Techno-Love: Range Finders

Fore Inventors OnlyWhen I first took up golf, my wife said, “Well, at least it’s not a gear sport.” I presumed she was kidding. It took us both a few months to figure out she wasn’t, and it is.

The product cycle of new golf technology is now down to a staggeringly short six-month time period. Drivers that used to be considered “current” for two years are now rotated out of the prime retail locations twice a year. The Golf Channel has Fore Inventors Only, a program dedicated solely to inventors who are trying to create golf’s Next Big Thing™.

I’m a technology and gadget fiend. I watched Fore Inventors Only with a passion, but have yet to buy any of the products on the show. I keep meaning to, just to support the people I rooted for, but it really isn’t that big a hassle for me to bend over and pick my clubs up off of the ground when I’m out of a cart near the green.

One of the places I did invest in golf technology, however, was a set of range-finders. I say “invest” because any technology I acquire for golf should come with a payoff. In this case, I had three goals:

1. Learn how far I hit each of my clubs,

2. Know how far I have to every target zone, and

3. Learn how to gauge distance

Natalie Gulbis Hawks the SkyCaddieThere are a variety of range finders on the market, and they come down to two basic types: binoculars/laser or GPS. I thought that the various GPS devices available were easily the sexiest, and not just because Natalie Gulbis is the front-woman for SkyCaddie.

In the end, however, I went with a set of Bushnell Pinseeker 1500’s, with slope. Sure, they’re not legal for tournament play, but I don’t play tournaments. And what they help me accomplish, the key differentiator between them and the SkyCaddie, was determine how far I’m hitting my clubs, each and every day.

SkyCaddie does have a function that will enable you to measure off a paced distance: click a button, start walking, and click again and it gives you the distance between the two points. Brilliant for measuring how far you bombed that last drive, not recommended for finding out exactly how far it is to the yellow flag on your local driving range. Let alone all of the flags at the range, that sand trap I keep hitting into, and how far my last wedge shot flew.

Anytime I use my range finders with a new group of playing partners it is an interesting social experiment. People who have been golfing for a long time have their own systems for gauging distance, and when my numbers don’t match up to their own I’ve learned to defer to their prior experience, for them anyway.

My buddy, Mike, for example, couldn’t believe that the white tees on the par-3 8th hole at Glen Eagles in San Francisco were 165 yards back one day. “It’s just a wedge shot!” he exclaimed. He’d played “The Eeg” many a time, and had developed his own familiarity with each and every hole. The 8th had always been a wedge shot for him. A de-lofted, full-force, guerilla-assault wedge shot, but a wedge shot nonetheless. Me? I opted for a different club. One I could swing easy, and know it would get there; my goal on every approach shot.

Having a set of range finders at the range and on the course has been extremely valuable for me, and it has increased my speed of play. To teach myself how to accurately gauge distance, I play a game called “guess the distance” on each and every shot. I’m getting better at distances 150 yards and under, but still have a hard time with the longer shots.

When it comes time to choose a club, I’m able to narrow down all of my variables quickly and efficiently, and arrive at a club selection with high confidence. The kind of confidence I lacked when I wasn’t sure if that sprinkler meant I had 150 yards to the flag, the center or the front of the green.

Of course, your yardage may vary.

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