JOIN THE CLUBS
Equipment is important, but only part of a good game
Creators News Service
Is golf the most difficult sport to master? Ask Google and you'll get 192,000 affirmative answers to that question.
But "never give up" appears to be the motto of the millions of Americans who play the game on a regular basis: In 2002, it was estimated that $23.4 billion was spent on equipment and fees, according to the National Golf Foundation.
So what equipment does the erstwhile golfer need in the never-ending search for an improved game? Are there clubs made just for you, which give you the skills and confidence to score fewer strokes than your buddies?
"The golf equipment industry is the largest voice in all of golf, and customized equipment is the latest buzz," said John Bell, a Professional Golfers' Association of America pro in the Golf Performance Center at Canyon Ranch, a resort hotel and health spa in Tucson, Ariz. "But I believe everything begins and ends with instruction."
Unfortunately, 95 percent of golfers don't take sustained instruction, according to Bell. "You can put Mercedes equipment in the hands of a golfer, but it isn't going to work," he said.
A beginner needs standard equipment, Bell said. "Go out and get a set of used clubs. The only stipulation I would have is women should get women's clubs and men, men's. They'll cost about $75.
"Then take a few lessons. See if you're having fun. As you progress, the instructor will advise you on your equipment."
Len Collette, a PGA pro who teaches at the De Anza Country Club in Borrego Springs, Calif., concurred. "In addition to the lessons, the instructor is a good source for equipment advice. When I work with a student I am always looking for what they need."
If after some instruction you determine golf is going to be your game, there will come a time when an old set of clubs won't accommodate your evolving swing, Bell said. You'll want to get more sophisticated equipment.
"Ideally, you should go to a customized club fitter who will put you through a routine to determine the best clubs for you," he said. "And while you can pay $2,500 to $3,000 for a set of custom golf clubs, the manufacturers are a good source for some great used equipment."
A gender-specific used set that takes into consideration specifications such as length, shaft flexibility, grip composition and size will cost about $200.
Be prepared for additional bumps in the road. "This equipment will be ever-changing," Bell said. "Skill levels alter over time, hopefully for the better, but in all likelihood that won't be the case.
"You'll reach a challenge, and nine times out of 10 the flaw is in the golf swing. But the most sought-after solution is not a golf lesson, it is new equipment."
These days there's an obsession with distance, he added. "Tiger orbits the moon and you want to brag: 'I can out-hit you because I have the latest bazooka driver.'
"Players forget Tiger Woods has had his coach with him 24/7 for the past 25 years or so and will have him for the next 25 years."
Bell offered a tip to players who want to improve: "Real golfers who understand the bottom line is a lower score will spend the majority of their time developing the appropriate putting stroke. Putting is a boring part of the game, but there's the opportunity to score."
Even for the best golfers, with the best coaching and the best equipment, it's a never-ending quest. "You never conquer this game," he admitted.
"It's the most difficult sport known to man," said Bill Walker, a retired Illinois educator who has played golf for 67 years. "There are so many facets -- you go uphill, downhill and sideways. You drive, chip and putt. I'm constantly trying to learn the game. I think the most important thing to learn is how to have a good attitude about it. I've played with golfers who could throw the club further than they could hit the ball."