Lynx Golf for links golf – a purr-r-r-fect pairing

Fred Couples won his only major, the 1992 Masters, playing Lynx Golf clubs. Ernie Els won the 1994 U.S. Open playing Lynx. Short story: Lynx Golf has an impressive pedigree.

Longer story: Lynx Golf was bought out by Golfsmith, which turned it into an in-house component parts company. The Golfsmith went under and Lynx became a “house brand” for Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Even longer story: In 2013, the Lynx Golf brand was purchased by Stephanie Zinser and her husband, Steve Elford. They’re based in the U.K., where Lynx has seen its sales grow by 130% or more for a couple years. Next up: Regaining U.S. market-share.

Lynx has always been an innovator. Look up commercials for the Lynx Boom Boom Driver, one of the early metal drivers—you almost still want to buy one! Their big new driver last year – the VT Prowler SwitchFace – allowed players to actually swap out the face of the driver to achieve desired loft and ball flight, rather than adjusting the hosel (as in all the other adjustable drivers on the market).

Now Lynx is taking some of the treasures of its “glory days” and re-engineering them for the modern game and today’s player preferences.

For example, take a closer look at the Lynx Prowler VT Stinger Driving Iron. Through the decades until the mid-1990s, almost every Tour pro’s bag contained a driving iron, especially when conditions got firm and fast, as they did on the baked-out fairways of Open (aka British Open) venues. Hit a low-flying, low-spinning bullet with a 12- or 16-degree driving iron and not even a Scottish gale-force headwind could keep it from running out over 250 yards.

But times have changed and major equipment companies have convinced today’s players that they need to pull out a toaster-headed driver on every hole, damn the torpedoes (and hazards).

Enter Lynx Golf, whose Prowler VT Stinger combines a muscle-back profile with a hollow, variable-thickness clubhead. The VT Stinger comes in 12.5 and 16 degrees, with steel ($129) or graphite ($149) shaft and two finish options, chrome or “fossil.”

When I opened my 16-degree Prowler VT Stinger, I recalled back a couple years ago, when my driver was behaving quite badly, and I played a half-dozen rounds with an 18-degree driving iron instead. I loved the control, but the feel was harsh, and the distance I got from it varied wildly, depending on minute differences in contact.

Long story: The Prowler VT Stinger looked like an improvement: lower loft, a profile that is clean yet appeared forgiving, exquisite balance and weighting.

Longer story: So I gave it a try on my course indoor simulator first, where swing after swing produced low shots that carried about 170 yards but then ran another 30-60 yards (depending on simulator settings). Then, after 3 days of rain and before my local course closed for the current pandemic, I snuck onto the 17th hole, a par 3 that stretches to 230 yards from the tips. I took 3 old range balls and a broken tee for the best “test” I could give it under the conditions. The first shot I teed a bit high (I thought), and pulled just left of the green, but with beautiful medium-high trajectory. The second shot was teed lower – classic low bullet, no higher than 8 feet off the ground, directly at the flag. The hole runs a little downhill, though, and then back up slightly to the green, and I didn’t see the ball roll onto the putting surface from the sloppy turf in front. The third shot was nearly identical to the third, with a tiny fade. A group was coming to the tee – a group composed of my son and his friends. I asked my son to tell me later where he found those three balls, and then I went back to my car.

Later on, he told me two of them were within inches of one another, a foot off the front of the green. The third was just short of pin-high, 3 yards left of the green, plugged in the mud. In better conditions, those second two might have been over the green…or absolutely purr-r-r-r-fect.

Short story: I dream of the end of COVID-19, and the re-opening of my home course. I dream of firm, fast summer fairways. I dream of getting back to Scotland and Ireland for proper links golf.

In all these dreams, the Lynx Prowler VT Stinger is in my bag. Soaring shots can be hit with it, especially by natural high-ball hitters. But its true glory is the low bullet—the “stinger,” as its name implies—with a tracer-like ball flight and 100 yards of run.

I’ll never be as cool as Boom Boom Couples, but hitting shots like him is a nice consolation.

Tax refund + quarantine = online golf shopping

Hey, I bet you didn’t see this coming, huh?

I hope you and yours are staying healthy in these strange times. And I hope you’re all holding up emotionally.

The thing that’s keeping me going, along with my family, is my local golf course. As part of a county forest preserve, Lake of the Woods Golf Course (Mahomet, IL) is staying open as an essential service through all of this. And as a season pass-holder, I can call the pro shop to check in from the parking lot and roll my pushcart to the first tee. I can wave at other golfers from 20+ yards away and get some exercise. I can even call the pro shop form the course and ask them to put a couple beers outside the shop door for me at the turn. My son and I played 18 last week, and it was the only time that felt “normal” in three weeks.

But Illinois spring weather is finicky – rain and cold are keeping us inside most days. With no golf on TV, putting in the living room loses its luster pretty quickly.

If you’re in the same boat (and, really, we’re all in the same boat more than most of us ever truly appreciated), may I suggest some online retail therapy? Maybe your tax refund hit your bank account? And maybe it’s smaller than past years (I know mine’s been cut in half these past couple years), but you can still treat yourself, right? Trust me, some new golf gear will lift your spirits.

Bridgestone golf balls

Bridgestone tires grip the road, so you can trust Bridgestone golf balls to grip the green. The Tour B line for 2020 ($45/doz.) has been redesigned with the company’s proprietary REACTIV cover to maximize both feel and distance. The Tour B X is played by the likes of Matt Kuchar and Lexi Thompson. The Tour B XS is played by Tiger Woods (who helped design it, too). These two models are targeted at players with driver swing speeds over 105 mph. The Tour B RX and Tour B RXS are designed for players with swing speeds under 105 mph. I’m on the edge, so I’m going to go with the RX, as a nod to the heroes working in pharmacies and clinics these days.

TecTecTec ULT-X Rangefinder

Rangefinders have really grown on me over the years. I used to love the thrill of the guess, but now I enjoy verifying the yardage with laser precision. 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. 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 – that’ll have to do for now.

ASICS DUAL-COURSE Duo BOA golf shoes

The growing juggernaut Srixon/Cleveland Golf/XXIO has recently announced a partnership with athletic shoe manufacturer ASICS and the joint development of their flagship golf shoes, the GEL-COURSE Duo BOA ($180) and GEL-COURSE Glide ($130). Both models look and feel like ASICS gym shoes. The BOA features its namesake lacing system, which consists of wire laces that tighten and loosen with a dial on the side of the shoe, and also have softspikes. The Glides are spikeless with traditional laces. Both models are also waterproof. I took my pair of Duos out of the box to walk those 18 holes with my son. Conditions were extremely soggy, but my feet stayed dry. Equally impressive, my feet experienced no fatigue or hotspots despite it being only my second round walking so far this season. The arch support and padding are what you’d expect from the best athletic shoes. The BOA lacing system seemed to work a little loose during the first 4 holes, but a quick turn of the dial re-tightened them. And after those first holes, they stayed snug throughout the remainder of the round.

ECCO BIOM COOL PRO golf shoes

Although all golf shoes are becoming more comfortable, ECCO still holds the Number One spot in “Most Comfortable Right Out of the Box.” ECCO doesn’t make the lightest golf shoes, nor the cheapest, but sliding on a pair of ECCOs is one of the great pleasures of the game. The new BIOM COOL PRO shoe ($230) is no exception: it has a wrap-around Gore-Tex design that actively ventilates your feet as you walk. The yak-leather outer is amazingly soft, and the sole features little tunnels running all the way through which make them lighter and “springier” than any previous ECCO model I’ve ever tried (and that’s a lot of them). I wore my BIOM COOL PROS during a hot but beautiful round in the Bahamas in January (before the world shut down), and I could not believe how cool and dry my feet stayed (despite the rest of me getting pretty over-heated). I’m also just going to say that the laces on these things are the most luxurious I have ever tied. (My wife laughed when I said this, but I’m serious.)

Royal Albartross golf shoes

When the name Royal Albartross appeared in my inbox, I had to admit that I’d never heard of it before. Wow, was I missing out! Royal Albartross is a premium golf and lifestyle brand from London that offers handmade golf shoes, belts, and bags. And when they say “handmade,” they mean it. Their products are constructed of the finest Italian leathers and stitched together by craftsmen in Italy and Portugal. The results are exquisite. When I got my peasant paws on a pair of Cutler Greys (199 British Pounds), I literally ran around my house and showed my wife and two kids how gorgeous they are—they even came with their own cloth shoe bag! With leather outsole, insole, and trim, The Cutler represents a brilliant blend of fashion sneaker and spikeless golf shoe fit for the fairways and grill rooms of even the poshest private club. I have taken to wearing them out on walks around my neighborhood during this time of social distancing, because they honestly make me feel better about myself. I will wait to wear them on the course until the vernal pools dry up and, I hope, fellow golfers can get close enough to admire the workmanship.

For now, I hope you can find a few hours of respite on your own home course and some small comfort in a new pair of golf shoes or a box of brilliant white, dimpled pearls. Most of all, I hope you and your loved ones remain healthy. The world and golf have weathered previous epidemics. We’ll find our way back. Be kind to yourselves and to others.

Lake of the Woods Golf Course in Mahomet

East central Illinois is flat. The best sledding hill in nearby Champaign is the speed-bump in the Wal-Mart parking lot. So you can imagine what the golf courses in the Champaign-Urbana area look like. One notable exception is Lake of the Woods Golf Course in Mahomet, Ill. This municipal layout is part of the Forest Preserve District of Champaign County, so it not only has trees and – gasp! – hills, but also boasts green fees around $30.

Mahomet lies just twelve minutes away from the University of Illinois campus, and it comes as a welcome surprise to discover that here in the Sangamon River basin, there are indeed some rolling hills, mature stands of hardwood, and natural water hazards. All of these unexpected topographical features converge at Lake of the Woods, where golfers find tee shots over water, elevated greens, and tree-lined fairways. In fact, aside from a renovation program in 1998, the essential character of the classic Robert Bruce Harris design has changed little since it opened in 1950.

Harris, whose course credits include The Playboy Club at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, designed numerous municipal courses in the 50s and 60s. One of the prerequisites for layouts at the time was ease of maintenance. As such, greenside bunkers at such courses – including Lake of the Woods – were set well back from the greens to allow regular mowers through.

From the tips, Lake of the Woods only measures 6,520 yards, with a rating of 70.6 and a slope of 120. According to Dave Huber, recently retired Head Pro, if you drive around the course and look at the scorecard, you would think that the course record would be in the low 60s. But the best tournament score is just 67. “For some reason,” he says and laughs, “no one can ever quite completely tame it. And the kids these days are all hitting the par-5s in two.”

There are a few keys to “The Lake’s” defenses. One is a number of misleading sight lines off the tee. For example, as you stand at the tee box on the 426-yard 11th, it looks for all the world like you should aim at the fairway bunkers to the left. But because the fairway turns right about 160 yards from the green, the real aiming point is the large sycamore straight out, or even right of it. Anything right – which looks like death from the tee – is golden.

The second key defense is the rather innocuous appearance of some of the holes. Take for example the 425-yard 1st. Easily half of the first-time players here will lose their tee ball to the right, where, unbeknownst to them, there lies a pond that juts further toward the fairway than appearances would suggest.

The third key is the green complexes, which, like some of the holes, appear tame at first. After you go over one or two of them, though, you realize that Robert Bruce Harris, true to early-twentieth century traditions, wanted to be sure that players who don’t stay below the hole are penalized. Case in point, the picturesque 175-yard 14th hole. Huber’s advice here is simply, “Take whatever club you know you cannot hit over and play to center of the green. If you go over, you’re looking at a hard bogey.”

There is also a fine collection of risk-reward short par 4s and 5s. The No. 1 handicap hole is the 528-yard 3rd, where two ponds choke the approach down to a tenuous ribbon of turf just in front of the green. The lay-up is awkward, the long shot is dangerous. I cannot count the number of times I’ve screwed up a simple lay-up on this hole, or, having navigated the lay-up, chucked or pulled my 3rd into one of the ponds.

In short, Lake of the Woods is dollar for dollar and shot for shot the best bargain in the Champaign-Urbana area, even if conditions can be rough at times. The bunkers are a constant source of vexation for regulars, who generally agree to rake themselves a decent lie in the sometimes-hardpan, sometimes-fluffy traps. Heck, sometimes we just drop out behind the traps and hit from there. The long-term plan is to redo them all, but so far, only a few do not draw side-eye from most players. Add to the 18-hole course the adjacent par-3 course ($9) – the only one in the area – and the fishing, camping, and hiking available in the park, and you’ve got yourself a bona fide family vacation spot. Also available are a recently improved driving range and  practice greens, a fully stocked pro shop, and a snack bar. The new pro (and State Champion High School Boys Golf Coach), David Sebestik and his staff provide lessons and club-fitting as well.