FIT TO PLAY
Not all clubs are created equal.
For decades, country club golfers have purchased brand-name clubs from their local professional, with standard lie, loft, length, shaft flex, and grip size features.
But now many amateur players finally know what the top pros have known for years. Standard off-the-rack clubs are not for everyone. And no matter how popular a brand name you choose, unless a club fits your height, arm length, hand size, strength and swing tendencies, you'll never be able to swing to the best of your ability.
Some pros now offer fitting services, and many club members choose to buy big-brand clubs and have them fitted by the pro. But many pros don't fit clubs to their customers. In addition, most pro shops are carrying fewer brand-name clubs, and waits for delivery can be lengthy. As a result, more recreational players are visiting off-course golf shops to buy sets of discounted woods and irons and receive a custom fit. The clubs sold at these shops are knockoffs of models manufactured by industry leaders such as Callaway, Taylor Made, Titleist, and Ping. For example, the Turbo Power model sold in off-course shops is a clone of the Callaway Club; the System 3000 is modeled after the Taylor Made club. In fact, the majority of the clones come from the same foundries in Taiwan and China that make the designer brands.
"Our clients are not just blue-collar local public golfers just getting into the game," says Larry Jones, owner of Sarasota's Play Golf, Inc. "In fact, many customers are affluent golfers who live part-time or full-time in Sarasota."
Dwight Aldred, owner of another area shop, Golf Connection, agrees: "Ninety percent of my customers are very comfortable financially. I sell clubs all the time to members of local private clubs. In fact, a member of Longboat Key recently purchased two fairway-metal clubs. And as usual, he heard about the shop through word of mouth."
"At our shop, a customer can receive a set of custom clubs that look just like a name brand in three days vs. six to eight weeks from a major manufacturer," adds Don Warekois, a club maker at Play Golf, Inc. "Furthermore, a customer will usually pay only half as much money for a set of similar-looking clubs that are suited perfectly to his or her needs."
Donald Ross, the legendary golf course architect best known for designing Pinehurst (No. Two), a public course in Pinehurst, North Carolina, and Seminole, a private course in Palm Beach, Florida, also left his mark in Sarasota. Ross created Sara Bay Country Club, a private club established in 1925, and The Bobby Jones Golf course, a public facility that opened in 1927.
Both courses enjoy a connection to another golf legend, amateur Robert Tyre ("Bobby") Jones Jr., who once lived in Sarasota. Jones is best known for capturing the 1930 Grand Slam, winning the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur, British Open, and British Amateur in one year.
In his "Down the Fairway," first published in 1927, Jones called Sara Bay (originally named Whitfield Estates Country Club) "one of the best in America." That same year, Jones personally dedicated the Bobby Jones course.
Both of these courses have one more connection to golf history. In 1940, the prestigious PGA Seniors' Championship was contested over the Sara Bay and Bobby Jones courses.
It's not surprising that so many golfers violate the rules, considering that the legalese in the Rules of Golf book, published by the United States Golf Association, can make the average amateur desperate to call someone from Harvard Law School for a correct interpretation.
Yet golfers must play by the rules to turn in an honest score and establish an honest handicap. Here are some simple procedures to follow in two common-and perplexing-situations.
Ball Moves: Once you address the ball and it moves out of position, you should penalize yourself one stroke. Next, you must place the ball back in its original position to avoid being penalized a total of two strokes.
Water Hazard: Assume you hit a ball over a pond fronting a green. The ball lands on the bank, inside the yellow stakes marking the hazard, and rolls back down into shallow water. Here are your options:
1. Play the ball out of the hazard, under no penalty, making sure not to let the bottom of the club head touch the shallow water. (Don't even try this shot unless at least half of the ball is above the surface of the water.)
2. Go back and play a shot from the original spot from which you last hit the ball, and penalize yourself one stroke.
3. Keep the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard between you and the hole, and go back as far as you like on that line. Drop the ball and, again, penalize yourself one stroke.
FUN & GAMES
Thanks to a new card game, Swingless Golf, weekend hackers stand a fighting chance of beating their low-handicap friends.
Swingless Golf is played just like regular golf, except that you don't need to hit any shots. The card you flip over from your stack tells you what you scored on a hole. And that hole can be one on the scorecard you are given in the four-deck package, one from your own country club, or one you saved from a famous course such as Pebble Beach or Augusta National.
Say you are a foursome, ready to play. Each person is given a deck of cards. After each person shuffles his or her deck, they simply turn over the top card and the score is recorded. Just keep turning over cards 18 times until the round is over, then add up the scores. Even if you lose you will gain, because the explanations for how you shot a particular score are amusing.
Swingless Golf is an ideal game for veteran players, non-golfers, juniors, novices, or seniors who hung up their sticks long ago. It's also fun to play on rainy days, in the evenings with friends and family, or at the country club when you need a way to decide who pays for the drinks or lunch. Each Swingless Golf four-pack comes with a score pad containing multiple scorecards and a rulebook that includes games you can play. Suggested retail: $19.95. For further information and orders call 1-800-816-2716 or contact wwwlinkswalker.com.
If you want to pick up some extra yards off the tee, try these two swing tips I learned from Tiger Woods' former teacher, John Anselmo, while he was in town playing the Sunrise Golf Club, a fair but challenging semi-private course.
On the backswing, let your right leg straighten, in order to create a strong pivot post to turn your right hip around and create power.
On the downswing, let your left leg straighten, in order to create a strong pivot post to uncoil your body around and release power.
Incidentally, Anselmo and I got paired with a couple from Ohio, and I saw why this swing tip is especially good for women golfers. Establishing firm pivot posts discourages the typical woman player from employing exaggerated hand action in an attempt to hit the ball longer.
While senior editor at GOLF Magazine, I worked on instructional articles with the game's greatest players. Therefore, I got a close-up view of what swing and shot-making qualities are required for a golfer to make a living from the game.
Tyler Leon, a teen who attends Saint Stephen's in Bradenton and plays out of Sara Bay Country Club, already shows some of those signs, with the exceptional tee-to-green game and solid mental attitude required to succeed on the PGA Tour. A former state high school champion, Leon plays to a plus-three handicap. His strongest asset is power; however, he also is a superb shot-maker and short game player.
Leon recently shot 70 at Bradenton's Waterlefe Golf and River Club, the lowest score in the local qualifying round for the 2002 United States Open. Next, he moved on to Shadow Hawk Golf Club in Richmond, Texas, for the sectional qualifying, the last step to gaining entry into the U.S. Open at Long Island's Bethpage Black Golf Course. Competing against 33 other top-notch older players for just two spots in the Open, Leon shot scores of 69-73-two under the 36-hole par score of 144.
As well as Leon played, he missed qualifying for the championship. Still, his performance was a great accomplishment. Stay tuned.
Sarasota's John Andrisani, the former senior editor of instruction at GOLF Magazine and the author of more than 25 books, including the recently released Think Like Tiger, is a six-handicap player and former winner of the World Golf Writers' Championship. Send questions and comments to John at firstname.lastname@example.org.