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Weeding through golf's endless array of instruction aids

Shane SharpBy Shane Sharp,

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – At one exhibit at the 2002 PGA Merchandise Show, there is a man wearing something called a swing jacket. Imagine a foursome from the local psychiatric ward out one afternoon for a friendly Nassau and you'll get the picture.

At another exhibit, just a few feet away, a man is swinging a golf club with a laser pointer on the end of it. If Luke Skywalker were to take up the game, this would no doubt be his chosen methodology for learning the golf swing.

And then the clincher: just a chip shot down aisle 8000 and somewhere is a chap with a putter that features a head that snaps back and forth, guaranteed to dramatically improve your performance on the greens.

He tries to place a wager with a few passers by that they can sink eight of ten putts with this snapper-putter-thing. The passers by turn the tables, and bet him he can't sink eight of ten putts with his snapper-putter-thing. His bluff called, he returns to his little counter, down but never out.

Grip mentors, laser guides, bracelets and swing jackets …Welcome to the not so wonderful world of golf instructional aids, where even Dan Jenkins would have trouble cutting through all the bull.

"Your average consumer is going to have trouble telling the real deal from junk," says Jerry Woodall, owner of Tee To Green Golf Shop in Eden, N.C. "But small shop owners don't try to get one past the consumer. I have a loyal base of customers at my shop. We don't purchase gadgets, but we buy things that we think are helpful.

Fortunately for the consumer, there are guys out there like Woodall who have been in the business for years, play golf regularly, and look out for the best interests of their customers.

For many golfers, however, a persuasive "infomercial" or a bright, shiny advertisement in a major golf publication is too much to overcome. So if you don't have the benefit of an honest brick and mortar golf shop in your area, how do you keep from becoming easy prey for the golf gimmick industry?

John Bunn, owner of Carolina Custom Golf says that most of the gadgets available today are on their second or third incarnations, and that golfers should just stick with the products that appear to be simple and logical.

"The amazing thing is that all these gadgets come full circle every few years," Buns says. "That laser guide for instance - you could just use a little flashlight for that and a few years back someone was peddling that. And once you see where your swing plane is, do you really need it anymore? We tend to stick with the basic stuff, like the weighted club and the putting guides."

Woodall is also a big proponent of the Momentus weighted warm-up club endorsed by David Duval, the putting guides espoused by short game guru Dave Pelz, and Kallassy's Swing Magic device that slides down the shaft of the club to demonstrate perfect swing plane and how to release the club without "casting."

"Honestly, I discard about 75 percent of what I see here," Woodall says. "I go right to the booths of the products that I usually order and see what new things they have going. I will take a look at everything, but my crap detector is always on full alert."

Price is also a major consideration, according to Woodall and Bun. If an instructional aid sells for under $20, and it appears to "make sense," the potential gains could out weigh the risks. But as gadgets get more and more expensive, golfers should be wary, and thoroughly research the product.

"The Core Trainer is $2,000 and Ty Tryon uses it with (David) Leadbetter, and I am sure it works to an extent, but who can actually afford that?" Woodall asks. "You can do the same thing with the Momentus weighted club, really."

If golfers are still confused as to what instructional aids will help them with their games, they can always consult a PGA certified teaching professional. A one-hour lesson with a certified instructor can cost between $40 and $100 an hour, and golfers can learn the fundamentals of the game before they go purchasing unneeded instructional aids.

"I really feel that you need to be a pretty good player before you can determine what aids and teaching philosophies are right for you," says Dana Rader (at right), a Golf Magazine Top 100 instructor. "Until you have a certain level of knowledge about your game, you can't learn from gadgets and other methodologies."

Rader's golf school at the Ballantyne Resort in Charlotte, N.C. utilizes video and computer swing analysis, but does not rely on any gadgetry. Rader, however, says that some instructors will use some basic instructional aids, like the weighted clubs, to get their points across.

"Sometimes we'll find one or two that we like," she says. "But I don't think you'll see a preponderance of these things at anyone's golf schools."

Shane Sharp is a Contributing Writer with TravelGolf.com, where his column appears weekly. Contact him at sharp@travelgolf.com.

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

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