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If Santa can't bring me a lower handicap, how about some of these golf gifts?

Kiel ChristiansonBy Kiel Christianson,
Senior Writer

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - You have to admit: It's easy to shop for golfers. We golfers by nature love gadgets, love toys, love anything that gives us the excuse to talk about, read about, or daydream about our game.

It's true, we've become more picky about our clubs - what with custom-fitting now so affordable and accessible - and about our balls - what with dozens and dozens of varieties to fit our needs - but that doesn't mean there isn't a ton of nifty swag perfect for getting us psyched for next season.

Here are a few of the most intriguing golf gifts that have crossed my desk over the past several months:

Golly, gadgets galore

One of the hottest gadgets to roll down the fairway over the past couple of years is the Visiball Golf Ball Finder (visiballusa.com, MSRP $40). This blue sunglasses-meet-goggles eyewear actually makes golf balls appear to glow, making them extremely visible in the rough, woods, bog, parking lot or wherever they happen to stray.

The Visiball glasses come in two sizes (once of which fits over prescription glasses), each including a carrying case that clips onto your golf bag. So when the occasional shot heads into the hay, just whip out the funky shades. One drawback is in the fall, when all light-colored leaves also brighten up - but that's why "the leaf rule" was invented, right?

Engage Golf's 365 Perpetual Rule-a-Day software (MSRP $25) and desktop calendar ($20, ByTheRules.com) are attractively packaged, authoritative, USGA-licensed tools that will not fail to distract you at least once a day from those pesky non-golf work-related tasks that seem to fill most days. The software in particular can be programmed to pop up a pre-scheduled window with a great course picture and a tricky ruling for you to ponder.

For the technogeek golfer on your list, the MIO XE Golf watch (MSRP $179, miowatch.com) is the latest in a trend toward making golf either more hi-tech or more confusing (I'm not sure which). The MIO XE Golf is not only a sporty watch and stopwatch, it also can keep detailed statistics (strokes, putts, GIR, sand saves, handicap, etc.) for as many as 20 rounds

On top of that, it allows you to measure your heart rate, which, according to the company, will help you find the perfect balance between pumped and comatose where you'll perform best. Although some golfers might find the complex button-pushes more distracting than helpful during a round, the gadget-savvy among us might find the stats and biofeedback functions extremely useful.

If you prefer to keep your heart rate steady the old-fashioned way - with beer - then The Covert Cooler (MSRP $20, covert-coolers.com) is for you. Made to fit discretely in the shoe-pocket of most golf bags, the cooler holds up to nine cans, and won't leak if added ice begins to melt. The side zipper allows for easy access. Corporate logos can also be added, so these make cool outing gifts.

Golf Bags and boots

If you think driver technology has improved in the last decade, you should check out golf bag technology. Seriously. New light-weight materials allow more people to play as God and the Scots intended: Walking. Case in point, the new Sun Mountain Flight stand bag (MSRP $175, sunmountain.com). What sets this carry bag apart is that it has 14 individual club compartments yet only weighs five pounds.

Although it's lacking a few bells and whistles (e.g., exterior ball and tee holders), and there's no room for any extra clubs (if you happen to be demo-ing new drivers constantly, like me), the individual club compartments keep the clubheads from rattling against each other while you walk, and also allow you to instantly locate the club you need, speeding play.

For those golfers who walk and ride, the Ogio Synchro (MSRP $170, ogio.com) is a 6.6-pound hybrid bag with zip-away leg and strap pockets, nine cart-friendly zippered pockets, external ball silo and full-length club dividers. Above all, Ogio's flair for design and color turn your golf bag into a real fashion statement.

An uncomfortable pair of shoes can turn a bad round into complete and total hell, but a comfortable shoe can make even a tough round pleasant. Over the past few years, two shoe companies have separated themselves from the competition in terms of styling and comfort: Etonic and Ecco.

Etonic's new ST-GT (MSRP $139) features the Ergo-Fit system, which forms itself to the shape of your foot (etonic.com). Ecco's 2006 offerings range from the Aaron-Baddeley-hip New Casual collection (including the Casual Cool Hydromax, MSRP $150)) to the Monty-esque World Class collection. For those of us somewhere in between, the New Classic Crossfire (MSRP $140) combines traditional overall styling and colors with some eye-catching leather work (eccousa.com).

Stocking stuffers and a budget buster

I've said it before, but I'll say it again: maybe the best buy for the money in golf is the Zero Friction Golf Tee (MSRP $10 for 50). The tee features three prongs upon which the ball sits, and a biodegradable material that is (supposedly) eco-friendly. These things last forever, although they are a challenge to stick into hard, dry ground (zerofrictiontees.com).

As of 2004, USGA Rule Change #16-1a(i) allows golfers to remove loose impediments from greens by ANY MEANS, as long as the green is not damaged or pressed down. The Putt Pal line of retractable brushes (MSRP $13, puttpalusa.com) helps clear the path for those big putts. The Putt Pal clips onto your bag, the Pocket Pal fits in your pocket, and the new Putt Pal shaft model with retractable shaft helps you avoid bending over. I've used these on recently top-dressed greens, and they made a huge difference.

Last but certainly not least expensive, is The St. Andrews Grand, an enclave of 23 luxurious residences overlooking the first tee and the 18th green of the Old Course at St. Andrews. Members of the St. Andrews Grand will have virtually unlimited residence access and all the real benefits of ownership. The most exclusive residence offering-through-membership in the UK can be obtained through invitation-only to 115 families and individuals worldwide. Once renovations are complete, the St. Andrews Grand will offer amazing, untouched views of The Old Course and the sea.

Members of the St. Andrews Grand will enjoy the highest level of personal service including a full time, on-site concierge, daily housekeeping service, a spa and health center, pre-arrival grocery service, golf concierge and bellmen. Personal hunting and fishing guides, golf caddies and pros, private chefs and more will be available upon request (standrewsgrand.com).

If you have to ask the price on this last one, you can't afford it.

Fortunately for most of us golfers (and those who love us), we're happy with some new gadgets and shoes.

Merry Christmas to all, and may your blessings add up faster than your strokes in 2006.

Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Ill. Read his golf blog here and follow him on Twitter @GolfWriterKiel.

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