On the Mark

Golf in the 21st Century

When i arrived here in the USA.. I was told by my future boss that i should get a Smartphone. Of course that sounded good to me because i knew i didn’t want a dumb phone. I have since learned that my new Smartphone can do all but make my coffee each morning. The technology we have at our fingertips (literally) is incredible

There are applications for my new Droid  X (which is like an iphone , only cheaper)that make a way for you to order food at your favourite restaurant in the morning , pay for it , and have it ready for pickup at night. There are also apps that provide spoken driving directions to wherever you need to go. Just say ‘Nearest in-N-Out Burger’ and the phone will determine where you are (using GPS), and give audible driving directions.

Technology is rampant on the golf course. I realized this is the first time I teed it up after returning here. I was playing the incredible Eugene Country Club, established in 1899 and one of my all-time favourite courses in the world . It was August and it was beautiful. I joined with three retirees , sickness all members. These guys were of the type who feel the best way to keep their wife happy is to stay away from home all day, and while they’re at it, they may as well drive nice cars.

We were all walking and carrying our own bags ,and i hit my drive left into a bunker. I wanted to know the yardage to the hole so i began looking for a sprinkler head, where the yardage to the center of the green is often marked with a small plaque. My playing partner comes over and pulls a little device from his bag that looks like binoculars, he points it at the hole and says “You have 123 yards to the hole.”I thought ‘Huh?!’ Are these things legal ?

I have come to realize that the game of golf in the USA draws  a lot of interest from people of means . That means there is a big market for devices of all sorts. I’ve also come to learn that golfers with means don’t like to be inconvienced.

This means stopping at nothing to improve their golf game. One guy I played with said He had his new Rossa(0) putter for a week or so, the newest of 400 putters he had in garage, or so he said. On the front nine he was in love with Rossa ; on the back nine he was already seeking a divorce.

These yardage measuring devices (called rangefinders) use a laser to determine exact yardage with a high speed digital clock. It measures the time it takes for a laser beam to reach a target and return to the unit. It then instantly calculates the distance to within a yard.

I’ve played twice since and every player and at least one player in each group has a rangefinder of some sort. And now every course has flagsticks with reflectors on them in order to get an accurate reading from rangefinders. You can buy a decent rangefinder for 0 but a nice one will cost 0.

This device I saw got me wondering: when I hit my ball into the thick bush right of number 2 at Kitante, when will there ever be a device that electronically finds my ball, without fail .It turns out this technology is already here.

For 9, the Radar Golf System will find your ball for you. You receive balls with antennae “painted” inside it. So when your caddie prematurely (again)  raises his hand to signal that he’s ‘got it, ‘this time you will have insurance. You use the hand-held ball detector’s audio and visual signals to zero in on the errant shot, like a Geiger counter for golf balls. It comes with a detector, batteries, how to  DVD, shielding pouches(so you aren’t misled by the golf balls in your bag) and a dozen balls(if you never lose them, why do you need a dozen?)

There are also devices to measure and capture your swing. At TaylorMade I was recently fit for new clubs. As part of the experience, I went into a room where they put white reflectors at 20 different places on my body (see picture) and little ‘cameras’ all over the room provided coordinates that made a graphic composite of my swing(see photo).It measured my clubhead speed, hand speed, in/out path (in degrees), face angle, up path, loft, swing time, ball speed launch angle and backspin.

Now this is all great if you’re a scientist. Normally I just want to know why I’m not hitting the ball where I am looking.

I must say, however, that the information this computer gathered was intriguing. I was impressed (for some reason) that every one of my ten swing times was within 1/100th of a second. And it turns out that my clubhead speed is just below average for a PGA Tour player (not bad), but I tend to hit down with my driver (bad), my head moves too far forward on the down swing(bad), and I have many off-center hits(very bad)

The most important revelation for me in my club fitting session was that my irons needed to be flatter (i.e., the angle of the shaft relative to the sole of the club needed to be flattened). So now, with my new TaylorMade R-9 TP irons that are 1-degree flat, I’m no longer hitting all my approaches left of the green. I also learned that I prefer a sand wedge with a lot of bounce (16 degrees). But it wasn’t technology that revealed most of this. It was old fashioned club fitting by an expert (my friend Greg Cesario)

Knowing now what technology can do, I need to begin using my imagination. What would I like to see? I think I’d like to see someone develop an electronic zapper that sends an electronic shock to anyone who makes noise or moves while others are putting. Maybe my new smart phone has an app for that.


As I walked down the first fairway at Eugene Country Club, I was reminded of my first and only stint as a caddie.

It was in 1978, and I volunteered as a caddie for the USA national collegiate championship (NCAA) . I was just 16 and I was carrying Doug Davis’s bag, a young man from Michigan who was about 20 years old. I remember he hit his drive left on the first hole, a par four, and had about 140 yards to the hole. But he had a tree-not just a tree – a Douglas fir tree-halfway between his ball and the hole.

He chose to hit a 9-iron with the full intention of clearing the tree and reaching the green.

He hit it perfectly, but the ball entered the tree about one-third of the way up the tree, rattled around a bit and fell 70 yards short of the hole.

His jaw dropped, and he turned to me as if to say “How did you let this happen?”Of course I had no clue what he was planning to do; I wasn’t a golfer at that point, But I did know a few things about Douglas fir trees: First and foremost, you can’t hit any kind of ball over them because they’re tall. Really Tall.

They’ve been measured taller than 400ft (123 meters). I had no idea Mr. Davis was attempting to clear this tree.

As we began walking towards his ball, he handed me his 9-iron and shook his head and said, “That ball would have cleared every tree in the state of Michigan”.

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