In an era where launch monitors have become an almost essential part of a golfer’s kit, the new Swing Caddie SC4 portable launch monitor couldn’t have come at a better time.
Top end launch monitors remain well out of reach for the average recreational golfer (a GC Quad costs a prohibitively expensive $25,000) but there is rampant enthusiasm for units in the more budget-friendly zone of the category.
Priced at around a grand ($AUD) and cheaper than most new drivers, the SC4 will certainly draw plenty of attention given it offers many of the key launch metrics seen on more premium launch monitors.
Should you buy one? There is much to like, but given it’s one of the cheapest launch monitors in the game, it’d be wise to temper your expectations slightly.
It’s quite possible that anyone buying a launch monitor is mostly concerned about its accuracy rather than any aesthetic-related considerations.
But Swing Caddie have had a fair crack at making the SC4, which can be used indoors or outdoors, look more professional and appealing than their previous SC300i launch monitor.
The SC4 has roughly the same dimensions as an iPad Mini but is thicker — about the same as a paperback novel — and it’s the only launch monitor in the budget category to feature a screen that displays launch metrics.
The trademark orange backlit screen of previous Swing Caddie products has been replaced by a new display that features vivid white numbers — which pop against a black backdrop — and it offers a polished quality that feels way beyond the SC4’s economical price point.
Carry distance (or total distance), swing speed, launch direction, ball speed, smash factor, launch angle, apex height and spin rate are all displayed on the new screen and the numbers are big and easy to read, even in direct sunlight.
Rather than sitting horizontally like the Swing Caddie SC300i, the SC4 is positioned vertically, aided by a kick-out stand extending from the back of the unit.
SETTING UP THE SWING CADDIE SC4
The SC4 really is a unicorn in the golf tech space because it’s pretty much ready to use as soon as it’s unboxed and switched on.
There’s no lengthy set up or registration process. There’s no Bluetooth pairing required. And there’s no yearly or monthly subscription fee. You don’t even need to read the instruction manual (although it wouldn’t hurt).
All you need to do is place the SC4 1.5m behind the ball (on the same level) and line up the red dash on top of the unit to your intended target (getting this part right will ensure the SC4’s Doppler radar will deliver the most accurate launch data).
Then power it up, set the kickstand at the correct angle (via the unit’s on-screen indicator) and that’s it. You’re ready for action. And you don’t need to use special balls, either.
The ability to peruse your launch data in just a matter of seconds is one of the SC4's most appealing features, and it’s a considerable advantage over similarly priced competitors that require an app/interface (like the Garmin Approach R10 and Rapsodo MLM2PRO).
The Swing Caddie SC4 also comes with a remote control, which is tucked in the back of the unit and held in place by an unexpectedly sticky magnet (it took me a few goes to pry it out the first time).
The remote can be used to adjust the volume, change settings and modes or switch between clubs while practising (if you forget to change clubs, your data will be unreliable).
I also used the remote to change the unit of distance measurement from yards to metres and happily, it remembered my preference for next time.
The remote is small and light enough to fit in your pocket but it wasn’t as sensitive as I thought; often, I needed to crouch down to get a line-of-sight to the SC4’s screen for a button click to register.
Given the compact size and light weight of the SC4 launch monitor, I think many golfers will be storing their SC4 in a golf bag to use outdoors.
However, the SC4 doesn’t comes with any sort of protective case or bag, which seems like a bit of a tightwad oversight by Swing Caddie.
Consequently, I’d recommend purchasing a third-party bag or case to avoid damaging or scratching the SC4 if you’re taking it to the practice range in your golf bag.
MY SWING CADDIE APP
While the SC4 offers audio and visual confirmation of your launch stats, the My Swing Caddie app dives deep into the minutiae of your swing statistics.
Not Mariana Trench-deep like other apps mind you, but deep enough to dredge up some nice, bitesize kernels of wisdom on your golf swing and performance.
Although you don’t need the My Swing Caddie app to begin using the SC4 launch monitor (which admittedly is one of its strongest selling points), it will help you see beyond just the numbers on the screen.
It’s easy to set up (it links to the SC4 via Bluetooth with a single press of a button) and every shot you hit is recorded in real-time, so you can digest all the information post practice to identify the good, bad and ugly of your golf swing later on.
The app allows you to store your stats, film your swing and access simulator mode (more on that later).
However, the My Swing Caddie app was a little undercooked in a few areas.
When inputting details in the My Bag section, it required a compulsory “Nickname” to be entered for every club in the bag, along with the usual brand, model and loft.
Maybe things are different in other parts of the world, but I’m yet to meet a golfer who has gone to the effort of nicknaming every one of their clubs.
Another gripe was that a few reasonably common manufacturers (Bettinardi and Honma, for instance) weren’t an option in the manufacturer’s list.
And there also seemed to be an issue with the app's automatic video snipping tool. While it captured the start and finish of a short iron swing perfectly, the video of my long irons or driver were all missing the backswing.
The app looked fresh and was easy to use but unfortunately it was the minor details that let it down, which is kind of like leaving your fly undone while wearing your best pair of pants.
HOW IT PERFORMED
After my first session with the new Swing Caddie SC4 launch monitor I was half expecting it to say “You suck, quit now”.
You see, the SC4 features an audible voice — it sounds like a beta version of Siri — that pipes up to tell you how far a shot has carried (or the total distance, if you prefer).
Therefore, it was a humbling experience when the SC4 was basically broadcasting to everyone within earshot just how badly I had sniped my first few shots as I was searching for rhythm.
Old mate in the bay next to me actually said “nice shot” (delivered with the kind of sarcasm comedian Dave Hughes has turned into a well-paid artform) when he overheard the carry distance of one severely fluffed drive.
I can confirm there was nothing wrong with the SC4’s audio feedback but you can turn it down if you find it distracting, which I eventually did to stop bothering everyone around me.
But launch monitors live and die by their accuracy.
With the old “you get what you pay for” ringing in my ears, I was a little sceptical about how accurate the SC4 would be given it is one of the cheaper launch monitors in the game (and roughly $24,000 less than the category leader).
SC4’S PRACTICE MODES
The SC4 offers three modes of operation: Practice, Target and Swing.
Practice mode offers the classic grip-it-and-rip-it environment to ping off ball after ball and scrutinise your numbers; in Target mode you set a specific distance and attempt to hit your shots to the number; and Swing mode measures just your swing speed, which is ideal for warming up or having a few practice swings at home to build up your club head speed.
I started with the SC4 at an outdoor range, pinging balls with some mid and short irons at various targets I had lasered to get an accurate distance.
Based on where the balls where landing and comparing it to the SC4’s estimations, performance was excellent for carry distances from 100-160m. To the eye, I reckon there must’ve only been a few metres in it.
However, I did notice shots that were logged in the My Swing Caddie app didn’t seem to allow for as much curve as I was seeing.
While it was harder to discern the carry accuracy of the longer clubs by eyesight, the SC4 did throw up some weird spin rates a couple of times.
One time my spin rate was a crazy low 1300rpm with the driver; a few shots later it maxed out at almost 6000rpm.
To be fair, such an obvious discrepancy occurred only twice in almost 200 drives; my best guess for the aberration was that the radar had tracked another ball.
Every so often the launch angle value didn’t appear, but I couldn't blame the SC4.
The range had a slight drop off to it behind the ball and after elevating the SC4 off the ground ever so slightly, the problem disappeared.
Going head-to-head against a gold standard GC Quad launch monitor indoors was going to reveal a lot about the SC4.
But the SC4 stacked up pretty well. Scratch that — it stacked up very well.
The spin rates, speeds and launch angles of short and mid irons were well within touching distance of the GC Quad, although there did seem to be a consistent trend of the SC4 slightly over estimating spin (usually by around 5-10 per cent) and underestimating carry distance (usually by just a few metres).
The mid and short irons are clearly the SC4’s bread and butter because it had a slightly harder time dealing with the extreme ends of the bag.
The SC4 offered data nearly identical to that of the GC Quad when I hit a dead straight flight with the driver.
But as soon as there was some curve to the ball flight, the data became less reliable.
Carry distances were generally underestimated (up to 10-15m less than the GC Quad) while spin rates were overestimated (usually by around 400-1000rpm, depending on the severity of the ball shape).
It seemed the further offline a shot started, the more muddied the launch data became.
Meanwhile, the estimated carry distances of wedges weren’t quite as bulletproof as the short irons.
They were undercooked by around three to five per cent compared to the GC Quad.
Although that might not sound too bad I could foresee it causing problems in the SC4’s Target mode, where honing distance control is critical.
On a side note, the SC4 doesn’t actually calculate spin for anything above a pitching wedge, which I concede is a bit of a blind spot (I’m assuming the higher trajectory of the ball doesn’t allow the SC4 to “see” as much of the ball flight).
The Swing Caddie SC4 comes with a free simulator course on the E6 platform: San Diego’s Aviara Golf Club.
It is accessed via the simulator tab in the My Swing Caddie app, although you also need to download the E6 Connect app.
While not everyone is going to bother using the SC4 in a simulator setting, it’s an extremely good deal considering what similarly priced launch monitors offer.
E6 is only available for the Garmin R10 via the Garmin Golf app. That will cost you $14.49 a month and grant you access to five free E6 courses.
Similarly, the Rapsodo MLM2PRO requires a Premium Membership to function as an E6-capable simulator. Rapsodo Membership, which is free for the first year after purchasing the unit, gives you five free courses to play. After that you’ll get whacked $199 a year.
If you’re new to simulator golf, the SC4 offers a free hit to see if it’s something you might be interested in. If you do like it, you can continue using Aviara for free or eventually purchase a separate simulator subscription to play more courses.
There was a five to seven second delay between hitting a shot and it visualising on the E6 course. It did build a sense of anticipation but the wait did feel like ages.
The SC4 doesn't track putts so you’ll need to configure the E6’s autoputt feature to keep score.
But in an indoor sim context, the SC4 is a space saver. It requires around 2.5m of flight before a net or screen but only 1.5m of space behind the ball, whereas other launch monitors need around 2.5m.
That economy of space could be crucial if you want to squeeze a simulator into a restricted area.
To provide an honest assessment of the SC4 it’s important to appreciate it for what it is.
It’s an entry level launch monitor targeted at the average golfer. And accordingly, it has a price tag to match.
If you’re a pro, or playing at the elite level, the SC4 isn’t going to cut it.
It doesn’t track as many variables (there is no angle of attack) and it can’t compete with the range of performance and accuracy of a top-end launch monitor.
But the SC4 isn’t made to compete at the pointy end. Rather, it’s carved out its own niche in the budget launch monitor category.
- If you want your launch data fast and don’t like using apps, the SC4 should absolutely be your No.1 choice.
- If you want a subscription-free launch monitor, the SC4 also has you covered.
- If you want a simulator-capable launch monitor with a free E6 course, the SC4 is unbeatable.
- In the 100-160m range the SC4 was nearly as accurate as the most expensive launch monitors in the game.
And for what it's worth, the unit's battery life was excellent — after tracking over 200 shots it still had 80 per cent charge left.
However, its ability to dealing with curving ball flights was a weak point, along with its performance monitoring the extreme ends of the bag.
And the My Swing Caddie app wasn't nearly as polished or as informative as others.
But the Swing Caddie SC4 is one of the most affordable launch monitors in the game. While it provides just the bare necessities, there's enough accuracy and data to satisfy the needs of most golfers.
Written by Jamie Martin
Jamie Martin is currently locked in a battle to keep his handicap hovering around the mid-single digits. Despite his obvious short-game shortcomings, Jamie enjoys playing and writing about every aspect of golf and is often seen making practice swings in a mirror.