Best in Show

February 09, 2009

I wasn'texpecting much from last week's downsized PGA Merchandise Show, with the stateof the U.S. economy, but I left Orlando dazzled by an innovation that's sure tohave major implications for clubmakers, convinced that we finally have a winnerin a battle between two dueling technologies and blown away by a sweet littleputter made by a mom-and-pop start-up.

IngeniousInnovation
Neither Nike nor TaylorMade had booths at the show, but their new adjustabledrivers still received the most attention. At the demo day that preceded theshow, Masters champ and Nike staffer Trevor Immelman put on a clinic with theNike SQ Dymo STR8-FIT driver ($299.99, top), which can be adjusted four degreeseach for loft and lie, effectively making the club eight drivers in one.TaylorMade presented its adjustable R9 driver ($399.99, left) to a select groupof writers attending the show. In addition to multiple lofts and lies, the R9also features movable weights.

These drivers areone giant step toward one size fits all. Golfers will be more confident makinga purchase knowing that they can customize their driver to fit their own swing,and retailers won't have to stock as many models. Next up: adjustable fairwaymetals, irons and putters.

AdvancingTechnology
GPS-based range finders were all the rage in 2008, outselling laser-based rangefinders nearly two to one. Now everyone—including name brands such as Bushnell,which had been laser only, and Garmin—is piling into the GPS business. However,SkyCaddie ($200 to $400), which introduced the category, remains the Cadillacof GPS range finders. Only SkyCaddie meticulously maps courses on the ground,while its competitors rely on satellite imagery, which isn't as precise.

Sweet Start-up
I thought I'd either seen or used every putter imaginable, but when I laid eyeson the Axis1 ($299), the first thing to come to mind was, Duh, why didn't Ithink of that? The club's odd-looking head is shaped like a capital J, whichputs the weight in the crook of the J ahead of the face, creating balance andeliminating torque like no other putter. Of course, it remains to be seenwhether a small start-up with no marketing budget can sell such an expensiveputter, but even if the Axis1 is not a commercial success, the putter provesthat there's still room in golf for the little guy with a good idea.

PHOTODAVID WALBERG (DRIVER TOP) PHOTOTAYLORMADE (DRIVER BOTTOM) PHOTOCOURTESY OF SKYCADDIE (GPS) PHOTOAXIS1 GOLF (PUTTER)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)