would boost the Phantom’s benefit to my game significantly.
  • I can’t stress how easily you can brush off the device from its belt clip. It’s a legitimate worry that you would just lose a $100 bill somewhere on the course. The red and blue colors might be easier to see, but I think even the bright green would blend in, and good luck with the black.
  • Again, the BITE magnet is strong though. I had no worries about it coming off the cart. In fact, I bet you could attach this to the outside of your car, drive down the highway and have it right where you put it when you arrived. Note: I did not test this as that would be silly.
  • Other GPS options in this price range include devices like the Garmin Approach G10 ($119.99), GolfBuddy aim V10 ($129.99) or Voice 2 ($119.99) and the Voice Caddie VC200 ($99.99).
  • A note about the MSRP I asterisked above. The original press release for the Phantom listed it at $99, which is the MSRP I saw in December, though I got it on sale for $79. Everywhere I’m looking now, including Bushnell Golf’s website, it is listed as $129.99. The Value score below was judged on the $99 MSRP when I purchased the device.
  • The Bushnell Phantom for this review was purchased by The Golden Ferret.

Conclusion

I think the Bushnell Phantom is a fantastic device for $79, a great device for $99 and a good device for $129. Unless you just walked into your pro shop and paid whatever was listed, I don’t think it would be hard to find it for sale somewhere under a hundred bucks. As far as use goes, I did enjoy having it at eye level on my cart and even to some extent having it on my belt as well. If you think you would only use it clipped to your belt though, you’re probably better off either buying something with a mechanical connection to the clip or just buying a GPS watch. As a note, the belt clip security did knock a few points off the Performance score. Accuracy and the speed of getting a distance read were great, and honestly, it was nice not having to fumble around with unlocking my phone, waiting for the distance to update and then sticking it back in my pocket. I did miss not having a visual overview of the hole, which on one course mattered since it was the first time I had played it. Overall though, if you’re just looking for a straightforward GPS device that is easy to use and looks great, the Bushnell Phantom is certainly a solid choice.


Scoring

Appearance: 100
Build Quality: 100
Value: 95
Ease of Use: 95
Performance: 90

Overall: 93