2002: Ingenuity on an upward curve

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Orlando, Fla.

We are the survivors. We have walked the floor of the PGA Merchandise Show for four days and lived to tell about it.

We have bunions, bruises and sore backs. We have shaken more hands than an incumbent politician. We have lost our voices. We suffer from sleep deprivation and golf on the brain.

We love this game.

If a message emerged from the 2003 Show, it was this: The spirit of invention and innovation is alive and well in the golf industry. Fussbudgets may rant about contemporary golf’s failure to grow substantially, but the talent and enthusiasm displayed at the Orange County Convention Center was an upbeat and welcome contrast to such pessimism.

“I built this for the kids,” said Philip Davies, observing a bunch of 40-something and 50-something men playing gleefully with his invention, the Kangaroo Kage. “Of course, the adults seem to like it, too.”

Davies is Australian, thus the Kangaroo name. Although he built his cage for youth soccer players, it was quickly discovered by practitioners of other sports, golf among them. With golfers young and old raving about its versatility, it is Achenbach’s Pick of the Show for 2003.

The Kangaroo Kage is exceptionally sturdy and can be used for any activity that involves hitting, kicking or throwing. Using a practice mat, golfers can hit full shots, pitches or chips.

Want to play catch? No problem. Just bounce a ball off the back side of the cage, which is angled slightly to encourage pitch-and-catch by one person. The entire apparatus is enclosed with netting. In addition, a baffling net stops balls after they enter the cage.

The suggested retail price of the Kangaroo Kage is $499. It is sold in the United States by Hornung’s (800-323-3569).

The Breakmaster digital green reader ($99 from Exelys, 818-385-0824) was a close second in the Pick of the Show race. This device precisely measures the slope of a green at any given position. For more than 100 years at championships such as the U.S. Open, the U.S. Golf Association has done this by hand to ascertain whether a pin position is fair. The Breakmaster does it automatically.

This is a wonderful little item for any tournament committee or, for that matter, any golf course. Golfers may want to own one for practice in reading greens. Just place the Breakmaster on the turf; it does the rest by indicating the slope.

Another marvelous invention was the handsome Personal UV Monitor from APA Optics (763-784-4995). Costing from $90 to $100, these monitors are available in several different styles – some are worn on the wrist, others attach to golf bags.

All of them display UV readings from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Furthermore, using preprogrammed information such as the characteristics of your skin and the strength of your sunscreen, the monitor alerts you when to take evasive action (wearing a cap or a longsleeve shirt, for example).

Having found the Kangaroo Kage, it made sense to find the world’s greatest practice mat to go with it. There are several very good mats available (and some very bad ones as well). However, the Pro-Platform ProTurf De-Shock Golf Mat System from Southwest Synthetic Turf (800-678-8628) of Independence, Mo., is perhaps the best of the best.

With separate sections for standing and hitting, this is an extraordinary invention that absorbs shock and yet still lets you feel a bad shot when you hit one. In other words, a fat shot feels like a fat shot.

Selling for $350, this dual-mat system is sensational. For golfers worried about injuries caused by continually striking a mat, this could be the remedy.

Trivia question: Which golf facility in the United States buys the most Tee-Zel golf snacks (866-833-9357) from the Beaufort, S.C., pretzel and cracker manufacturer? It’s DuPont Country Club in Wilmington, Del., at 60 pounds a week during the golf season. Augusta National Golf Club, Pebble Beach Golf Links and Medinah Country Club all fall in the weekly range of 20 to 40 pounds. Any way you chew it, that’s a lot of golf snacks.

There is now an answer for any golfer looking for cowboy boots in which to play golf. Trammel Golf Boots (“For the Rebel in You”) cost $140 to $150. They are made of leather on the top of the boot and lambskin around the foot to avoid break-in problems. Cowboys can call 888-884-3891. Wimps need not apply.

The Trainer is the best weighted golf training club ever made. The removable weights can be placed in three different positions along the length of the club, making it ideal for swing drills (such as takeaway, swing plane or proper release). Even the strongest golfer can put enough weight on this club to make it an effective training aid. The Trainer (Dynamic Golf Technology, 877-691-4653) has a price tag of $89.95.

The AlmostGolf (310-998-3313) ball flies 120 yards or so with a driver, less with the irons. It is made of cross-linked foam, but has a realistic trajectory and flight pattern because of its dimples. It is ideal for practice in the yard or for teaching beginners. What’s more, it is great fun to use this ball on a par-3 course.

The retail price is $11.99 per dozen.

Sure, Danny Edwards is a great idea man. He started Royal Grip and now he sells a device to fix ball marks called GreenFix (866-443-4222). The hot setup, though, is a fork-like GreenFix built into the end of a putter grip. Just flip up the GreenFix and lower it to the ball mark.

These grips are made by Percise, one of the world’s best grip manufacturers.According to John Svenson of Percise, the GreenFix will not break. And that silver Harley-Davidson in the Percise booth at the Merchandise Show? The price of the new motorcycle is a mere $27,500.

One of the coolest displays was the heated golf clothing from Gerbing’s Heated Clothing (800-646-5916). For a golf cart, there was a heated seat cover ($129 retail), heated cart mitts ($99) and a heated handwarmer ($79).

New from GustBuster (888-487-8287) was a retro classic: the umbrella spectator seat. This is a virtually indestructible combination of an umbrella and a seat with a retail price of $129.

Women’s clubmakers had a formidable presence at the show. A former LPGA player, affiliated with no manufacturer, had this advice: “Look at the women’s irons from Mizuno and Cleveland.”

The Mizuno Tava irons for women are practical – 6-iron through 9-iron, pitching wedge, sand wedge, driver, 3-wood, 5-wood and utility 7-wood. The driver is titanium, the fairway woods stainless steel. All the clubs have graphite shafts. The irons feature even 5-degree increments between the irons. The retail price is $419 for all the irons and wedges, $559 for all the woods.

“We talked with a lot of teachers before designing these,” said Harry Taylor, Mizuno’s chief U.S. club designer. “Women can really use these clubs.”

The Cleveland W-Series is packed with professional quality clubs, including a Launcher 400 titanium driver. These are beautiful clubs. The suggested retail prices: $390 for the driver, $249 for the fairway woods, $797 for eight irons.

Finally, there was a noticeable buzz at the show over new metalwoods from Nicklaus Golf. The Airmax 35-S fairway woods and the Airmax 430 driver were drawing crowds. In addition, Nicklaus showcased its distinctive new JN Slot Series wedges.

Why the sudden interest in Nicklaus? The answer is Clay Long, the veteran club designer responsible for all these new products. Long returned to Nicklaus after a short stay at Cobra Golf.

Invention, yes. Innovation, yes. Hey, we love this game.

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