By Clair Goodwin
Want a great gift for your golfer at Christmas?
How about a pocket GPS designed specifically to provide him or her accurate yardage on a golf course.
The devices may become the next golf wave now that the USGA has relaxed rules against the use of rangefinders.
One of the latest, according to Garry Lee of Garry's Golf Center, is the SkyCaddie, which doesn't require finding a target in the lens or having a clear a line-of-sight. All you have to do is press a button and it will provide accurate measurements not only to the green, but to bunkers, water or even trees.
And you can have it programmed for your favorite local courses, says Lee.
Right now the only golf course in the immediate area that has been programmed is Twin Hills Golf and Country Club. But Loma Linda, Briarbrook and Neosho are in the process of being completed by the company.
How long does it take to program a golf course? "They say it takes 10 seconds per green," said Lee. "The programming is done by a SkyCaddie representative at the course."
Getting yardage to a point on the green is only one of the advantages of such a device. You can also find out how far you hit your drive, your 5-iron or your wedge on any particular hole. Or on every hole, for that matter.
What is really intriguing is that GPS systems can tell you the distance to a stream, to the last trap protecting a green or to an out-of-bounds line behind the putting surface.
In the old days, the USGA frowned on instruments that provided yardage: Let the caddies do their own work in stepping off distances from this bush to that rock and keep their books. Let each golfer depend on his depth perception to figure out what iron to hit on an approach or what club to use in laying up short of a pond. Or let golf courses attach yardage markers on their irrigation systems or put distance-discs in the fairways.
But the USGA has decided to go with the technological flow. It is allowing the use of artificial devices to determine yardage, but only at the discretion of local tournament officials. If enough players in an amateur tournament have rangefinders in their bags, they may persuade local chairpeople to allow their use.
Remember the old, old days when there were few markers and no yardage books kept by caddies.
Ben Hogan disdained the use of such books or markers, preferring to rely on his keen sense of distance and depth perception. It worked nicely for him.
In fact, I remember the days at Schifferdecker Municipal Golf Course when you might find a couple of yardage stakes on each hole that may or may not have been accurate. Not that those who put them out didn't try or care about the measurements. But sometimes stakes got moved, either by a golfer whose swing was obstructed or by a maintenance crew trying to cut the grass or plant a tree. The point was that 7-iron shot that always flew 150 yards might sail over the green or fall short if you depended solely on markers.
I happen to be something of a traditionalist. I still occasionally dig out an old set of blades and play a few rounds with them. I'm not sure I will wholly embrace the new technology.
That could change quickly, of course, if all those guys with whom I have bets start pulling out a SkyCaddie, a SkyGolf or a SkyWhatever and begin beating me even more regularly that they do now.
Tradition only goes so far.
Address correspondence to Clair Goodwin, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, Mo. 64802 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.