Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Gamebook-screengrab SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—I'm not a huge fan of the scramble format, although I do like the part where I don't have to play my bad shots. However, I discovered a new gadget during the four-man-scramble portion of the recent Xona Resort Media Classic that made the format a lot more fun.
It's a small hand-held computer called GameBook ( You punch in your score (or your team's score) after each hole, and then you can access a live leaderboard for your event.
GameBook was a blast. I may be biased because my team made two birdies on our opening hole, a par 5 at Superstition Mountain's Prospector Course, and immediately took the lead. The format was a modified scramble—pick the best tee shot, then all four players finished the hole, posting the two best scores, with handicap. The nice part was that the handicaps were already figured in. All I had to do was punch in our scores and GameBook did the rest, figuring out which two were low and posting them. It's so easy to use, you don't even need instructions (although we got some, anyway).
So we made two birdies on the first hole, another at the second, then an eagle and a birdie on the third hole, which was also a par 5. After three holes, we were six under par and, according to GameBook, had a three-shot lead.
Maybe the group in last place didn't think GameBook was as much fun as we did, but the live tournament scoring was a fantastic addition to the day.
We had a slow spell in the middle of the round where we parred six straight holes and dropped to fourth place. Ah, pressure! Then we got hot again, made some birdies and another eagle and stood on the final tee knowing we had a safe three-shot lead.
But there was more. Our event had closest-to-the-pin contests on three holes and a hole-in-one prize for a new car (a sweet Infinity convertible) on the other par 3. GameBook provided updates on who'd hit the closest shot on each hole and the distance. So when we got to the par-3 fourth hole, I knew that my Sports Illustrated colleague John Garrity was the closest-to-the-pin leader at 13 feet 3 inches. Now, there's no way that shot was going to hold up all day in an outing; somebody was going to hit it closer. In fact, I hit it to 10 feet and entered my name and distance into GameBook. I knew my shot wouldn't hold up for the prize, either, but the sweet thing was that I bumped my buddy Garrity, and I knew that he knew I'd done it to him, thanks to GameBook.
You could tap any team name on the leaderboard and see that squad's hole-by-hole scores. I got a lot of use out of that the next day when the format was a two-man scramble at We-Ko-Pa's Cholla Course. I was paired with We-Ko-Pa pro Ed Francese, and we played really well, or so we thought. We were rarely in trouble, made no bogeys and had a clean card—five birdies, the rest pars. And we finished about second from last.
The two-man scramble format, it turns out, is a bad format in which to receive no strokes. We probably posted the second-best gross score in the field, but we spent the day laughing and cursing at GameBook as we saw dozens of teams cruising past the 15-under-par mark. We made a birdie and moved from 55th to 54th in the 56-team event. We made a par and another birdie and bingo, we were back to 55th. "What course are they playing?" I asked Ed. "This course isn't that easy to shoot 20 under."
Well, I checked that other team's gross scores on GameBook. They had a double bogey, four or five bogeys, some pars and two birdies. How were they 20 under? The magic of handicaps.
So I experienced the top and bottom of the leader board in successive days with GameBook, and I thought it was a blast both times. There is also an iPhone application, so you can use GameBook without the devices. For course owners or event hosts, it's a great way to spice up an outing.
A GameBook supervisor asked me how I liked it, and I told him much fun we'd had with it, particularly when I knocked out Garrity, and I said the only thing missing was the ability to use GameBook to send trash-talking messages to other teams during the round. The GameBook guy said, "Oh, we've got that set up, we just didn't have that part turned on today for you guys."
Live scoring? Closest to the pin updates? Trash-talking? Hey, I take it all back, GameBook. With a live leaderboard available, I love scrambles.

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