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Archive: January 2009

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January 31, 2009

Navigating GPS for golf

Posted at 6:39 PM by Gary Van Sickle

With the world economy sinking into a tar pit and dragging the golf business with it, one bright spot in golf equipment has been GPS yardage devices. At the moment, GPS units look like the only growth market in golf.

It appears that 2008 may have been a jump-the-shark year for GPS devices, which outsold laser rangefinders by almost a two to one margin. In the past, rangefinders had held a similar lead over GPS units. It’ll be interesting to see if that trend continues.

Laser rangefinders have an accuracy that is difficult to beat. Their drawback is targets can be hard to hit, and targets that can’t be seen can’t be measured. How far to that hidden lake over the hill? Sorry.

GPS devices, which use satellite technology, aren’t as precise and can’t factor in pin locations. Either way, grown men tend to have a thing for gadgets, which makes GPS and laser rangefinders  the hot gift of choice.

The GPS market is getting crowded. Here’s a brief look at some of the GPS devices that were available at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando:

SkyCaddie: This is the granddaddy of GPS, the top product. All you really need to know to make an informed purchase is this: SkyCaddie is the only outfit that charts courses by ground-mapping — that is, having a foot-solder meticulously walk the courses with electronic measuring devices that provide precise yardages.

All other companies use satellite mapping, which can be (but isn’t always) nearly as accurate. No matter how you slice it, SkyCaddie has a smaller margin of error than the others and it displays a fervor and dedication to accuracy for its customers that the other companies don’t. You have to respect a company that won’t include a course’s map without that course’s approval.

Three models: SG5, five-inch color screen, up to 40 targets per hole and IntelliGreen technology (the image of the green rotates to match your line of approach), $399; SG3.5, three-and-a-half inch gray-scale screen, $259; SG2.5, two-and-a-half inch screen, $199... Automatic course recognition... 23,000 courses in database... Requires an annual membership to retain access to the database--$29 for every course in your state, $49 for entire U.S., $59 worldwide, which includes continuous updates to course library to keep current with changes.
Website: skygolfgps.com.

Sonocaddie: Four models available ranging from V100, relatively Spartan 1.2-inch black and white view screen, to V300, with full color 3D, and new Auto Play model... Regular models have 18,000 courses worldwide in database, 11,000 in the United States... One-time membership fee is $29.95 for unlimited downloads, or you can get your first five courses free and then pay $5 per each additional course. With Auto Play version, all courses are pre-loaded, no membership fee... V100 lists up to six hazards or targets per hole, premium models list up to ten... V100 stores 10 courses in memory, V300 stores 30... A scorecard function is available, can keep score for one player and retain stats, up to 100 rounds worth... V100 suggested retail price, $199; V300 $399.
Website: sonocaddie.com.

GolfBuddy: This is a true GPS unit that automatically recognizes what course and what hole you’re playing from pre-loaded database of 15,000 courses. If your course isn’t in the database, company will map it and include it for you within a few weeks... No annual subscription fees... Comes in two models, the Pro (black and white screen), $379, and the Tour (color) $459... Graphics are limited, focus is on the yardages. For example, a list of hazard yardages may look like this: “Tree 125, LtBkrEnd 115 (yardage to clear left bunker), LtBkr 103 (yardage to left bunker), HzdEnd 35 (yardage to clear hazard), 100 LayUp 52 (yardage to 100-yard lay-up—or you can program it to your favorite layup yardage).”... A scorecard function allows you to track and record up to 1,000 rounds.
Website: gpsgolfbuddy.com.

Bushnell: A big player in laser rangefinders, Bushnell has partnered with iGolf and uses its GPS software. Four models include Neo, a basic black and white unit that delivers distance to front, middle and back of green, $149; Yardage Pro GPS, 2.1 inch LCD screen and storage for ten courses, $199; Yardage Pro XG, 2.2-inch LCD screen with stores up to 20 courses and has custom green maps, $249; Yardage Pro XGC, 2.2-inch high resolution color screen that stores up to 100 courses, $349. XGC model displays overhead view of hole with golfer’s location and distances to any other point on the hole.
Website: bushnellgolf.com.

Garmin: GolfLogix model is very easy to use, nearly button-pushing free... No frills, just provides yardages to greens, hazards and layup areas, up to six hazards or targets per hole... Totally weatherproof. A unit was submerged in an aquarium at Merchandise Show booth and it was still functioning... Over 22,000 courses available worldwide, GolfLogix model stores up to 20 courses. You have to download the courses you want, unlimited downloads for $29.95... Endorsed by Gary McCord and Peter Kostis of CBS... Suggested retail price, $299.
Website: golfgps.com.

On Par: Easy viewing, nice 3.5-inch, full hole maps, user-friendly touchscreen technology — one touch to any location on hole map provides the yardage... Tracks each stroke location, distance and club used, provides stats... Course database of more than 4,000 courses, no membership or course map fees... Suggested retail $479. 
Website: onpargps.com.

January 30, 2009

Tom Watson says graphite shafts changed the game

Posted at 3:53 PM by David Dusek

Tomwatson ORLANDO, Fla. — Tom Watson looked like he'd stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine as he sipped coffee Friday morning at the PGA Show. That made the people at Polo Ralph Lauren, the company that outfits the eight-time major champion, very happy.

Surrounded by companies selling every kind of golf contraption imaginable, I asked Watson which technological innovation made the greatest impact on the game.

"It was the graphite shaft," he said. "I can't remember exactly where I was when I first tried them, maybe '83 at Oakmont."

Watson said the buzz back then was that graphite shafts were going to transform the game and help golfers hit the ball a lot farther.

"Being from the 'Show Me State' of Missouri, I was a little skeptical about it hitting the ball a lot farther," Watson continued. Because even the earliest graphite shafts were so much lighter than steel shafts, manufacturers were free to make the shafts longer and golfers could swing them faster.

However, it wasn't love a first swing for Watson and the earliest graphite-shafted clubs. "They didn't have enough feedback with the hit," he said. "There was a softer feel to them, but I called them 'dumb' because I couldn't feel in my hands what I'd done in the hit."

But looking back, Watson feels the creation of graphite shafts was the beginning of the process that eventually created the drivers we have now.

Axis1 does a balancing act

Posted at 2:30 PM by Gary Van Sickle

ORLANDO, Fla. -- I just found the club of the week at the PGA Merchandise Show. I’ll qualify that brash statement by pointing out that the two truly innovative clubs that may in fact transform the industry — the adjustable lie-and-loft drivers from Nike and TaylorMade — aren’t at the Show. Nike was at Wednesday’s Demo Day, so I was able to try out its new driver, but TaylorMade didn’t exhibit here at all and the new R9 driver, used by Pat Perez last week at the Bob Hope Classic, went unseen and un-hit.

Axisputter The most exciting club I’ve found in two days is the Axis1 putter (see Axis1golf.com). It’s not just another crazy-looking putter. Looking down the shaft, the putter head resembles a capital letter J. But it really works.

The Axis1 is all about balance. By putting the heel weight into an area that’s ahead of the putter face, the center of gravity moved to the sweet spot in the club, which also happens to align with the shaft. Designer Luis Pedraza showed me his balance test. He set up to putt using a regular putter, lifted it slightly off the ground and put a finger behind the shaft just above the head — and the head flopped open and flipped completely around. He then did the same test with his Axis1 and the putter head didn’t move.

Its unique shape creates a perfect balance and basically eliminates the usual twisting and torque made during the stroke. Most putters, by nature, want to open up (turn to the right) during a player’s stroke. The Axis1 doesn’t. Granted, I was stroking putts on a tiny putting carpet no more than six feet across, but it had an amazing feel, as if you have to struggle to hit a putt off-line.

How impressed was I? I bought one.

The club is USGA approved, although Pedraza spent six months debating it with the USGA in a process that normally takes only several weeks. The Axis1 may look weird — OK, it does look weird — but the science is sound and the proof was in my strokes. The club, which features a copper face insert and has a vibration-dampening steel shaft, costs $299 and is available through the company’s website.

My advice: Check it out.

Sun Mountain on a roll with Micro Cart

Posted at 12:56 PM by Gary Van Sickle

Pullcart_350 ORLANDO, Fla. -- I don’t honestly remember the last time I used a pull-cart to play golf — living in hilly Pittsburgh makes that relatively impractical — but Sun Mountain’s new Micro Cart is so cool, it almost makes me wish I was a senior citizen living in Palm Springs so I could. Well, almost.

I checked out the Micro Cart ($239 suggested retail) in Sun Mountain’s booth at the PGA Merchandise Show here in Orlando. It is ingenious. It’s light, only 13 pounds. It has four wheels, two larger ones in front, two smaller ones in back. It has only two latches, easily flipped, and then it folds down on top of its base platform. You’re left with something the size of a small carry-on bag. Lifting it in and out of a car trunk would be no problem. When it’s folded up, it looks like a rad four-wheel skateboard you could ride, but don’t. The cart itself, when fully upright, is light and has that same easy roll that Sun Mountain’s original Speed Cart was known for.

One nominee for a bag to put atop the Micro Cart is the Sun Mountain Four 5 ($219 suggested retail). It’s a 4.5-pound stand bag that comes with either a harness strap or a dual strap. What’s unique about this model is that it comes with individual club dividers. Yes, there are 14 separate slots for your 14 clubs. I’m not sure there’s another carry bag you can say that about.

As for those two extra woods and the ball retriever you like to carry, well, you’re out of luck.

(Photos: David Walberg/SI)

January 29, 2009

Scratch Golf growing by word of mouth

Posted at 9:52 PM by Gary Van Sickle

Scratchwedge_400 ORLANDO, Fla. -- My favorite unknown golf club maker made it to the PGA Merchandise Show. That would be Scratch Golf, which makes Scratch wedges.

Let’s face it, sand wedges haven’t changed all that much in the last 50 years, other than offering more options in lofts and bounce. However, Scratch wedges are second to none. They’re handmade, hand-ground and custom fit (see ScratchGolf.com). They’re a club of choice on the Nationwide tour, where 30 or so players regularly carry them. Some players liked the wedges so much that they asked Scratch Golf to make a whole set of irons. They’ve got a sweet assortment of blades now, too. A putter is also in the works, by request.

The wedges come in eight different finishes, including satin, antique and copper. You can even get a gold-plated model. (Yo, Donald! You listening?) I tried out a pair in November (no, not the gold-plated ones) and liked them so much that they’re in my bag to stay.

For those of us traditionalists who prefer blades to the fat, thick-top-line, game-improvement irons so popular today, the Scratch irons look anorexic. They’re sleek, beautiful throwbacks. You can even get the irons in a black finish, which is extremely cool. The irons come in three versions, the most popular of which is a slight cavity-back model that is forged but still has good feel.

Scratch is one of those quiet companies that produces great stuff but doesn’t have the marketing dollars to be a big force. A wedge is $149; a set of irons is $1199.

It’s growing by word of mouth. So you’ve been told.

Ogio golf bags clearly have magnetic appeal

Posted at 9:45 PM by Gary Van Sickle

ORLANDO, Fla. -- My vote for most magnetic golf company at the PGA Merchandise Show here goes to Ogio. They’re known for their assortment of fun and functional golf bags, and they make cool over-the-shoulder bags and luggage, too. They come up with interesting innovations, and this year it's all about magnets.

Ogioblue_300 The Devolver (right) looks like your standard big, overweight cart bag, perfect for golfers who require lots of pocket space. But the bag has a surprise — an outer vest fastened by magnets and two hooks. When removed, you get a sleeker, slimmed-down bag that can be realistically used as a carry bag. Clever. There’s more. The removed vest can be folded up and turned into a makeshift Sunday bag to carry a few clubs, say, around a par-3 course. It’s three bags in one.

The Anomaly really is a big bag. It’s Ogio’s Cadillac. It’s big and roomy and hefty — more than 9 pounds. It’s unique because it has no inner skeleton of tubes holding it together. The Anomaly is held in place by an outer plastic frame that wraps around the bag. The Ogio developers tested the plastic to 180 degrees (it gets hot in your trunk if you live in Tucson) and to 40 degrees below zero. It’s practically unbreakable, and for $340, it probably should be.

Another cool innovation is Ogio’s 2 To 1 strap. It’s a double-strap bag at the start, but one strap unhooks, and it comes with a sleeve that pulls up to bind both straps together. Bingo, you’ve got a one-strap bag, perfect for club caddies who have to double-bag.

My favorite new product is the Sliver, a super-lightweight carry bag at less than two pounds. It has a water-resistant bottom, no fold-out legs, saddlebag-like pockets, a big ball pouch, a bottle holder and five compartments. Incredibly, it holds all 14 clubs. It also has a single strap. It’s a throwback to the days when we used to actually carry our own bags, and it’s $70.

A related product is the Bus, a soft duffel-bag-style luggage case. It’s the maximum size you’re allowed to use for checking luggage on planes. If you need even more room, you pull the top portion off the bag. It has magnetic edges and forms into a second small bag, which you can safely check because it also has latches.

(Photo: David Walberg/SI)

Joey D's GolfGym Training Club is serious exercise for serious golfers

Posted at 8:00 PM by Gary Van Sickle

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Tiger Woods may be largely responsible for the fitness craze on the PGA Tour, but Joey Diovisalvi is giving this craze a clearer direction.

Joeexercise He's best known as Joey D and as the former personal trainer to Vijay Singh. He has been a strength, conditioning and biomechanics coach on the PGA Tour for more than a decade, and he has used his expertise and experience to compile a video that covers uncharted territory. His DVD, "GolfGym Training Club," isn't your standard workout. It is a routine designed to improve golf-specific muscle movements, especially upper body strength, balance and posture. Creating a golf-specific exercise program is somewhat uncharted territory, and it's long overdue.

"Getting in shape is a vague term," said Joey D, who was at the PGA Merchandise Show signing autographs and promoting his DVD and accompanying GolfGym system. "The end result of our programs is that yes, you'll be in better shape. Every sport has specific movements, whether it's golf or tennis or baseball, and we've put together specific moves to ensure that you will improve and strengthen the muscles that affect the golf swing."

His former client, Singh, is a prime example. At 45, Singh won last year's FedEx Cup. Another client is Pat Perez, who started on Joey D's program a year ago and just scored his first tour win last week at the Bob Hope Classic.

"You have to respect what Vijay has done at his age," Joey D said. "He'll always be remembered as one of the hardest workers. He's done everything he can do, considering he's self-taught. Who thought last year that Vijay would win the FedEx Cup? I hadn't talked to him in a while, and at the PGA, after he'd been in kind of a putting slump, I asked how he was doing. He said, 'Joey, I'm going to be the best putter in the world at the end of the year.' That's what he said, and then he won the tournament that everyone wanted to win. He's still a work in progress."

Joey D said he also helped modernize the fitness vans that are used on tour. "We stripped them down and brought them up to speed with modern technology," he said. "There was a complete resurgence of interest last week at the Hope. More guys were in the fitness trailer than had been in years. The guys see that the new equipment and technology is there."

There have been exercise programs to build strength and to help golfers prevent injuries, but there hasn't been one that promises to make you a better golfer, too.

"We're golf coaches, that's what we really are," Joey D said. "We want to educate golfers."

(Photo: David Walberg/SI)

Yardage books of the pros becoming available

Posted at 7:45 PM by David Dusek

Georgelucasyardagebook ORLANDO, Fla. — Arnold Palmer's former caddie, "Gorjus" George Lucas, wrote a humorous column for SI Golf Plus for several years -- when he was not driving his RV or creating the yardage books depended on by PGA and LPGA Tour caddies. The neon colored books are a must-have for numerous players because of their accuracy.

Here at the PGA Show, attendees can leaf through several different versions of "The Book" at a display set up by Stracka.com. The company has just partnered with Lucas and is making some of his creations available to the public for $10 each.

The major difference between these versions of Lucas' yardage guides and the books he's been creating since 1976 is the green drawings are created after the greens themselves have been measured and mapped with lasers. Tiny arrows and topographic waves show humps, bumps and falls lines that will effect putts.

Laser-measured green maps on Tour courses ... just what Tiger Woods needs.

(Photo by David Walberg/SI)

The Radar shows how far you really hit your shots

Posted at 3:53 PM by David Dusek

Theradarlaunchmonitor ORLANDO, Fla. -- Standing just six inches high and four inches wide, The Radar might be mistaken for a chunky BlackBerry. You can't check your e-mail on it, but this portable Doppler radar unit will tell you the ball speed and carry distance of any shot you hit.

"Most people who are practicing on a range have no idea how far they are really hitting the ball," says Jon Leven, CEO of National Golf Products, the makers of The Radar. "And certainly at any indoor facility, when you are hitting into a net, you wouldn't know how far your shots are going either."

The Radar solves this problem, and it's easy to use. You simply select the radar band that matches the club you're swinging, and the device measures the ball's speed at several points immediately after impact. Using algorithms, The Radar then determines the spin rate and launch angle of your shot. The ball speed is displayed on the screen, as well as the distance, which is computed using the information The Radar has collected.

To be fair, this is not a true launch monitor. Leven says that it's accurate to within a yard on shots hit up to 150 yards. More than 150, and The Radar is accurate to within three to five yards.

The Radar requires one 9-volt battery and retails for $229.

(Photo by David Walberg/SI)

Titleist officially launches the new Pro V1 and Pro V1x

Posted at 12:43 PM by David Dusek

Titleistprov_400 ORLANDO, Fla. — Despite the ongoing legal battle over the patents used to create the Pro V1 line of golf balls, they have been the best selling balls on the market for 94 consecutive months, according to Titleist. So it was no surprise that the auditorium was packed when the company launched the 2009 update of the Pro V1 and Pro V1x this morning at the PGA Merchandise Show.

George Sine, the vice president of golf ball marketing for Acushnet (Titleist's parent company), explained to the crowd that the polybutadiene core of the new three-piece Pro V1 has been reformulated and made larger. Sine said this will increase the 2009 Pro V1's ball speed off the tee when compared to its predecessor. The casing that covers the core has been made thinner (.035"), and Titleist says that will help create more spin. Sine also said that the improved urethane cover will increase durability.

The four-piece Pro V1x, which is designed for players with a slightly faster swing speed, still has a duel core like the 2007 model. Like the Pro V1, it now features the improved urethane cover and improved cover durability.

"The Pro V1x will deliver the longest driver distance for Titleist tour-played golf balls," Sine said.

The 2009 version of the Pro V1 will spin more with irons than the 2007 model, while the new Pro V1x will spin less than the previous version. "It is accurate to say that the Pro V1 spins more than the Pro V1x," Sine explained. "It's true with the driver, and it's true with the irons."

Look for the new balls to arrive in shops near you in the weeks to come.

(Photo by David Walberg/SI)

Trevor Immelman's golf bag

Posted at 8:36 AM by Golf.com

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Golf Magazine's Rob Sauerhaft and Golf.com's David Dusek caught up with Trevor Immelman on Wednesday at the PGA Show's Demo Day, and the Masters champ gave them a tour of his bag.

2009 PGA Merchandise Show

Posted at 8:29 AM by Golf.com

For the latest news from the 2009 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, the major trade show for the golf industry, stay tuned to The Shop.

Demo Day at The Show

Posted at 8:26 AM by Golf.com

ORLANDO, Fla. -- At Demo Day, nearly all of the major golf manufacturers set up stations around a gigantic 360-degree range at Orange County National in Orlando. Jessica Marksbury filed this report Wednesday on new equipment from Nike, Mizuno, Fujikura and Rife

 
January 28, 2009

Heavy Putter releases lighter models for 2009

Posted at 11:57 PM by David Dusek

Heavyputterh1 ORLANDO, Fla. — Pick up one of Stephen Boccieri's putters, and you know right away that it's different from everything else on the rack. Tipping the scales at about 900 grams (nearly twice the weight of most putters), his original invention, the Heavy Putter, is the Hummer of flatsticks.

But like SUVs, even Heavy Putters are getting smaller these days. Here at the PGA Show, Boccieri is begrudgingly launching a new Mid-Weight family of putters, which tip the scales at 750 grams.

"For a lot of people, it was too much of a quantum leap to go from a conventional putter at 500 grams to jump into one of our putters that was twice the weight," he said Wednesday. "We couldn't overcome it. People would literally pick it up and put it down."

The new Mid-Weight line is designed as a compromise, giving golfers who are looking for a heavier putter an option that doesn't feel too cumbersome. Unlike previous designs that featured circular cutouts and weight inserts in the head, each of the six Mid-Weights is either a classic blade or simple mallet design in either a satin or black PVD finish. For a better look at the center-shafted H1 mallet, click on the photo.

The Mid-Weight Heavy Putters are all made from stainless steel, have 3°of loft and are available in lengths from 32" to 37" for $169.

Quest for a driver at the PGA Merchandise Show

Posted at 5:24 PM by Golf.com

By Gary Van Sickle

ORLANDO, Fla. -- I once wrote that Demo Day at the PGA Merchandise Show was the greatest day of the year. Maybe I exaggerated, but it's definitely in the top five and well ahead of Groundhog Day, Bring Your Dog to Work Day and Arbor Day.

Demoday At Demo Day, nearly all the major golf manufacturers set up stations around a gigantic 360-degree range at Orange County National. I was here to check out what's new in golf equipment for SI's Golf Plus, but I was also on a more selfish mission. My Cobra driver, which I've had for the last five or six years, passed away recently. The cause of death was a cracked face, and now I'm looking to make a new hire.

Over the years, I've developed a few rules for Demo Day. First, only three swings per club: I don't want my swing to adjust to a new club, and I need to pace my aging body so I can get around the whole circle. Second, don't make snap judgments. I've fallen in love with clubs at Demo Day only to be disappointed when I bought them. My search for a new driver is not over, but thanks to Demo Day, the field is narrowing.

Callaway was my first stop, where I picked up the new Big Bertha Diablo 9.5-degree neutral model and bashed three straight beauties without so much as a warmup, a pleasant surprise. The club has kind of an odd-looking back end, but that's OK. I also tried the FTiQ, which has a squarish, carved-out look, but no luck there.

Cobra_s91 Cobra and Titleist returned to the Show for the first time in several years. They were sorely missed. I thought maybe I could find a great-great-grandson of my late Cobra SZ440, which I liked because it felt like the ball jumped off the face. The Cobra S9-1 fit the bill. It had a nice look, not unlike the muscled top ridge of my old club. It's big, but the head's thickness tapers off at the back and looks less like a flying saucer than some previous models.

At the Titleist bays, I wore out the turf trying various versions of the 909 D2, 909 D3 and DComp. The D2 is a mid-launch club, the D3 is a low-launcher for high-ball hitters, and the DComp the highest launching version of the three. I liked the extra hang time on the DComp. I think that could be a winner.

PowerbiltThe Mizuno MX 700 made me think of John Daly. I mean, heads are limited to 460 cc, but this thing just looks like it's been on a bacon-burger-and-beer diet. I clouted it pretty well, however, and I noticed it has a quieter sound than some previous Mizunos I've hit.

Powerbilt isn't a big player in golf, and I probably wouldn't have stopped there if it hadn't introduced a new Air Force driver, right, that features a chamber filled with nitrogen gas. The pressurized gas adds strength, allowing thinner walls and less weight. I tried two models. The rounder one, the PV (as in Player Version), wasn't bad. You can work the ball a little better if you're one of those few players who knows what direction the driver is headed.

Adams_speedline But no three shots felt any better than the sleeve I pounded with the Adams Speedline. It's got a more traditional head shape and some interesting grid lines around its edges. This one definitely advances to the playoff round.

My last stop was Nike. The buzz at this year's show will likely revolve around Nike's new SQ Dymo S2 STR8-Fit driver, which can be adjusted to eight different loft-and-lie positions. This idea is the next innovation after last year's interchangeable-shaft clubs. I hit it reasonably well, and the adjustability makes a lot of sense. TaylorMade started this trend with its successful movable weights. Now we've evolved to adjustable loft and lie.

It's like buying the characteristics of eight different drivers. TaylorMade has a similar new driver but didn't attend Demo Day, so I didn't get a chance to try it out.

What's going to end up in my bag? I don't know yet, but I'm encouraged. In the past few years, I haven't been all that excited about the trend toward bigger and squarer heads. Nothing had proven itself superior to my old Cobra. But I could easily put any of these clubs in my bag and be happy. Thanks to Demo Day, I was able to check them all out in one afternoon.

(Photos: David Walberg/SI)




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