Saturday, January 31, 2009

With the world economy sinking into a tar pit and dragging the golf business with it, one bright spot in golf equipment has been GPS yardage devices. At the moment, GPS units look like the only growth market in golf.
It appears that 2008 may have been a jump-the-shark year for GPS devices, which outsold laser rangefinders by almost a two to one margin. In the past, rangefinders had held a similar lead over GPS units. It’ll be interesting to see if that trend continues.
Laser rangefinders have an accuracy that is difficult to beat. Their drawback is targets can be hard to hit, and targets that can’t be seen can’t be measured. How far to that hidden lake over the hill? Sorry. GPS devices, which use satellite technology, aren’t as precise and can’t factor in pin locations. Either way, grown men tend to have a thing for gadgets, which makes GPS and laser rangefinders  the hot gift of choice.
The GPS market is getting crowded. Here’s a brief look at some of the GPS devices that were available at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando: SkyCaddie: This is the granddaddy of GPS, the top product. All you really need to know to make an informed purchase is this: SkyCaddie is the only outfit that charts courses by ground-mapping — that is, having a foot-solder meticulously walk the courses with electronic measuring devices that provide precise yardages. All other companies use satellite mapping, which can be (but isn’t always) nearly as accurate. No matter how you slice it, SkyCaddie has a smaller margin of error than the others and it displays a fervor and dedication to accuracy for its customers that the other companies don’t. You have to respect a company that won’t include a course’s map without that course’s approval. Three models: SG5, five-inch color screen, up to 40 targets per hole and IntelliGreen technology (the image of the green rotates to match your line of approach), $399; SG3.5, three-and-a-half inch gray-scale screen, $259; SG2.5, two-and-a-half inch screen, $199... Automatic course recognition... 23,000 courses in database... Requires an annual membership to retain access to the database--$29 for every course in your state, $49 for entire U.S., $59 worldwide, which includes continuous updates to course library to keep current with changes.Website: Sonocaddie: Four models available ranging from V100, relatively Spartan 1.2-inch black and white view screen, to V300, with full color 3D, and new Auto Play model... Regular models have 18,000 courses worldwide in database, 11,000 in the United States... One-time membership fee is $29.95 for unlimited downloads, or you can get your first five courses free and then pay $5 per each additional course. With Auto Play version, all courses are pre-loaded, no membership fee... V100 lists up to six hazards or targets per hole, premium models list up to ten... V100 stores 10 courses in memory, V300 stores 30... A scorecard function is available, can keep score for one player and retain stats, up to 100 rounds worth... V100 suggested retail price, $199; V300 $399. Website: GolfBuddy: This is a true GPS unit that automatically recognizes what course and what hole you’re playing from pre-loaded database of 15,000 courses. If your course isn’t in the database, company will map it and include it for you within a few weeks... No annual subscription fees... Comes in two models, the Pro (black and white screen), $379, and the Tour (color) $459... Graphics are limited, focus is on the yardages. For example, a list of hazard yardages may look like this: “Tree 125, LtBkrEnd 115 (yardage to clear left bunker), LtBkr 103 (yardage to left bunker), HzdEnd 35 (yardage to clear hazard), 100 LayUp 52 (yardage to 100-yard lay-up—or you can program it to your favorite layup yardage).”... A scorecard function allows you to track and record up to 1,000 rounds. Website: Bushnell: A big player in laser rangefinders, Bushnell has partnered with iGolf and uses its GPS software. Four models include Neo, a basic black and white unit that delivers distance to front, middle and back of green, $149; Yardage Pro GPS, 2.1 inch LCD screen and storage for ten courses, $199; Yardage Pro XG, 2.2-inch LCD screen with stores up to 20 courses and has custom green maps, $249; Yardage Pro XGC, 2.2-inch high resolution color screen that stores up to 100 courses, $349. XGC model displays overhead view of hole with golfer’s location and distances to any other point on the hole. Website: Garmin: GolfLogix model is very easy to use, nearly button-pushing free... No frills, just provides yardages to greens, hazards and layup areas, up to six hazards or targets per hole... Totally weatherproof. A unit was submerged in an aquarium at Merchandise Show booth and it was still functioning... Over 22,000 courses available worldwide, GolfLogix model stores up to 20 courses. You have to download the courses you want, unlimited downloads for $29.95... Endorsed by Gary McCord and Peter Kostis of CBS... Suggested retail price, $299.Website: On Par: Easy viewing, nice 3.5-inch, full hole maps, user-friendly touchscreen technology — one touch to any location on hole map provides the yardage... Tracks each stroke location, distance and club used, provides stats... Course database of more than 4,000 courses, no membership or course map fees... Suggested retail $479.  Website:

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