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4/25/2004

In the cup

By Mike Lawrence
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — For golfers, Christmas should come in April.

As warm weather lures golfers back onto the links, entrepreneurs and businesses both local and nationwide are touting new toys — statistical software, a more forgiving driver and digital swing analysis, to name a few — to help duffers improve their games.

Mike Mitchell of Boulder is a co-founder of To the Pin software, which utilizes Global Positioning System technology and handheld computers to tell golfers walking the course — not riding in a cart — how far they are from the hole, or pin.

“We looked at between 60 and 70 courses nationwide and found that roughly half of the rounds played are walked,” said Mitchell, noting that while GPS readouts are available in golf carts on many courses, such as Vista Ridge in Erie, TTP brings yardage figures and personalized club recommendations to walking golfers.

In order to use To the Pin, golfers need a Pocket PC personal data assistant — the software is not compatible with Palm Pilots, Mitchell said — either with built-in GPS capability or with a GPS card, such as those made by TeleType.

With TTP software downloaded onto their handheld computer, golfers can record and save data from every shot, providing statistics that golf instructor Paul McQuade finds invaluable.

“It gives a really good idea of how I’m hitting each of my clubs, in course conditions, for both distance and dispersion,” said McQuade, the teaching pro at the new 18-hole Highlands Meadows course in Windsor, set to open in early June.

McQuade, 35, and a golfer for more than 25 years, said he plans to use the software as a both a teaching tool for his clients and also to chart progress in his own game.

“I was looking for something like this even before I knew Mike (Mitchell),” McQuade said.

As Mitchell is beginning to ease TTP onto the market, at least one local business owner has some questions about the product.

“It’s an interesting idea,” said Shelane Brinkman, co-owner of Golf Etc. on Third Avenue in Longmont. “But I would want to know how fast it is on the course and what the costs would be.”

Mitchell factored speed-of-use into the design of TTP software, knowing full well that the last thing golfers, or course owners, want is delays at a tee while a player on the fairway consults a handheld computer.

“We built this thing for speed,” Mitchell said, explaining that two keystrokes are all that’s needed for golfers to get yardage information on the course.

After using TTP for about six months during the product’s testing and development stages, McQuade said he is impressed with the software’s ease of use.

“It takes about the same amount of time as writing scores onto your score card,” McQuade said.

Mitchell is offering free trials and reduced promotional prices for To the Pin, which he said normally will cost about $35, on his company’s Web site.

For golfers who hope to spend less time in the woods this year, KZ Golf is launching what they call “the most accurate driver on the market.”

The Gemini driver is made with KZ Golf’s patented “dual-face technology,” which places a reinforcement plate behind the club’s thin titanium face.

The result, KZ says, is a larger “sweet spot” that is designed to keep your ball in play, whether you hit it in the center of the club face or shank it off the “heel” or “toe” of the club.

Keith Martin, club pro at Sunset Golf Course in Longmont, says that in his experience thin-faced clubs are “much more forgiving” of mis-hit drives.

“It sounds like a good club,” Martin said. “It certainly typifies the way technology is changing the game.”

Julian Tryhorn, co-owner of Golf Etc. in Longmont, agrees with Martin, saying a thin club face provides a springy “trampoline effect” when striking the ball, giving increased distance and control to golfers with slow or average swing speeds.

“This club is designed for the 90 percent of golfers who swing slower than 100 mph,” Tryhorn said.

Located on the corner of Third Avenue and Main Street, Golf Etc. already has received phone calls about the Gemini driver, Brinkman said, adding that the store has just begun to receive Gemini club heads and shafts.

Brinkman said the Gemini driver, recently approved as “conforming” by the USGA, will retail at Golf Etc. for about $350.

The best driver in the world won’t help much, though, if you don’t know how to swing it.

Chad DiDonato, co-owner of the Boulder Golf Company retail outlet on 55th Street in Boulder, has offered digital swing analysis at his store since it opened in July 2003.

“Older golfers use this more analytically,” DiDonato said of the computer program that monitors your swing with lasers and gives an instant readout of swing path, face impact — meaning what part of the club struck the ball — club speed and more. “Younger guys come in here and just want to see how far they can hit.”

Colin Patterson of Boulder, 27, appreciates the finer points of digital analysis after golfing for 15 years.

“It helps you see your bad habits, more so than being at a driving range,” Patterson said.

Computerized analysis also has its critics. Rick Price, 42, has been the teaching pro at Haystack Mountain Golf Instruction in Niwot for four years.

“Most flaws in a golf swing are due to fundamentals,” Price said, adding that computerized swing analysis only measures two things, the path of the club and position of the face at impact, then deduces swing errors.

“But there are half a million other things that contribute (to faulty swings),” Price said, listing grip and body alignment as common sources of swing flaws.

Whether they prefer high-tech gadgets and analysis or low-tech lessons and practice, most golfers share a common desire.

“Pretty much anybody who plays golf wants to improve,” Mitchell said. “It can be a frustrating game.”

Mike Lawrence can be reached at 303-776-2244 ext. 218, or by e-mail at mlawrence @times-call.com.