Whether you're in the market for last-minute Christmas gifts, or looking to get a head start on next year, here are five widely differing selections that will look great under the tree of any red-blooded golfer.
1. Garmin nuvi1690 GPS portable navigation device
Travelin' Joe was a little late in embracing GPS technology for finding my way around. Now I can't comprehend how I lived without it. If you're a golfer who travels frequently in search of new courses, this portable GPS unit, that you prop up on your dashboard, is practically indispensable. Best of the new breed is the Garmin nuvi1690, the latest entry from the industry leader. Hey, this little tool is not inexpensive, but it's pretty remarkable for what it delivers. I had borrowed an early unit from my sister-in-law and it allowed me to navigate the courses of New York and New Jersey with ease.
\n The newest version offers connected GPS, which provides not only pre-loaded street maps and turn-by-turn voice directions, but also up-to-date traffic information, lane assistance and route optimization (if, say, an accident has occurred along the recommended route), plus fuel prices, movie tips and a host of other data that's free for two years after purchase. As a stress reducer for the traveling golfer, the Garmin nuvi1690 is better than a massage.
Suggested retail: $500; garmin.com
OK, now that you've found your way to the course, you next task is negotiate the course itself. While there are a number of first-rate yardage tools on the market, it's hard to top the simplicity and effectiveness of the Garmin Approach G5. The colorful 3-inch touchscreen is simple to use and the free, preloaded course selections are remarkable. Virtually every course I've played in Arizona, public and private, is available and the courses in the rest of the country fare nearly as well. If you want to speed up play and expand your course management skills, Garmin's Approach G5 is the way to go.
Suggested retail: $449; garmin.com
2. Daphne's Headcovers
Here's the perfect distinctive golf stocking stuffer at a price point everybody can afford. More than 50 PGA and LPGA Tour pros have clubs adorned with at least one Daphne's headcover, including a certain No. 1 in the world who's now on indefinite leave. That said, if you don't want a fully-lined, elasticized Tiger capping your driver, hybrid or putter, Daphne's offers more than 175 other choices, mostly animals. Among them are a Yellow Lab cover with Justin Leonard's signature (with a portion of the proceeds going to the ASPCA) and my personal favorite, a wild boar (in Arizona, we call our version a javelina) that's guaranteed to frighten or at least amuse your opponent on the first tee.
\n New this season is a talking dog, a rather sarcastic canine, actually, who tosses out barbs such as "Another good walk spoiled!" "Boy, your partner is good," and "Did somebody step on a duck?" It's all in good fun, though if you prefer your headcovers to deliver the silent treatment, it's understandable. Either way, a Daphne's headcover is a memorable, affordable, useful golf gift.
Suggested retail: $20-$30; daphnesheadcovers.com
3. Golframes Prints
For the architecture connoisseur in your life, a collectible from Golframes is the perfect addition to any golf-oriented den. Plates, digital serigraphs and framed course design prints are among the offerings and they're the real deal. Overseeing and contributing to the art images is golf course architect Forrest Richardson. My personal favorites are course routing prints of Augusta National, Cypress Point and Oakmont. If I had a den big enough, I'd put 'em all up on the wall.
Suggested retail $29-$95; golframes.com
4. Troon Frequent Player Card
The best medicine for golfers and course operators is to get folks playing early and often as we try to dig ourselves out of this rut. The Troon Card will help immensely. The savings to be realized by playing a bunch of golf with the Troon Card is significant. Troon Golf Management sports facilities all over the world (26 countries, 31 states), but even if you play all of your golf within 10 miles of your house, the value is huge provided you play at a Troon Golf facility. Troon offers a California/Nevada TwoSome and FourSome, and Arizona and National versions of the same. Each card use offers 30-50 percent off the regular posted rates of courses such as Troon North in Arizona, Branson Creek in Missouri and Giants Ridge in Minnesota, each ranked as one of GOLF Magazine's Top 100 Courses You Can Play. With the TwoSome, you get to bring one player who gets the same discount as you the FourSome allows for three guests. That way, not everybody has to buy their own card but heck, the deal is so good, they should.
Suggested retail: $425-$975; TroonGolf.com
5. Jaermann & Stubi St. Andrews Links Watch
As a spur of the moment gifts go, this one requires a little thought it's not quite like buying a home, but it's not that far off from a car purchase. Then again, if you've got some extra coin and are looking to spend it on the golfer who you think already has everything, a Jaermann & Stubi golf watch is a terrific investment.
\n Jaermann & Stubi create luxury timepieces in the finest Swiss tradition, with hand-made components and incredible precision. What makes these watches different is their golf bent. My favorite is the St. Andrews Links collection, not only for their eye-popping appeal and innovation, but also that part of the sale proceeds are returned to the Links trust for the promotion and maintenance of the courses. In particular, the limited edition (only 72 were manufactured) St. Andrews Links Stroke Play 1759 is a stunner. Named to commemorate the world's first stroke play tournament some 250 years ago, the watch serves up a stainless steel case, a handicap bezel, golf score counters and mechanical automatic movement, along with a St. Andrews Links engraving. So, your watch not only tells time, but keeps score on the hole, overall score for the round and calculates handicap information.
\n Perhaps even more remarkable (and even more expensive) are the two limited edition Seve Ballesteros watches, one of which features a case forged from the melted down golf clubs that Seve used to win his last European Tour event, the 1995 Spanish Open. If you dream of harnessing the legendary feel and shotmaking powers that characterized Seve, you can get at least as close as wearing it on your wrist.
Suggested retail: $4,000-$20,000; jaermann-stuebi.com