WHEN GOLF BECOMES A CRIPPLING HANDICAP
by Todd Hartley
This may well be a column that only golfers will understand, but for the rest of you, I hope this gives you a little glimpse into the true nature of the golf disease. After you read this, I think you’ll probably agree that golf qualifies as a handicap, if you’ll pardon the pun. There’s really no other explanation.
I was down in Scottsdale, Arizona, last week playing some golf, and, diligent reporter that I am, I went to a couple of specialty golf places in search of some interesting story angles. The first place was the headquarters of Cool Clubs, a custom golf-club fitter that has about 20 fitting locations in the U.S., Japan and Korea.
The way Cool Clubs works is that you go into a fitting location and have everything about your swing and your body detected, inspected and selected, and then they pump all that data into a computer and email the results to Scottsdale, and the people in Scottsdale make you a perfect set of clubs that leaves you with no more excuses for hitting bad shots.
When I visited Cool Clubs, I met a young man who supposedly had been Canada’s top engineering student a couple years ago. Now he invents machines that do things like calibrate the flex on club shafts. He also creates the software that goes with the machines. As we spoke, a 3-D printer behind him was printing out a piece he’d designed for his latest invention.
At the next place I visited, Boccieri Golf, the way it works is that you hit a few balls into a screen while they record your swing. Then they use that information to program a robot that moves a club for you while you hold onto the grip, and the robot trains your body to swing correctly.
The robot was invented by the CEO and president, Stephen Boccieri, a former mechanical engineer for nuclear companies. He also invented the counterweighted clubs he’s best known for as well as a bunch of other stuff.
I think what I’m trying to say is that these are people who could be orchestrating missions to Mars, and instead, because of the sickness, they’re making perfectly precise golf clubs and slice-correcting robots. Is it a little ridiculous? Yes. But is it freakin’ cool? Hell yes — if you can afford it. Both places were awesome.
Cool Clubs had thousands of different shafts and club heads, and the labels demarking the bundles of clubs bore the names of a bunch of famous tour pros. At Boccieri Golf, the floor of the entire place was a big putting green. Oh, and did I mention that you can get golf lessons from a robot?
Both places were a testament to the lengths that golfers will go to in search of even the most minuscule advantage on the links. It really does smack of mental illness, but apparently enough people are afflicted with it to allow places such as Cool Clubs and Boccieri Golf to thrive.
Back in high school, I had a friend whose dad had taken up golf recently, and he thought he could compensate for the flaws in his swing by putting little pieces of weighted metal tape at various points on his club heads. Back then, I thought he was silly, but it seems he was merely ahead of his time; the driver I got last spring has two weights on the bottom that you can slide around to help the ball draw or fade. It’s basically the same thing my friend’s dad was doing.
If you’re not a golfer, and this level of obsession with “a good walk spoiled” scares you, it’s even worse than you think. That’s because of another monument to technology run amok that is drawing thousands of new converts to something that’s almost like golf.
It’s called Topgolf, and it’s a British creation that makes driving ranges into the golf equivalent of bowling alleys, with three levels of hitting bays, microchipped balls, sensor-equipped targets at various distances, multiple bars and a restaurant. It’s incredible. Trust me, if there’s one near you, you want to go there. There are two-hour waits to get into the one in Scottsdale on weekend nights.
The folks at Topgolf told me the company wants to open 10 new locations a year for the next three years, meaning one will probably be coming to your neck of the woods soon. Watch your step, or you just might end up with a chronic case of golf yourself.
Todd Hartley is the founder of Golfaholics Anonymous, a 12-hole recovery program for addicts.