By Matt Hombach
One ritual almost all golfers savor this time of year is treating themselves to a new piece of equipment, whether it's really needed or not.
Heading out of the golf shop with a new driver or other coveted piece of equipment brings back memories of childhood trips to the toy store. We couldn't even wait to get home to tear the toy out of the box and play with it.
Same goes for the golf toys and gadgets everyone craves at the start of the season. Golf retail shops are toy stores for big kids and are just as much fun now as Toys 'R Us was back then.
Searching for a New "Big Dog"
It's no surprise that drivers are in high demand this time of year. Every golfer is looking for a few extra yards on their drives this spring. Some are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on a new club to get it.
Tim Butler, head professional at The Woodlands Golf Course in Windsor Mill, helps many golfers gear up for the start of the season. One of the top sellers at his course is Ping's new Rapture driver.
"The Rapture is an excellent driver for the mid-to-upper handicapper," Butler said. "It will definitely help players maximize their distance off the tee and is very forgiving -- it will help you hit it straight."
Butler pointed out the Rapture is so forgiving that low handicappers may want to steer clear of it because it can be tough to hit an intentional draw or fade with the club.
"If a golfer wants to work the ball left to right around a dogleg, the Rapture makes it tough to put that kind of spin on a shot and many scratch golfers will end up hitting it straight through the dogleg into the rough," Butler said.
The club retails for about $430 and has been in high demand since the first shipment arrived at The Woodlands in early April.
Smooth Out Your Game with New Irons
Over at Mammoth Golf in Timonium, manager Mark VanTuyl said many golfers visit the shop to get set up for new irons.
"Right now our hottest models are the new Callaway X20 and Ping G5 irons," VanTuyl said.
Both The Woodlands and Mammoth are certified Ping club fitting stations. VanTuyl and Butler agree that if golfers are going to invest in top-of-the-line clubs, they are foolish not to get fitted properly.
"Golfers might be able to find a bit better price for the clubs online, but there is no guarantee that they'll fit the specs you need," Butler said. "Saving a hundred dollars or so to get equipment that doesn't fit you right that will be tough to hit well just doesn't make sense."
Grips Need Upgrades Too
In addition to new clubs, VanTuyl mentioned that many golfers in April are looking to give their existing sets a new lease on life by having them re-gripped. Grips generally need to be replaced every other golf season.
"When golfers break their equipment out for spring and check it out, they often find the grips are worn or cracked," VanTuyl said.
Most of Mammoth's golf shoes retail from $80-120 and the most popular brand is still Foot Joy, with Nike coming in second.
Seamless Cover Balls Promise Performance and Distance
While Titleist's latest version of the Pro V1 owns the golf ball market, a new product from Bridgestone Golf has gained some attention. Bridgestone's new B330-S model is one of several new "seamless" cover balls recently introduced to the market.
The shells of most golf balls are two pieces connected at a seam at the equator of the ball. As the name implies, seamless balls have a one-piece cover, allowing for more uniform dimple coverage and supposedly better aerodynamics.
Physics wasn't a strong suit in school, but it makes sense. A ball with superior aerodynamics theoretically offers a more consistent flight, better accuracy and distance. The new Bridgestone B330-S balls retail for about $40 per dozen.
While all this new technology is good, Butler is quick to point out that it is impossible to "buy a golf swing."
"Having the latest clubs on the market is great, but you still need to learn the fundamentals of the game and practice those fundamentals on a regular basis to play up to your potential," he said.
So enjoy toy shopping this time of year, but be sure to save a few dollars for a lesson or two and a bucket of range balls to work on your game.
Issue 2.16: April 19, 2007