It's dream season here in Ohio. By that I mean the only golf we're getting to play right now is in our dreams. But it's also close enough to spring (just over a month away) that we can start thinking about playing. One of these days, the snow is going to melt and the mercury's going to rise into the 40s, 50s, and (dare we hope?) 60s.
Unlike many years when it's possible to play at least a few times during the winter, it just hasn't worked out this year (my wife and I even left the clubs at home on a weekend trip to Florida last month… What were we thinking?). Most of the warmer, dry days this winter have fallen during the work week. On the one or two weekend days that have been playable, I've been tied up with other commitments. So, needless to say, now is the winter of my discontent.
When I'm stuck inside this much, I often start wandering the aisles of the area golf stores searching for new arrivals. That's the other reason I call this "dream season." Like spring, new golf hardware starts migrating north following the PGA Show in January and finally arrives en masse in Ohio in April and May. But there are always a few early arrivals to help us start shaking off the gloom of winter.
With that in mind, here are a few of the new things in golf that I've found interesting lately.
Number Five: A "New Two-Ball" at Last?
Like Tiger, the Odyssey Two-ball has long held a distinctive spot in golf. Unlike Tiger, that spot has been falling over the last few years, especially on professional tours. Arguably, the most popular mallet in golf has gone through quite a few changes. Odyssey has tried to prolong the Two-Ball's market life through heroic means, transforming the putter into a virtual spaceship by adding outriggers and even making a giant version by adding a third "ball." Perhaps the only right thing to do is to place a DNR on this putter.
Still, golf stores sell plenty of Two-Balls every year. The line of Odyssey putters in one nearby golf superstore extends some 32 feet. Almost half of the racks are occupied by Odysseys of various ilks. I long for a more diverse golf galaxy (as it were).
One of the things that made the Two-Ball so popular is that you simply couldn't miss them on Tour. Now there's another model that seems to be following that formula, but with higher MOI. The TaylorMade Spider prototype has been getting a lot of airtime on the Tour, and it's hard to miss. From the rear, two screws are clearly visible sitting in what look like exhaust ports. It's another big mallet, but TaylorMade has been doing some interesting things with high MOI putters lately. The Inza is surprisingly easy to putt with, once you get over the looks.
The Two-Ball made much the same impression that the Spider is currently experiencing. People think it's ugly and swear they'll never play it. The Two-Ball managed to rise above that kind of criticism. Ping's Doc17 never did. If the Spider's high MOI results in better putting, it could achieve the same kind of popularity the Two-Ball enjoyed.
Unfortunately for us, that could mean less variety on the shelves. There might be mostly TaylorMade and Odyssey on the shelves with only small sections left for all the others. OK, maybe I'm not that excited about this, after all.
Number Four: St. Andrews Castle Course
Opening in June this year, the seventh course at St. Andrews should be an interesting addition to the home of golf. Designed by David McLay Kidd, the architect of Bandon Dunes, the Castle Course lies on the shoreline two miles east of the center of St. Andrews. Unlike the Old Course or any of the other Links Trust courses, the Castle Course has several holes built on cliffs immediately above the sea. The early photos from the course are stunning. It could be an instant classic.
Like the Old Course, the Castle Course will be open to the public with a rate second only to the Old Course. At 7,200 yards, the par 71 will be the fourth championship course at St. Andrews, joining the Old, New, and Jubilee courses.
No, I'm not planning to travel to Scotland this year. But if I were, and I could only play one course… I'd play the Old Course, naturally. But if I could play two, and considering I was already in St. Andrews, I'd play the Castle. Like I said, it's dream season.
Number Three: The Floppy
You may have seen this little practice ball by now. It kind of looks like it was knitted by a grandmother except for the little sticker that doesn't let you forget the name. They are billed as "The Indoor Practice Ball. Soft yet firm, reactive yet resilient, The Floppy feels, spins, and reacts like a real golf ball yet is soft enough to hit into a wall or a window."
I ordered a pack of these and received them last week, and let me tell you… they're not bad at all. Now, I'm not going to be hitting them off any windows anytime soon, but they do feel better than any plastic or foam practice balls I've used. With a typical practice balls, it almost feels like you are hitting anything. Because of the sound and weight of The Floppy, it does feel more like a golf ball. You're not going to be fooled into thinking your hitting a golf ball, but it's not that far off.
The Floppy's designers create that feel by enclosing what feel like light foam pellets in a middle layer that feels like a lighter weight version of the rubber bladder of a tennis ball, one with a hole in it to let the air escape when you squeeze it. Around the outside goes the "knitted" layer. It's an interesting combination of layers. Overall, it seems more closely related to a hacky sack than a golf ball, but it works pretty well so far.
Thus far, I've found these balls to be very good for chipping off the carpet and making some short pitches. I'm still not willing to take a full swing with these in the house proper, though I may try them in the garage. I've hit some fairly hard chips off the walls, though, and there's no detectable damage (not even that my wife can find!). I can however chip these onto my little putting green, and they react quite a bit like a golf ball would on a real green (albeit a slow one). I'm hoping that using The Floppy indoors for chipping and pitching will help me avoid the chilly dips and fatties that often occur early in the year for three season golfers.
Is a practice ball too boring to get excited about? Maybe. I could say that I can't wait to see the Titleist AP2s in person, but there's already a lot of buzz about them. They do look purty though! (All right, so that's Number Two-Point-Five… I'm cheating this week).
Number Two: Quick Switch Technology for Fitting and More
Quick switch technology allows clubfitters to switch clubheads and shafts quickly to find just the right combination for any player. TaylorMade's version is called SelectFit. Callaway's is the OptiFit. If you see a new tradename with "Fit" tacked on the end, it probably has something to do with a mechanism for quickly attaching a clubhead to a shaft.
It's not really new this year; several manufacturers have been experimenting with it the last few years. But 2008 may be the year it really takes off. It's also the year that the USGA has decided to allow clubs with interchangeable head/shaft technology to be used in tournament play. That means quick switches aren't just for fitting anymore.
Nickent has gone one step farther. The company's 4DX Evolver driver will come with not one but two shafts - a UST V2 and a UST V2 High Launch boxed along with the wrench needed to quickly switch between shafts. Other shaft combinations will be available, as well.
Think about it. One day's it's windy so before the round (so as not to raise the USGA's ire) you take you're handy-dandy wrench and put the 4DX head on the V2 shaft in hopes of producing a lower ball flight. Then the next day, it's a nice still day with soft fairways, so you switch in the V2 High Launch to maximize carry. It's a pretty cool idea, though I doubt there are that many people who will shell out extra for the package with two shafts when they can get the head and one shaft for $100 less. Of course, I'm a little weird about this stuff, so I probably would.
Number One: Myrtle Beach DirectAir
OK, so this one doesn't affect that many of you. But for those of us living in cities with no direct flights to Myrtle Beach, this is kind of a big deal. Here in Columbus, we haven't had a direct flight since Hooters Air went hooters up.
All that changes March 6 when Myrtle Beach DirectAir begins flying from Hooters Air's old digs at little Rickenbacker International Airport (an air-freight hub south of Columbus) to Myrtle Beach and all those golf courses. In addition to Columbus, Myrtle Beach DirectAir will be flying direct to MB from Niagara Falls, Pittsburgh, Plattsburgh, and Newark. You can also get to Tampa/St. Petersburg and Gulfport-Biloxi on the airline.
The beautiful thing about a direct flight is it gives you a much better chance of arriving with your clubs, instead of having some bag handler accidently send them to Poughkeepsie. It also gives those bag handlers less opportunities to toss your clubs around (and if you've ever stood and watched them load and unload a plane, you know what I mean).
Unfortunately for me, I'm heading to Myrtle a week before the airline starts flying out of Columbus. I could have saved quite a bit of money.