Golf Gifts for Father’s Day 2021: Vax-up & gear-up

Father’s Day 2021 feels much more hopeful than Father’s Day 2020. We have vaccines, and we now know that outdoor activities – like golf – are extremely safe. So the best thing you can do for Old Dad this Father’s Day is make sure he’s fully vaccinated. The second-best thing you can do for him is shower him with golf gifts. Here’s a selection of our favorite gear this year!

Arnold Palmer Umbrellas by Weatherman

The Arnold Palmer Umbrella Collection by Weatherman offers shelter from the rain for golfers and non-golfers alike. The Arnold Palmer Classic Golf Umbrella ($89) has Arnie’s trademark color pattern and measures 68”. That’s big enough to keep a threesome dry, if you like each other well enough and don’t need to socially distance anymore.

PUMA Arnold Palmer Collection

Speaking of Arnie, PUMA has come out with its second collaboration with Arnold Palmer Enterprises, a collection of apparel and accessories that embodies The King’s timeless style as it would come to life today. The PUMA Golf x Arnold Palmer Collection celebrates the life and excellence of golf’s global icon through nostalgic pastel colors, unique prints, and personal detailing on each piece. Caps run $35, polos around $85, and quarter-zips around $140.

Ocean Tees

Plastics may be necessary for some things, but golf tees ain’t one of them. And chopping down hardwood timber for tees doesn’t seem quite right, either. Enter Ocean Tees, made from Moso bamboo farmed exclusively in the company’s 100-hectare plot in Jiangxi Provence, China, under strict environmental controls. This kind of bamboo is 4x stronger than hardwood. The packaging is even made from recycled (and recyclable) material. The tees come in short, long, mixed, and “castle” versions (4 British pounds per box online, and they accept PayPal). I’ve found the castle tees to be most durable in dry turf conditions where even my previous plastic tees snapped every few drives—and the height is ideal for my driver. If you feel like exploring the Ocean Tees website further, you’ll find that they also sell golf apparel. Their polos, sweaters, and other apparel (from 49 British pounds) are produced in the only factory in Europe that meets Greenpeace’s textile procurement standards. The apparel is woven from blends of organic cotton and proprietary degradable elastane. None of the process or packaging contains any virgin plastic, either.

BIG MAX Blade IP Push Cart and Dri Lite Sport Bag

With walking rounds more popular than ever, Europe’s #1 push cart and golf bag brand BIG MAX is ready to make this Father’s Day memorable for golfing Dads across the country with the Fold Flat Blade IP push cart and Dri Lite Sport Golf Bag. The Blade IP has won multiple awards for its compact folding mechanism. Perfect for a Dad who needs their push cart to take up as little room as possible in the trunk of the car or when packed away. The IP’s ultra-flat design leaves it less than 5” deep when folded and features a host of practical features, stylish looks and a 5-year manufacturer warranty ($349.99). The Dri Lite Sport is a water-resistant cart bag that constructed from 100% waterproof fabric with specially designed waterproof zippers. The Dri Lite Sport boasts a 14-way 9.5” organizer top with oversize putter well, 9 water-resistant pockets, and an oversized cooler pocket all in a 4.85 lb. bag ($249.99).

Bushnell Wingman GPS and Bluetooth Speaker

If Dad’s gone all-in on technology and all the ways it’s changing golf, the Bushnell Wingman ($150) is for him. Essentially the Wingman is a top-notch Bluetooth stereo speaker combined with one of the best GPS systems in golf. Integrated into the speaker is a powerful magnet so you can stick it on your golf cart (or on your pushcart), and there’s a detachable remote control you can keep in your pocket to click for audible yardages to the front, middle, and back of the green.

But wait – there’s more!

Pair the Wingman with your phone to play music from your own library or streaming service, if the gentle strains of birdsong and the breeze in the leaves are not soothing enough. Then download the Bushnell app onto your smartphone to display detailed maps and yardages of 36,000 courses, keep score, and more all on your phone.

High Camp Fairway Flask

Since the Dri Lite Sport has such a convenient cooler pocket, maybe toss in something classy to fill that pocket. The High Camp Fairway Flask is brilliantly crafted and ruggedly built for the course. It keeps half a bottle of your favorite spirit at the perfect temperature all day long and comes with the Ultimate Fairway Bar Glass: the 6-Shooter design pays homage to the traditional American West, and it holds 11oz (325ml) of your favorite beverage. The cleverest part is the Integrated Magnetic Locking System, which allows you to seamlessly attach your tumbler to your flask. It fits perfectly in the cart drink holder, and the magnetized cup keeps it from tipping over. It’s constructed from durable 18/8 surgical steel, has a no-drip lip, requires no funnel to fill, and keeps Dad’s libation hot or cold 24 hours. Get your flask either in the standard version ($85) or custom engraved ($109). High Camp offers a wide range of other flasks and barware, too.

Bardstown Bourbon

Bardstown Bourbon Company produces unique bourbons of the highest quality. Steve Nally, the Master Distiller, had the same role at Maker’s Mark for 18 years before leaving to found Bardstown. Their mashbills are fascinating to read, and the Fusion Series (around $55) offers blends that are proposed by everyone in the company and go through a March Madness-style taste-off to find the best one. Ask about engraving a bottle to commemorate Dad’s ace or low round (like in the photo below, engraved to recall my first sub-80 round of this season).

Callaway and Bridgestone Golf Balls

You know, if Dad loads his High Camp Flask with Bardstown Bourbon, he might need some help lining up his putts. Callaway’s new ERC Soft and Supersoft golf balls ($35) feature “triple-track technology”—three lines that might look like six lines when that flask is empty. These balls are arguably the softest on the market, yet they have succeeded in squeezing every possible bit of distance out of a design optimized for feel.

Some extra visibility might be useful, too, given Dad’s condition. Bridgestone has recently introduced a high-contrast yellow version of its TOUR B XS—the ball Tiger played before his accident. The yellow version ($45), like the white, features REACTIV cover technology, which employs an “impact modifier,” to allow the urethane to behave differently based on swing speed.  For example, when struck with a driver or any longer club, the REACTIV urethane cover “reacts,” as a firmer, more resilient material, providing more speed and distance. However, on slower swings with a wedge or short iron, the cover performs like a softer material, creating more shot-stopping spin and control. I wonder if the cover is made of cornstartch…but that might be the Bardstown talking…

Club Champion Fitting

If Dad’s clubs need a tune-up or an upgrade, now’s a great time to lock in some savings on the fitting process. The #1 clubfitter in the U.S., Club Champion, has a limited-time offer from now through Father’s Day. Buy Dad a gift card for $150 or more and get $75 toward an equipment purchase.

Stix Golf Clubs

Now, if Dad doesn’t want to go through a fitting, or if you’re just leading him to the game, a new budget-friend equipment option is Stix Golf. Never heard of Stix Golf? Well imagine if Dollar Shave Club made golf clubs – same idea, sort of. Stix makes high-quality golf clubs – entire sets, bags, apparel, etc. – and offers them directly to consumers in the same sort of marketing model as Vice Golf Balls (with whom Stix partners). The result is affordable, solid equipment with minimalist design and consistent performance. At the Stix website, you can find all combinations of gear for Dad, including a full 14-club set plus golf bag for $924. If he doesn’t need that much stuff, 11-piece and 9-piece sets are available, or just wedges or woods – basically whatever he needs or wants.

PrecisionPro Golf R1 Smart Rangefinder

PrecisionPro’s new Smart Rangefinder ($320) has more features packed into it than any other rangefinder on the market. Pre-orders for the official July release are closed already, but maybe give Dad an IOU. The Smart Rangefinder is “smart” because you can pair it to your phone with the PrecisionPro app, and it will provide a list of information including your personalized slope (based on your stock club yardages, elevation, and real-time wind and weather conditions). It even has a “Find My Rangefinder” function to allow you to track it in case Dad leaves it lying on a teebox in his Bardstown fog.

Over-the-top Pebble Beach Getaway

In 2008, I took my father-in-law with me to cover the US Open at Torrey Pines over Father’s Day. Now that he’s gone, I am more grateful every year that we had that time together. If you’re looking for a bucket list gift and escape with Old Dad, what better place is there than up the California coast a ways — Pebble Beach Resorts? At Pebble Beach, you and Dad can savor five legendary golf courses, including The Hay, the resort’s brand-new short course designed by Tiger Woods, world-class accommodations, and seemingly endless dining options – that’s the way to Dad’s heart. Here’s how to treat Dad to the ultimate Father’s Day or guy’s getaway trip: A round on Pebble Beach Golf Links – the number one public golf course in America – is a must. Post-golf, spots like The Bench and STICKS provide options for casual drinks or a celebratory meal. When it’s time to call it a night, the guys can retreat to one of two four-bedroom cottages located at Fairway One at The Lodge. Cottages feature a luxurious living room flanked by big screen TVs, a stacked-stone fireplace, and an open kitchen and wet bar. An outdoor terrace overlooking the famed first fairway at Pebble Beach Golf Links is ideal for post-round cigars.

Want to dial up the experience a notch higher? Check out the  Lexus Performance Driving School. Lexus, the official vehicle of Pebble Beach Resorts (and the company that sent me and my late father-in-law to Torrey Pines in 2008), is offering a full-day racing experience at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Dad can drive this thrilling, iconic circuit while building his driving skills and confidence – on and off the track. Summer school dates include June 25, 26 or 27, and Aug. 20, 21 or 22, 2021. Fall and winter dates are also available. The experience is $995. To order a gift certificate or to register a participant as a gift, contact the Lexus Concierge at 888-211-8522 or Concierge@LexusPerformanceDrivingSchool.com.

I know my father-in-law never forgot that trip to watch Tiger win his final U.S. Open. And I’m positive that your father will never forget a trip to Pebble Beach. None of us will forget 2020, but we can pile some amazing memories on top of it. This Father’s Day is a great time to begin!

Srixon ZX5 Driver: Balancing power, forgiveness, and control

Here’s why I don’t completely believe golf simulators or launch monitors: it’s really easy for recreational players to get wrapped up in the numbers. Any avid, average golfer has read about how the pros try to optimize “low spin, high launch” in their drivers. Then they get on one of these high-tech machines and flail away, scrutinizing numbers and subconsciously changing their swings to try to fit the ideal they’ve pictured in their heads.

Me, I prefer to test out clubs on a course I know well, where my normal shots, strategies, and yardages provide a baseline for comparison.

Such was the story of the 2021 Srixon ZX5 Driver ($500). When it arrived on my porch in February, snow was still falling, and the only place to swing it was on the simulator of my home course. So off I went with it and my go-to big stick from the previous season for a head-to-head.

Overall distance was similar between the two, but the ZX5 launched a lot higher, due, I thought, to more backspin – like, 3,000 RPM more. Beguiled by numbers, I thought, “Hmmm. They say low spin is better.” I put my current driver back into my bag and took the ZX5 back home to wait for spring.

Playing the Srixon ZX5 Driver

If the proof is in the pudding, then when it comes to golf clubs, the pudding is the golf course. Springtime came, my home course opened, and I took the ZX5 out for my first two rounds. Conditions were cold, damp, and blustery. Nevertheless, the first drive of the year launched high and long, and it split the fairway. Already better than the simulator.

The main feature of the ZX5 is a 15% larger carbon crown compared to previous iterations, which moves weight lower and farther back and boosts MOI and COR (more numbers recreational golfers use a lot but know little about)—hence the reported backspin, I suppose. The ZX5’s sister driver, the ZX7 ($530) has a deeper face and two adjustable weights in the sole, compared to the one in the ZX5. I’m not much of a fiddler, so the single weight of the ZX5, along with the standard adjustable hosel, is plenty for me.

It was on the 12th hole – one of my several nemeses holes – where the ZX5 revealed its true stripes. The 12th is a 510-yard par 5, with OB all down the left and water on the right about 260 yards off the tee. I haven’t hit driver here regularly for probably 10 years because I can reach the water and I can rope-hook OB without equal likelihood. But I’d hit so many fairways already, I figured I’d give it a try. Watching my ball rocket over the hill 160 yards from the tee, right of the trees and left of the tall red post marking the start of the water, one of my playing partners said, “That Srixon is doing some good work for you today.”

The result: the best drive I’ve hit on 12 in over a decade, with only 198 yards left into the green. (I hit the front of the green with my 2nd and proceeded to 3-putt for par.)

The verdict

Srixon might not be the first manufacturer that comes to mind when you’re shopping for new clubs. But you’d be wise to give them a chance. Their tour-level clubs are as good as any on the market—as evidenced by Hideki Matsuyama’s Masters victory. Their standard clubs are equally competitive. The ZX5—like all the new ZX woods—feature the Rebound Frame, which increases ball speed, especially on center-struck shots, along with the aforementioned carbon crown, which provided remarkable forgiveness. In my two rounds (so far) with the ZX5, I’ve hit 50% of fairways, which is a significant increase over my normal 32.5% of fairways hit.

Now that’s a number that I can believe.

But wait, there’s more!

If you’re looking for irons to complement a new ZX5 Driver, the ZX5 Irons ($1,300) are the perfect match. Forged yet forgiving, the AI-designed face delivers both feel and power. I’ve tested a few of these on the range, and, for whatever range work alone is worth (everything is easier on the range), workability was impressive – calling my shots was a breeze. Better players might opt for the ZX7 or the ZX blades.

Mother’s Day Gifts 2021: Honoring Mom, Mother Earth, and Golf

When COVID-19 is said and done—hopefully sooner rather than later—one of the unexpected beneficiaries of a mostly tragic event could be golf. As an outdoor activity that naturally allows for social distancing, golf has become an outlet for people who only played once or twice a year in the before times.

And at my local course, anyway, these new, recently “regular” players include a lot of kids, teens, and women. So if you kids, teens, and partners are listening, this means you have a good chance of getting Mom hooked on the game. This is your time, and this is your Mother’s Day.

And this is a list of ideas for gifts to take advantage.

Ocean Tees

Plastics may be necessary for some things, but golf tees ain’t one of them. And chopping down hardwood timber for golf tees doesn’t seem quite right, either. Enter Ocean Tees, made from Moso bamboo farmed exclusively in the company’s 100-hectare in Jiangxi Provence, China, under strict environmental controls. This kind of bamboo is 4x stronger than hardwood. The packaging is even made from recycled (and recyclable) material. The tees come in short, long, mixed, and “castle” versions (4 British pounds per box online, and they accept PayPal). I’ve found the castle tees to be most durable in dry turf conditions where even my previous plastic tees snapped every few drives.

If you feel like exploring the Ocean Tees website further, you’ll find that they also sell golf apparel. Their polos, sweaters, and other apparel (from 49 British pounds) are produced in the only factory in Europe that meets Greenpeace’s textile procurement standards. Both women’s and men’s lines are woven from blends of organic cotton and proprietary degradable elastane. And none of the process or packaging contains any virgin plastic.

Srixon, Callaway, OnCore, Wilson golf balls

We’re living in a golden age for golf balls. It wasn’t long ago that all we had to choose from was one good ball and a gaggle of rocks. And the good ball was 3x the price of the rocks. Now the market offers a cornucopia of golf balls, from behemoths like Titleist to smaller boutique manufacturers. All of them offer a range of feel, firmness, and price to appeal to players of any levels and preferences. And the colors! Reds, pinks, yellows, fluorescent greens, blues, oranges – practically any color you can imagine. Heck, there are even multi-colored balls now. Srixon’s Q-Star Divide ($33) is one-half yellow and one-half red. The company claims this combination aids in aligning putts and seeing the ball in the air.

If Mom is a bit more of a traditionalist, Callaway’s new ERC Soft and Supersoft golf balls ($35) feature “triple-track technology”—three lines, to help line up putts. These balls are arguably the softest on the market that have succeeded in squeezing every possible bit of distance out of a design optimized for feel thanks to Dow PARALOID Impact Modifier technology.

If Mom wants to go alternative, the Buffalo, New York-based Oncore offers a range of balls at three price-points—the Avant 55 ($20), Elixr ($30), and the new tour-caliber Vero X1 ($40).

Finally, if you want to personalize your gift, check out the Wilson Duo Optix with custom text ($22). Mom will be pretty sad when she loses one of these!

Wilson Staff Eco Stand Bag

Show your love for Mom and Mother Earth at the same time by giving her the Wilson Staff Eco Stand Bag ($150). This bag is made from over 50 recycled plastic water bottles (verified by Global Recycled Standards 4.0). Durable, functional, and stylish, the Eco Stand Bag also helps keep plastic out of landfills.

“The Golf Lover’s Guide to England”

If Mom is champing at the bit to do some traveling, maybe she’d like to read up on golf courses in Merry Olde England so she can plan her first post-pandemic golf trip. “The Golf Lover’s Guide to England” by Michael Whitehead ($27, White Owl) is a comprehensive yet digestible field guide to some of the oldest, most famous, and best courses in the world. Mom will find everything from local 9-holers to Open Championship venues here.

Alright, there are a host of equipment recommendations I could make for Mom, too, but the best advice I can give is to get her a gift card for a clubfitting (e.g., at Club Champion). If you want to get Mom hooked on golf, she should have clubs that fit her. After all, she’s no off-the-shelf mother, is she? She deserves better than off-the-shelf clubs.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there, and I sincerely hope to see you out on the links this year!

Titleist TSi woods and hybrids: Terminate the golf ball

Remember the Terminator movies? Skynet was the artificial neural network-based conscious group mind and artificial general super-intelligence system that built the Terminators. And the Terminators were nigh-indestructible metal killing machines.

Imagine if Skynet made golf clubs instead of cybernetic monsters, and the only killing was the murdering of golf balls.

Oh, what a wonderful (future) world it would be.

Titleist’s TSi drivers, fairway metals, and hybrids (TSi1, TSi2, TSi3, and TSi4) all feature faces forged from Allegheny Technologies Incorporated (ATI) 425 titanium alloy. This alloy is made in the US near Pittsburgh originally for use in ballistic armor and then in aerospace, including the Mars rover. It’s light, strong, and has tighter tolerances than typical titanium. The crown is also titanium, combining with the face to be arguably the strongest, lightest, fastest, and best-sounding driver on the market.

The TSi models differ with respect to specs and the players they target. The TSi2 is sort of the “standard”: more forgiving, with a higher, straighter “stock” trajectory than the TSi3 or TSi4, and sole weights that can be adjusted. The TSi3 has a more compact head (though still 460cc) and a lower trajectory and features sole weighting adjustment capabilities (both drivers have adjustable hosels). The TSi1 is ultra-light for slower swingspeeds, and the TSi4 is played by several Tour players.

This said, the TSi2 is still—like all Titleist offerings in my experience—“playable” and “workable” for even semi-skilled players like me, assuming the shaft and specs fit your game.

The metal woods and hybrids are equally well-built and powerful. Without getting too far ahead of myself, I will say that the TSi2 3-wood is the first 3-wood I have hit regularly and without trepidation on the course in over 5 years. My swing is regaining some old form…and the TSi3 is both easy enough to hit and long enough to make it both a reliable AND powerful weapon. Like when the original Terminator started protecting John Connor.

Playing the Titleist TSi2 line

I normally play a 9.5- or 10.5-degree lofted driver. The TSi series comes in whole number lofts. So 10-degree it was. The reason for these lofts is the weighting and spin characteristics add approximately .5 degrees of loft. Despite the TSi2 ($549) being the “higher launching” model, it would be completely wrong to say that you can’t hit lower, boring drives with it. Just put the ball back in your stance a bit. Move the ball up a titch, and you get towering shots. Speaking of lower drives, the first time out with the TSi2 driver, my son and I both semi-topped drives – and then watched as both balls seared the turf all the way out to where many folks hit their regular drives.

“That face is hot,” said my son after he stopped complaining about his “bad” drive that rolled out 230 yards, dead straight.

The face of the TSi line is composed, as mentioned, of a novel material in the golf world. And the ATI 425 titanium is sort of pebbled in texture, too. This might strike some as weird. But the important thing is that it strikes the ball with other-worldly power. The head of the TSi2 is somewhat flattened and sort of flared at the back compared to the TSi3—a shape that some purists may object to. Frankly, until reading about it in the press release, I didn’t even notice. What I did notice is that in four rounds playing and testing it, I have hit more fairways and have driven the ball consistently farther than I have in any round during the past few years.

When I mentioned to a clubfitter colleague at Club Champion that I was testing the TSi2, his reply was, “That is one hell of a driver!” I can’t disagree.

The TSi2 3-wood ($299), as noted above, performs like a smaller carbon-copy – or rather titanium-copy – of the driver. The low profile and consistent launch of the 15-degree metalwood imbues even this shell-shocked fairway wood player with confidence.

Rounding out my testing set is the TSi2 23-degree hybrid ($279), and it has has truly become the workhorse of my bag. In one fell swoop it replaced a 21-degree hybrid and a 24-degree hybrid, which were the two longest-tenured clubs in my bag (8 years and 7 years, respectively). With the ATI 425 construction of the TSi2 hybrid face, I can hit it as far as the old 21-degree with the control of the old 24-degree (and just choke down a hair if I need to play shorter).

Best of all, I have three spectacular matching clubs to use on the tee on nearly any length or design par-4 or par-5 I can imagine. All three are decked out with Tensei AV Blue Raw (stiff) shafts—one of a handful of featured shafts. The Tensei AV was my choice (absent a personalized fitting) as a fairly straightforward mid-launch, mid-spin shaft, excellent for most recreational players.

The Verdict

There are sort of “flashbulb” moments with any club—both good and bad. Iconic shots that stick in your head. For me, the TSi2 line’s moment came on the 508-yard 3rd hole of Lake of the Woods Golf Course in Mahomet, Illinois (my home course). OB runs from tee to green on the right, and trees line the left side of the fairway. Starting 110 yards into the green are two ponds, right and left. I haven’t hit driver here regularly for 10 years, as it will invariably be the one hole where I hit a slice OB, or protect from the slice and pull it into the trees. And hell, I’m too old to go for it in two these days, anyway.

But the third time out with the TSi2, there was a bit of a tailwind, and I’d hit the fairways of Holes 1 and 2 already. After a good swing, I watched my ball sail high and straight over the hill in the fairway. When I crested that hill to see where my ball ended up, I was 190 yards from the green, dead center of the short grass. I put an easy, choked-down swing on my TSi2 hybrid and ended up pin-high, just right of the green. As easy as any par 4.

As I slid the hybrid cover back on, put it in my bag, and looped the straps over my shoulders, I swear I heard the trio of TSi2 clubs say to me, “Play us if you want to live.” Indeed, these three clubs are going to serve as my personal golf ball-killing machines well into the future.

Cleveland Golf Frontline ISO Putter: Straight back and straight into the hole

I think have played with literally every conceivable putter style: blade, Anser, half-mallet, mallet, plumber’s neck, single-bend, double-bend, straight, center-shafted, heel-shafted, face-balanced, toe-hang of all degrees, 33” to broomstick, belly-anchored, sternum-anchored, side-saddle-armpit-anchored, steel face, aluminum face, inserts from honeycombed nickel to polymer. Heck, I’ve even played with a putter whose shaft was wrapped with a shellacked bull penis.

And the thing is, I’ve made putts with all of them, whether they cost $30 or $600.

I guess I have been sort of a putting playboy. Not to brag…but, you know, maybe a little.

Now, in my dotage, I have settled on a preferred putting style, and a preferred putter style. My most effective stroke is straight-back and straight-through. I have gone through periods with an open-to-closed ‘gate’ stroke, but for me, maintaining that stroke requires too much practice.

Last season, I had the best putting year of my life. I ran in a lot of clutch putts, even winning my course’s Match Play Tournament. I thought I had found my forever-putter.

Then the Cleveland Golf Frontline ISO Single-Bend Putter ($200) arrived on my porch, and it was like the cloying meet-cute in a romcom:

“It’s you. It’s always been you.”

I’ll save you the montage of the Frontline ISO and me on the beach, baking bread, eating ice cream, getting caught in a downpour and ducking into a doorway for a sweet, soggy kiss. Let’s just get to the naughty details, shall we?

Playing the Cleveland Frontline ISO Single-Bend Putter

The entire Frontline line is predicated on a design philosophy that is not new, but it is new again. The focus is on moving the weighting of the putterhead into the face. Most recent putter designs feature weighting low and deep in the head, purportedly to increase MOI. Cleveland’s rationale for putting the weighting forward—which has been found in several putter models over the decades—is to promote a faster, cleaner, more consistent forward roll at impact.

What I noticed immediately, just testing the ISO on my living room carpet before the weather warmed, was that the ball pops off the face: it’s a soft and supple bounce, though, not unnatural or uncontrollable.

Like all 13 of the Frontline models, the ISO comes in 33”-35” lengths, RH (only 1 model comes in LH, oddly), 3-degrees loft, and 70-degrees lie. The features of the ISO that promote a straight-back-straight-through stroke are face-balance, the single-bend neck, and a stock oversized grip.

Combine these specs with the square mallet head, and everything about the ISO conspires to line you up online, deliver a consistent strike, start the ball online, and watch it drop.

It was sort of awkward taking the ISO out to play and leaving my trusty flatstick from last season at home. At first.

Then, yesterday, the ISO and I went out and holed 11 one-putts, with 5 of the 7 two-putts lipping out or burning the edge.

I’m not sure if I said “I love you” first, or if the ISO did. Maybe we said it at the same time. Either way, as the credits roll, so do the putts – happily ever after, indeed.

All you need is love: Valentine’s Day Golf Gift Guide

You know what’s sustained me through this pandemic? Love. I love my family and friends. I love my job. And I love golf. Without all three of these loves, it would be very difficult to maintain my equilibrium.

Winter is tough where I live. Some years, we can squeeze in a round every month. Other years, it’s just not meant to be. So I rely on televised golf, the indoor simulator at Lake of the Woods Golf Course in my hometown, and deliveries of new golf stuff. Because all I need is love – and GOLF GEAR!

Here’s my 2021 list of lovable and loving gifts for the golfer in your love-life.

AHEAD Golf Polos

Solid, bold polos are great and all, but in recent years, my golf shirts have been lacking some color and pattern. AHEAD offers a full range of colors and designs, from the traditional bold solids to a new line of multi-hued stripes and micro-patterns that will really brighten up the links…once the snow melts. Click HERE for the catalog.

ASICS Golf Shoes

Last year, Srixon/Cleveland partnered with ASICS to produce a line of athletic golf shoes. The inaugural offering was super-comfortable and became one of my go-to shoes in all weather conditions. This year, ASICS has refined and innovated that initial design to produce the GEL-Course ACETM ($150). Once again athletic and sort of reminiscent of crosstraining shoes, the GEL-Course ACE features the best version of flexible, breathable mesh that is still waterproof. Great traction, great versatility, and stable support all wrapped up in a light-weight package. They might get a little muddy, but these will be on my feet the first round this spring.

Swiftwick MAXUS Zero Tab socks

When you get old(er), you learn to love the little things. Like a new pair of socks. A new sock is like a hug for your foot. The Swiftwick MAXUS Zero Tab socks ($15)  are low-profile, ultra-absorbent, and super durable, and they come in eight colors. I guarantee a pair of these will be inside those ASICS shoes that first round of the spring.

Nathan Sports Run Safe Face Mask

Personally, the natural social distancing inherent in walking 18 provides me enough piece of mind to not wear a mask while I play. But if you do wear a mask, or frequent the clubhouse or other indoor facilities, a breathable, well-designed mask is a must. The Run Safe Mask from Nathan Sports ($20)  works for both golf course walkers and dedicated indoor/outdoor runners alike. It’s made of breathable, sweat-wicking material and has a Quick-Flip feature that allows for hydration and nutrition without removing the mask. Or a beer. I mean, let’s be real here. I’ll be drinking beer through it.

The Clover Whiskey

Or whiskey. I might drink whiskey through the mask, too, especially if it’s cold those first few spring rounds. My absolute favorite golf whiskey is The Bobby Jones Clover Collection, which is a Jones family initiative to carry on the legacy and traditions of Bobby Jones. The collection includes several single-barrel aged bourbons and ryes (starting at about $60), along with a very classy selection of accessories, including tasting and low-ball glasses, and a signature gold clover lapel pin (or tie-tack, if you’re really into the Jones golf tradition). The 4-year old straight bourbon whiskey is 92-proof, but perhaps the smoothest I have ever drunk. I can only imagine how velvety the 10-yar-old is! The flavor profile is vanilla, smoked almonds, and cardamom. The Clover Whiskeys are available in about 20 states so far, and at some of the most exclusive golf resorts and clubs in America (see the website for a list). You can’t buy it online, but you can buy the gift boxes and accessories (starting around $35) if you’re lucky enough to track down a bottle and want to dress it up even further. I cannot stress enough how much any whiskey-loving golfer (or non-golfer!) on your list will love this stuff.

Club Champion Club Fitting

Club Champion is the nation’s premier club-fitter, with 75+ centers throughout the country. They’ve made me a believer. I’ve gone through fittings there myself, as have several friends too, and the level of detail and the sheer amount of information you learn about your swing will astound you. Same goes for the vast array of equipment they can choose from—tens of thousands of head, shaft, and grip combinations. My son did a putter fitting there in December, and he loved every second of it. You can also purchase gift cards at their website.

Breakthrough Golf Headcovers

Breakthrough Golf Technologies have built a reputation on its Stability line of golf shafts. But now BGT is adding some fun into its product line with putter covers ($50) that include catchphrases like “Make my day,” “Say hello to my little friend,” and “Show me the money!” These handmade putter covers come in either mallet or blade design, so they’ll fit most any flatstick. After a couple glasses of The Clover, I do a hell of a Scarface imitation…just saying.

Bridgestone e12 and Callaway ERC Soft and Supersoft golf balls

I don’t know what the USGA will eventually decide about the golf ball. Do pros hit them too far? Probably. But average golfers like you and me need all the distance AND control we can get. So golf ball manufacturers continue to push the limits of physics in terms of both design and materials.

The new Bridgestone e12, available as of February 26, 2021 ($30/doz.), introduces the new CONTACT Force dimple design. A 2-minute video played on a screen embedded in the sample box I received (I mean, how cool is that?) explained the technology as being inspired by Bridgestone tires. The more contact between tire and road, or ball and club, the better the contact and the more control. The dimple pattern is required for lift and also to channel moisture away from the clubface, but the CONTACT dimples both increase surface contact AND maintain aerodynamics. They will be available in white and in an array of matte colors.

The Callaway ERC Soft and Supersoft will be available February 25, and a street price hasn’t been provided yet. Whereas Bridgestone’s innovation is in contact science, Callaway’s innovation comes in the form of chemistry. Callaway has paired for the first time with DOW Chemical to produce a hybrid cover infused with something called PARALOID Impact Modifier. This chemical compound provides the namesake softness in the ERC models while also increasing reactivity at impact, producing longer, higher ball flight.

Titleist Players 4 Plus StaDry stand bag

I’m a traditionalist when it comes to locomotion around the golf course. If I can walk, and the course is walkable, I prefer to hoof it with my trusty push cart. This pandemic has not been kind to my fitness or waistline, however. Toward the end of this past summer, I started leaving my push cart in the trunk and carrying more to get added exercise. Come spring, I intend to continue this practice, so I welcome the introduction of the Titleist Players 4 Plus StaDry stand bag ($290). It weighs in at only 4.2 lbs. (as opposed to 6 lbs. for my current bag), and has fully sealed waterproof construction. There are 8 pockets, a premium double-strap, strong aluminum legs, and improved ergonomics in the 8 pockets. And there are 9 color profiles to choose from.

Sun Mountain Boom Bag

Maybe you’re not so much of a traditionalist? Hey, to each their own. All we need is love, right? So if you’d prefer to drive a golf cart and play some tunes as you go, that’s fine by me, too. Sun Mountain is introducing the Boom Bag ($330) in 2021 – a cart bag with built-in Bluetooth speakers. Aside from the high-fidelity speakers, there are 13 pockets and models with 14-way and 5-way dividers. So now you don’t need to worry about losing your phone or magnetic speaker on the course or leaving it in the cart at return. Just dial up your playlist, sync with the Boom Bag, stow your phone safely in said bag, and hit the tee. Peace, love, and rock and roll, my friend.

So happy Valentine’s Day, 2021. May you find love in everyone you meet and your golf ball no matter where you hit it.

Panic in the pandemic: Last-minute holiday golf gift guide

Listen up duffers and duffettes – Christmas 2020 is just one week away (and Hanukkah is already over!). If you haven’t secured gifts for the golfers on your list by now, you’re going to need to hit the shot of the year. Seriously, this is the holiday equivalent of stepping onto the 18th tee dormie: it’s now or never.

Baby Jesus knows I tried to help you with one of my most extensive gift guides ever. But I’ve got a few more ideas for the laggards out there.

The Clover Whiskey

Bobby Jones was not only a golf legend; he was a legendary connoisseur of fine bourbon. The Bobby Jones Clover Collection by The Clover Whiskey is a Jones family initiative to carry on the legacy and traditions of Bobby Jones. The collection includes several single-barrel aged bourbons and ryes (starting at about $60), along with a very classy selection of accessories, including tasting and low-ball glasses, and a signature gold clover lapel pin (just as Jones himself always wore). The 4-year old straight bourbon whiskey is 92-proof, but perhaps the smoothest I have ever drunk. I can only imagine how velvety the 10-yar-old is! The flavor profile is vanilla, smoked almonds, and cardamom. The Clover Whiskeys are available in about 20 states so far, and at some of the most exclusive golf resorts and clubs in America (see the website for a list). You can’t buy it online, but you can buy the gift boxes and accessories (starting around $35) if you’re lucky enough to track down a bottle and want to dress it up even further. I cannot stress enough how much any whiskey-loving golfer (or non-golfer!) on your list will love this stuff. Pair it with the golf-ball shaped ice cubes by Tovolo from my original gift guide

Club Champion Club Fitting

Club Champion is the nation’s premier club-fitter, with 75 centers throughout the country. They’ve made me a believer. I’ve gone through fittings there myself, as have several friends too, and the level of detail and the sheer amount of information you learn about your swing will astound you. Same goes for the vast array of equipment they can choose from—tens of thousands of head, shaft, and grip combinations. For the holidays, get 50% off fittings booked and completed from November 1, 2020 – January 31, 2021 when you purchase $500 in equipment. Golfers booking putter fittings will receive 50% off their fitting fee with the purchase of a new putter — no price minimum. My son just did a putter fitting, and he loved every second of it. You can also purchase gift cards to use with this deal, or later in 2021, at their website.

The Claw PRO Golf Glove by CaddyDaddy

If your favorite golfer wears old, torn, smelly golf gloves, do him or her a favor and restock their bag with a couple of Claw PRO gloves by CaddyDaddy ($25). These gloves are the grippiest, strongest, most breathable gloves you will find. The palms are coated with silicon webbing, and the fully synthetic suede and mesh back are durable and amply vented. The Claw PRO has added grip in the thumb and forefinger and is machine-washable. They will last 4x-5x longer than a traditional glove. I got my original model Claw glove over a year ago, and I still wear it nearly every round. I expect to be wearing the PRO for another couple years.

OnCore Online Gift Card

OnCore makes some of the best golf balls you’ve maybe never heard of. This Buffalo, NY, company has a new tour-level ball (see my ball round-up from earlier this year), the Vero X1, that can stand alongside any of the top-line big-company balls. Anyway, OnCore is having a big holiday sale on gift cards: Spend $50 on a gift card and get $65 in OnCore cash to spend.  Spend $75 and get $100. If you really want to impress, spend $100 and give a gift worth $140.

Annual Membership in the golf Heritage Society

Are there golfers on your list who have all the gadgets, gear, and gee-gaws they could ever need? Then give them the gift of history with a $50 annual membership in the Golf Heritage Society. The GHS exists to share stories, artifacts, and pure love of golf. In short, this is where golf collectors, writers, historians, and fanatics of all types satisfy their cravings and curiosity. Members gain access to a members-only section of the Society’s website, where they’ll find special and archived content and a shop full of cool GHS merchandise that your favorite golf geek cannot get anywhere else.

Ryder Cup Experience Package at Geneva National Resort & Club

Have you ever dreamed of holing the putt to win the Ryder Cup? I can’t help you live that dream, but I can point you toward a gift that will win both the holiday season AND get you closer to the Ryder Cup than you ever thought possible. Geneva National Resort and Club in Geneva, Wisconsin, has put together a dream package for golf fans who want to attend the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits (Sept. 23-27) and play Geneva National’s championship courses. Packages include 54 holes of golf at Geneva National, four nights deluxe accommodations, two days of Ryder Cup tickets with transportation, and a Ryder Cup Watch Party ($3,000-$4,000, depending on occupancy; discounts for GN members). These packages will go fast, so contact them NOW if you want to be a Ryder Cup hero without actually qualifying for the team.

Well, that’s it. That’s all I can do for you this year. Even though the pandemic has made everything harder, I hope these ideas help make your 2020 holidays easier, and most memorable ever – for good reasons.

Be well, play good golf, and keep in touch. I’ll see you on the other side in 2021.

Stay home, but send great golf gifts: Holiday Gift Guide 2020

If ever there was a holiday season for online shopping, it’s 2020. Most of us have been shopping online since March, but now we’ve hit the big time. This is The Show, baby! So step up to the tee and let the big dog eat!

Here’s a list of my favorite golf gifts this year. It’s pretty long, but what the heck else do you have to do?

Arnold Palmer Umbrellas by Weatherman

It’s been one dreary year, and when that hard rain falls – literally or figuratively – it’s nice to have a big ol’ umbrella. The Arnold Palmer Umbrella Collection by Weatherman offers shelter from the rain for everyone, golfers and non-golfers alike. The Arnold Palmer Classic Golf Umbrella ($89) has Arnie’s trademark pattern and measures 68”. That’s big enough to keep a threesome dry, if you like each other well enough and don’t need to socially distance.

ECCO Golf Street Retro shoes, PUMA IGNITE Caged Crafted shoes, & Swiftwick MAXUS Zero Tab socks

The saying goes that you can’t understand another person’s struggles unless you walk a mile in their shoes. Anyone who walks a mile in my new ECCO Golf Street Retro shoes ($150), though, isn’t going to feel very sorry for me. ECCO is the long-running champion in the “Most Comfortable Right Out of the Box” category, and the Street Retros are no exception. I wore mine for the first time a couple weekends ago—2 days in a row, walking 18 holes, and afterwards my feet felt like I’d had them up on the couch all day. Crafted with full-grain leather, waterproof, and with some 800 traction angles, these shoes perform, too. My favorite part is the textile, sort of felt-like collar that adds even more comfort around your ankle.

The PUMA IGNITE Caged Crafted shoes ($170) represent a solid entry into the “crossover” golf shoe category, that look both good on and off the course. They are constructed with a premium full grain leather PWRCAGE Saddle that wraps around the medial and lateral sides of the shoe providing incredible stability throughout the swing along with a 1-year waterproof guarantee, and a cool nuvo-classic look. Bryson DeChambeau and Gary Woodland have been wearing these beauties on Tour for the past year, so you know they perform at the same time they protect and pamper your feet.

Either the ECCO Retro Street or PUMA IGNITE Caged Crafted shoes pair nicely with the most comfortable sock in golf – the Swiftwick MAXUS Zero Tab ($15). These ankle socks come in a rainbow of colors, and they absorb sweat better than any sock I’ve ever worn. But the best feature is an enlarged microtab on the heel to make sure whatever shoes you wear won’t rub.

GolfLogix Greens Books, SkyCaddie LX5 GPS watch, & Bushnell Wingman

These days, it’s all about data: yardages, green books, stats tracking. You name it, you can quantify it. There are more options than ever this holiday season. GolfLogix offers green maps and yardage books of nearly any course you can think of. These books run $40 each, and they make outstanding gifts for golfers on your list—personalized for their home courses! They include hole maps on 50-yard scales and green break maps and heat maps on 5-yard grids. We’re talking serious data here. The hole maps are excellent, but the stars of the show are the exquisite green maps, with break arrows and heat maps for judging both direction AND amount of break.

If you want yardages and more in a sleek wearable unit—like hole maps, yardages to hazards, score-keeping and game stats, step-counter, heartrate monitor and more—you will want to consider the new SkyCaddie LX5 ($330, incl. a $20 holiday discount). The LX5 has a ceramic touch-screen bezel that measures 1.39 inches, with hi-def resolution so even old(er) guys like me can read the numbers on the screen. It comes with a 3-year SkyCaddie Premium membership and is pre-loaded with 35,000 courses around the world. The membership allows you to sync data (scores and stats for every hole that you enter during your round) with a laptop or phone, and then you can access stats from all your rounds on the www.SkyGolf360.com website. Added benefits are a step-counter, so I can show my wife that my morning rounds include 14,000 steps (6+ miles) and a battery that lasts for two full rounds.

If the golfer on your list likes to play tunes on the course the Bushnell Wingman ($150) is for you. Essentially the Wingman is a top-notch Bluetooth stereo speaker combined with one of the best GPS systems in golf. Integrated into the speaker is a powerful magnet so you can stick it on your golf cart (or on your pushcart), and there’s a detachable remote control you can keep in your pocket to click for audible yardages to the front, middle, and back of the green. Pair the Wingman with your phone to play music from your own library or streaming service, if the gentle strains of birdsong and the breeze in the leaves are too old-fashioned for you. Then download the Bushnell app onto your smartphone to display detailed maps and yardages of 36,000 courses, keep score, and more all on your phone.

Balls, balls everywhere

Is it just me, or has there been a recent proliferation of golf ball companies and models? Gone are the days when everyone in your group plays the same Titleist or TopFlite. Not only is there variety, there is quality, as engineers have figured out how to combine distance and control qualities in the same ball. Here are five current favs to choose from:

Volvik XT Soft ($37.99/doz)

Volvik is one of the most intriguing and fastest-growing brands of golf balls. They certainly win the “unique line-up” award. Volvik’s balls are widely played on the LPGA Tour, and the company sponsors the Long Drive Tour. The XT Soft model represents an affordable premium entry that received a Gold rating on Golf Digest’s “Best New Golf Balls” Hot List this year in the over $35 premium category.

Titleist Tour Speed ($39.99/doz)

MyGolfSpy.com has fabulous golf ball testing facilities and methods, and according to their crack staff, there’s a reason the ProV1 has dominated the golf ball market for so long: Titleist has some of, if not the, most stringent quality control in the golf ball world.

Titleist brings that same meticulousness to the production of their new Tour Speed balls.

The Tour Speed has a proprietary thermoplastic urethane cover and a 346 quadrilateral dipyramid dimple design that the company claims make it longer and faster than Callaway Chrome Soft, Bridgestone Tour B RX, TaylorMade Tour Response, Srixon Z-STAR and Srixon Q-STAR TOUR.

Srixon Soft Feel Brite ($21.99/doz)

If your absolute bottom line when it comes to golf balls is finding the best ball possible at the lowest price possible, Srixon Soft Feel has been your go-to for several years now. Are they the longest ball you will play? No. But do they combine competitive distance with excellent responsiveness around the greens? You bet they do. So if you tend to lose a lot of balls, you can stock up on these at basically 2-for-1 the price of “premium” balls.

OnCore ELIXR ($25.99/doz) and Vero X1 Prototype ($39.99/doz)

Buffalo-based OnCore Golf probably makes the best balls you’ve never heard of. The direct-to-consumer manufacturer has three models: Avant, ELIXR, and the brand-spanking new limited-edition prototype Vero X1. The ELIXR is a three-piece, value-priced premium ball that performs as well as or better than balls selling for $10 more per dozen. OnCore’s new premium four-piece, tour-caliber ball is the Vero X1. This ball also has the metal-infused mantle, 85 compression, and a premium cast urethane cover that in combination produce tremendous distance off the tee and spin around the green. I played the Vero X1 over two rounds in a recent tournament and experienced something I rarely, if ever, have before: backing the ball up on the greens. OnCore is having a buy 2 dozen get one free deal.

Short Game Gains and Pro Path putting mirrors

Maybe you live in a house with vaulted ceilings so you can take full swings. Maybe you have one of those fancy indoor simulators. For those of us who aren’t in those categories, the best off-season practice we can do indoors is putting. And the best way to maximize putting practice—indoors or outdoors—is with a putting mirror. Here are two excellent options, each with its own unique features.

Pro golfers, social media butterflies, and sweethearts Hannah Gregg and Fredrik Lindblom have developed a line of products based on the tools and tricks of their fellow Symetra and Korn Ferry Tour players and named their company Short Game Gains. All of their training aids are simple and intuitive to use, yet sophisticated in design and high-quality in construction. Their putting mirror ($40) is compact, and the plastic “runway” that you can use with it is particularly helpful for getting the ball started online. Their set of “ghost holes” ($15) is particularly useful for dialing in speed, as they allow you to gauge how far past the hole your ball is running. Their hole reducers ($18) are one of the cleverest putting aids I’ve ever used. The concentric hole inserts reduce the diameter of holes on your local putting green to dial in your aim. Practice a while with these, and when you hit the course, the standard-sized holes feel like buckets. Everything comes in its own cinch-sack for easy transport. You can grab all of these aids along with a few others for $90 – and your short game will emerge from this pandemic tastier than your sourdough loaves.

The Pro Path putting mirror by Back 2 Basics Golf ($65) is a bit larger than the one by Short Game Gains, with more detailed graphics printed on it. I especially like the stroke-path line, which helps you groove a bit of a closed-open-closed stroke on longer putts. The mirror also comes in its own carrying sack, and it includes four staggered putting gates that you can stick into your local putting green to narrow your aim and ensure you hit hour line every time. Happily, both of these mirrors work just as well on your livingroom carpet as they do on a practice green.

Man Crates and Canteen Vodka & Soda

Pandemic, you say? Lockdown, you say? Well I say it’s a perfect opportunity to indulge your passions or take up a new hobby. Especially a manly one. Man Crates are care packages for the men OR women on your gift list. Crates contain a variety of goodies centered around various themes, from whiskey-lovers to baking to beef jerky to BBQ to knife-making to ales to personalized golf balls ($50-$150). I love to cook, but I’m not much of a baker. So when my Get Baked crate ($60) arrived, I was skeptical. Then I read the instructions and threw together a blueberry crumble that wowed my family and me, and then I started in on the iron skillet desserts. I guess I’m a baker now!

Whether you enjoy libations on the golf course or only after you hit the 19th hole, something light is generally the way to go. Seltzers have become surprisingly popular, even amongst the older golfing set. But if you are looking for something light with more substance and flavor than your typical seltzer, I highly recommend Canteen Vodka and Soda. These canned 5% alcohol drinks—made with real vodka, rather than the beer-like fermented cane sugar found in most seltzers—make those seltzers taste like bad mineral water. The Canteen flavors are perfectly calibrated, with no aftertaste. They were my Official Drink of the November Masters.

Tovolo Golf Ball Ice Molds

Dress up your Canteen drinks or your Man Crate whiskey with giant golf ball-shaped ice spheres with the Tovolo ice molds ($15 for set of 3). These latex molds are easy to fill and, with a little practice, you create bubble-free balls that cool immediately and melt very slowly.

If you can’t find something in the list above for the golfers on your gifts lists, I’m not sure what to say. Maybe you’ve contracted the virus, because you’ve obviously lost your taste.

Seriously, may everyone be well, stay hopeful, and be surrounded with love and laughter this holiday season. 2021 has got to be better, right?

–Peace–

Find Your Way on the Golf Course: Yardages for Technophobes and Technophiles

Finding your way on the course today takes everything you’ve got.

Taking a break from indecision sure would help a lot.

Wouldn’t you like to know how far it is from here to there?

And the carry in the air?

–“Cheers” … sort of

All right, all right. Enough of that. I’ve been watching WAY too much old TV during this pandemic.

Let’s get serious: Is there any question asked more often on a golf course than, “What’s the yardage?” Or some version thereof?

Take a walk with me through the range of ways to answer this recurrent query in today’s game, using technology that’ll suit technophobes and technophiles alike.

Old-school yardage calculation

Nothing much to say here: Find a sprinkler head, or stake, or bush, and guess. Or, if you’re really anal, pace it off. If your preference is the latter, be prepared for your playing partners to play out of turn and walk ahead. Many years ago and someone growled at a kid in our group what we all were thinking: “If you pace off another pitch, Woody, I’ll hit every ball in your bag into the effing woods.”

Retro Cool: GolfLogix Greens Books

Depending on your perspective, when pros pull those greens books from their back pockets, it’s either ultra-cool or utterly infuriating. Now YOU can be one of these polarizing figures on your own home course. How can you get a taste of that sweet, sweet data for your local links? GolfLogix offers green maps and yardage books of nearly any course you can think of. These books run $40 each, include hole maps on 50-yard scales and green break maps and heat maps on 5-yard grids. We’re talking serious data here. The hole maps are excellent, but the stars of the show are the exquisite green maps, with break arrows and heat maps for judging both direction AND amount of break. Since getting one of these for my home course, I have discovered flat spots on the greens I didn’t know existed and had always over-read. So now I can enlighten (or bore) my buddies, “It’s a little-known fact that that part of the green actually doesn’t break.”

Laser focus: TecTecTec! ULT-X Rangefinder

Rangefinders have really grown on me over the years. I used to love the old-school guess, but now I enjoy verifying the yardage with laser precision. If you’re only a slight technophobe, the laser rangefinder is probably your top choice: just aim press a button. One of the more advanced rangefinders on the market is the ULT-X by TecTecTec! ($250). It’s lightweight, uber-precise, and has an elevation mode that is easy to turn on and off. Doing so is accomplished by pulling the lens housing out or pushing it in. When the elevation mode is engaged, a bright yellow band is revealed, so players like my son, who play in tournaments in which measuring elevation is not allowed, will be less likely to forget to turn it off. There is a vibration confirmation when the target is locked in, too (though it’s a bit slower than some higher-priced competitors). I’ve also recently found that another handy use of the ULT-X is keeping an eye on other golfers around the course to maintain social distancing. You can ID friends from 100+ yards away and wave – “Hey, Norm!”

Sleek, stylish, and hi-tech: SkyCaddie LX5 GPS Smart Watch

If you don’t normally wear a watch while playing, it might take some getting used to, but a GPS watch can be the easiest way to know the yardage wherever you are. And if you want more than just yardages—like hole maps, yardages to hazards, score-keeping and game stats, step-counter, heartrate monitor and more—you will want to consider the new SkyCaddie LX5 ($350). I’ve been testing one of these beauties for a couple of months now, and it does practically everything – and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of its functionality.

The LX5 has a ceramic touch-screen bezel that measures 1.39 inches, with hi-def resolution so even old(er) guys like me can read the numbers on the screen. Although its price tag is substantial, it comes with a 3-year SkyCaddie Premium membership and is pre-loaded with 35,000 courses around the world. I’ve actually learned to enjoy entering my scores and basic stats into the watch after each hole. The membership allows you to sync data with a laptop or phone, and then you can access stats from all your rounds on the SkyGolf360.com website.

Added benefits are a step-counter, so I can show my wife that my morning rounds include 14,000 steps (6+ miles) and a battery that lasts for two full rounds. The only feature I am not fully enamored of is the LX5’s habit of asking “Are you done with Hole X?” It asks this dumb question sort of a lot, and it vibrates on your wrist when it does. I don’t play slowly, but a few times, this buzzing has happened in the middle of my backswing in a bunker or on a putt, with deleterious effects. No one likes a know-it-all, Diane.

Bushnell Wingman: Swing your swing and play your music

If you’ve gone all-in on technology and all the ways it’s changing golf, the Bushnell Wingman ($150) is for you. Essentially the Wingman is a top-notch stereo speaker combined with one of the best GPS systems in golf. Integrated into the speaker is a powerful magnet so you can stick it on your golf cart (or on your pushcart), and there’s a detachable remote control you can keep in your pocket to click for audible yardages to the front, middle, and back of the green.

But wait – there’s more!

Pair the Wingman with your phone to play music from your own library or streaming service, if the gentle strains of birdsong and the breeze in the leaves are too old-fashioned for you. Then download the Bushnell app onto your smartphone to display detailed maps and yardages of 36,000 courses, keep score, and more all on your phone. I’m not a big phone-fan on the course, but there’s so much functionality with the Wingman—all accessible without subscription or membership—that I discover more features every time I use it. Smoothest wingman since Sam Malone.

So cheers to all you golfers, no matter how you decide to make your way in the world today. It’s not easy out there, but it’s a little better when everybody knows your name—and you know your yardages.

Cleveland RTX ZipCore wedges deliver on all shots for all golfers

Full disclosure: I’ve always been a big fan of Cleveland Golf wedges. I have tested and reviewed a LOT of wedges over the decades, and whenever a new set of Clevelands arrive, they end up staying in my bag longer than the others.

Fuller disclosure: It’s happened again. And this time, Cleveland’s new ZipCore wedges kicked another model of their wedges out of my bag.

I had been playing the Cleveland RTX 4 60-, 56-, and 52-degree wedges since those first hit the market. Then the RTX ZipCores arrived on my porch, and, well, that was that.

Ever since I switched, I’ve been closer to the hole on every manner of shots within 120 yards – low, high, pitch, chip, flop – you name it. The ZipCore can do it.

Playing the Cleveland Golf RTX ZipCore wedges

Of course every new incarnation of any golf club model boasts “innovations” and “improvements” over the previous generation, but the ZipCore wedges ($150) actually represent a significant transformation from the excellent earlier RTX designs.

First and foremost, the namesake “ZipCore” feature refers to the removal of mass from inner core of the hosel and heel portion of the clubhead. This weight has been redistributed into a ridge or bar on the back of the clubhead, just below the top of the face. This weight redistribution stretches the center of gravity a bit higher and toward the toe – precisely where a lot of contact occurs.

In addition to this weighting scheme, the UtiliZip grooves are deeper and closer together than ever before. These grooves put noticeable spin on the ball. I’ve nipped several short shots (<50 yards) a bit thin since playing the ZipCores, and they usually end up biting after the first bounce and finishing much better than they deserved to, based on the contact (it helps to play a premium ball like the OnCore Vero X1).

The ZipCores come in lofts of 46 to 60 degrees in a standard Tour satin finish (other finishes also available). As I say, once the 56- and 60-degree RTX ZipCores went into my bag, they have never come out. I wasn’t hitting my previous RTX 4s badly, but the ZipCores simply out-perform them. My favorite feature is the new weight distribution. When the ball rolls a bit up the face in the rough, there is enough mass to carry the shot most of the way to the target instead of popping up half-way there. This design also brings amazing consistency to my sand game.

Cleveland Golf RTX ZipCore wedges: The Skinny

You don’t have to be a scratch handicapper to play these great new wedges. And you don’t have to be a chopper to benefit from the engineering innovations. You don’t need to be rich to afford them, either. Win, win, win. The only concern is what Cleveland can do to top them next year.