CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Golf marketers rely on the Christmas shopping season just as much as Target or Wal-Mart for nearly a third of total annual sales. One sector that relies on well-intentioned but often ill-informed gift-giving is the training aid sector.
Heck, there are probably as many bad training aids given each year as there are bad neck ties.
In a previous Sticks & Stones, I offered opinions on several full-swing aids that generally delivered in one way or another on their promises. This time around, the results are more mixed.
This little Star-Trek-esque device is the best of the bunch here. About the size of an iPod, the Swing-Tempo (MSRP $120, swing-tempo.com) offers help with your tempo in three different modalities: visual, aural, or tactile.
You can set the device to keep time to your address, backswing, transition, and downswing either with moving lights, different-length tones, or vibrations (if you want to hide it in your pocket).
The upside of the Swing-Tempo is that tempo is quite likely the most neglected part of most people's swings (and it certainly is one of my weaknesses). The variable feedback and the ability to set the tempo to one that feels most comfortable to you are outstanding features.
The downside is that this is no silver bullet. To find that optimal tempo will take time and effort. And even if you find it on the range, it requires yet further diligence to transfer that feeling out onto the course.
The BirdieBall (MSRP $18/dozen, birdieball.com) looks like a napkin ring. According to the manufacturer, it is "the most accurate and rewarding practice ball in golf." When struck with the open end up, the BirdieBall is supposed to react like a real ball, but only travel 40 yards.
The upside of BirdieBall is that it won't do damage like a real golf ball of you skull one into the side of your house. And it does mimic the workability of a real ball.
The downside is that even a small amount of wind really affects the flight. And either I swing too hard or there was a lot of wind, but when I took mine out into the yard to practice, I took a quarter-swing with a 9-iron and blasted the BirdieBall 50 yards, sending it careening off my neighbor's roof and car. Not a proud moment.
The DivotMat (MSRP $60, divotmat.com) is promoted by Laird Small, Head of the Pebble Beach Golf Academy and 2003 PGA Instructor of the Year, along with Fred "Boom-Boom" Couples. The concept is simple: sheets of paper with pictures of nine golf balls laid over a strike-mat. You swing at the "balls" and your club leaves a black streak on the paper, similar to what happens when you get fitted for clubs.
If the streak is behind the ball, you're hitting it fat. If it's ahead of the ball, you're hitting it thin. You can tell if your approach is from the inside or outside, etc.
The upside of the DivotMat is that it is very clever: The streaks do mimic divot size, location, and direction.
The downside is, at least for me, I could not convince my eye that the two-dimensional picture of the ball was instead a three-dimensional ball. My swings were inconsistent (far more so than on the range with real balls). On top of that, the paper kept tearing, despite the smoothness of my club sole.
Interestingly, by combining the DivotMat with the BirdieBall, I achieved better results: The 3D BirdieBall setting on top of the golf ball picture proved a better target for my eye, and my swings and "divots" improved.
The SureShot (MSRP $50, supersureshot.com) consists of a real golf ball tethered to an industrial-grade steel spike. You drive the spike into the ground, unwind the cord toward you, tee up the ball, and take a real swing. When the ball sails off into the blue, but then snaps to a stop like a dog on a chain.
In principle, this is a great idea. In practice, I had trouble with two aspects of the SureShot. First, the chord arrived hopelessly tangled. I spent 40 minutes working out the knots. Second, after one swing, you have to walk to where the ball has ended up and swing again. This walking part seemed to take 80% of my practice time. Pacing doesn't seem to me to add enjoyment to practice.
January 6, 2004
Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Illinois. Read his golf blog here.
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