Garmin Approach S12 review: simple and affordable golf watch

This no frills golf watch is right on par
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Garmin Approach S12
By Garmin
A simple, no-frills golf watch that doesn't break the bank. If you're not bothered about advanced golf tracking metrics, or your golf watch being useful when you're away from the course, this lightweight and affordable device comes recommended.

  • Simple and easy to use
  • Lightweight
  • Huge battery life
  • Pricey for such basic features
  • No smart features
  • No fitness tracking

The Garmin Approach S12 is the latest generation of the company’s golf watch line-up. It’s also another at the entry level, and will cost .

As golf watches go that’s pretty reasonable – although still a sizeable outlay for those occasional golfers that simply want a bit more data out on the course. For those people, smartwatches like the Apple Watch SE and Wear OS devices will be of appeal, which offer better all-day wear and smart features, and will do golf yardages via free apps like Hole 19.

Thus, the Garmin Approach S12 is a response. It offers more than you’ll get via a smartwatch golf app, and comes in cheaper too.

But is it a worthy golf watch? Read on for our verdict.

Design and features

Garmin Approach S12 review: simple and affordable golf watch

The Approach S12 is clearly a step down in terms of build quality over the Approach S40 and Approach S62 – but man this thing is light. It’s super comfy to wear and doesn’t look and feel cheap, despite its plastic case. It comes in black, blue and white. We tested the white and thought it looked excellent.

The strap is silicone and very comfy, and there’s a normal buckle fastening which is secure and doesn’t flap around.

The screen is a very basic 175 x 175 transflective memory in pixel display that’s a black and white. It’s extraordinarily basic, but you don’t need much detail here. What’s more, it’s really easy to read even in direct sunlight. What’s more, there’s a big numbers mode, which simply presents the front/middle/back yardages in a massive font, which would be really useful for older golfers.

There’s no touchscreen, which is good news for a golf watch when you’re playing wearing a glove and, all too often, in the rain. It’s controlled by four buttons, which does seem a little excessive when there are so few functions and features.

Garmin Approach S12 review: simple and affordable golf watch

In terms of features, it’s probably easier to say what it doesn’t do. There’s no smartwatch functionality at all, no extra sports modes, no extra features in the slightest. There's no fitness tracking or heart rate monitor.

That means that away from the golf course, it’s only useable as a digital watch – and to be fair – it’s a good-looking one at that.

You start a round with one of the built in 42,000 courses, and it gives you yardages, lay ups, hazards and a green view.

You can measure your last shot by manually choosing the shot measure feature from the menu. It doesn’t automatically start counting like Garmin’s bigger, badder golf watches.

Garmin Approach S12 review: simple and affordable golf watch

And you can also score your round. If you turn on scoring you’ll be prompted to add your strokes as you leave the green on your way to the next tee.

It really is a simple line-up of features – and this will divide opinion. For $200 you are getting data you could just access from your smartphone for free.

However, we think that people would be justified in asking whether the watch is good value at , and that's very much an individual question. If you're blowing thousands on golf memberships, green fees and equipment, it's not a huge outlay.

I don’t like getting my smartphone out while playing. Nor do I like faffing around with lots of on-watch features. When I’m playing golf I like to be chatting to friends and being annoyed about my golf – and the Approach S12 offers everything you need without any fat.

Approach S12 golf features


Garmin Approach S12 review: simple and affordable golf watch

The key features of any golf watch is yardages, and once you’re logged into a round you will see the yardages to the current pin: front, middle and back. The Approach S12 automatically switches holes, so things are pretty seamless. If that’s all you want, you shouldn’t need to even touch the watch during your round.

We played around five rounds with the Approach S12 and found it to be spot on in terms of accuracy on a range of courses.


Garmin Approach S12 review: simple and affordable golf watch

If you’re looking at a water hazard on the fairway and wondering how far exactly that is – the Approach S12 can tell you that. To do that you simply press the up button (top left) to cycle through lay up positions and any hazards on the way.

Water hazards and bunkers will have distances to the front edge and back, and you essentially track up the fairway towards the green. It’s pretty easy to use and minimal effort required, and it’s nice that the feature is accessible from a single button rather than through the menu.

Green view

You can see the shape of each green which is useful if it’s out of view – but you can also change the pin position if you’re really looking for an exact yardage. Accessed via the menu (press top right button), choose Move Flag and cycle to the correct position. This will adjust the “middle” yardage to the desired position.

We never really used this feature in earnest – perhaps because as mid-handicappers we’re happy with the middle of the green. However, if you’re looking to hit that top green tier or really dial in, it works nicely.

Shot measure

Garmin Approach S12 review: simple and affordable golf watch

If you rip a drive off the tee you can head into the menu and start tracking the distance. You’ll have to do this manually, and remember not to start walking down the fairway until you’ve hit the button. Some previous Garmin Approaches have over-complicated this feature, waiting for a swing to be detected and invariably not recognizing it properly, so the simplicity here is welcome.


Garmin Approach S12 review: simple and affordable golf watch

As we mentioned, you can score your round on the watch and have the card populated in the Garmin Golf app. The on-watch scoring is a simple stroke input and there’s no calibration for your handicap or Stableford scores.

However, it live updates on Garmin Golf, which does all the number crunching on your smartphone. From there you can set up live leaderboards and golf days – as long as the other players are all using Garmin Golf too.

However, if you go into the settings menu and turn on stat tracking, you can have putts and the accuracy of your tee shot as secondary and tertiary fields. This will enrich the data you see in Garmin Golf and populate more of the analytics there.

What’s more, the Approach S12 will also pair to the CT10 shot trackers – should you invest them them. That means the automatic logging of clubs in your bag, which will allow you to work out distance averages for each club over time, helping you to make better club selections.

Battery life

One of the most impressive aspects of the Garmin Approach S12 is battery life, we it will easily five rounds of golf between charges. A full 18 barely makes a dent in the battery, and more often than not, the Approach S12 was ready to grab and go even a week later.

Garmin quotes 30 hours GPS battery life (around seven four hour rounds) and this seems perfectly plausible. It’s easily the best battery life we’ve seen on a golf watch, and the fact that the screen is so power efficient means it barely drains, even if it lives in your golf bag between rounds.

TAGGED Garmin Golf

How we test

James Stables


James is the co-founder of Wareable, and he has been a technology journalist for 15 years.

He started his career at Future Publishing, James became the features editor of T3 Magazine and and was a regular contributor to TechRadar – before leaving Future Publishing to found Wareable in 2014.

James has been at the helm of Wareable since 2014 and has become one of the leading experts in wearable technologies globally. He has reviewed, tested, and covered pretty much every wearable on the market, and is passionate about the evolving industry, and wearables helping people achieve healthier and happier lives.

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