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Keeping Technology In Check on the Golf Course

Purists moan that too much 'progress' weakens game

The year is 2012. A sunny afternoon. Veteran golfer Tiger Woods stands on the course at Pebble Beach watching his drive veer too far to the right.

He looks down at his titanium driver featuring a bladder filled with compressed nitrogen.

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"Maybe I should have used the porcelain driver with the kerosene-soaked sonar compass," he mumbles. Tiger's golf ball is a very lively ball with a thermoplastic, liquid-filled center.

"No problem," says his caddie, checking the distance from the ball to the hole with laser binoculars providing a digital readout, then double checking it with a hand-held global positioning system (GPS).

"Exactly 276.49 yards," says the caddie.

"Kerosene all the way," says Woods.

They climb into an air-conditioned, polymer golf cart powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, and hum silently to the ball.

All of the above technologies, with the exception of the blithering "kerosene soaked sonar compass," are either here, or just around the clubhouse corner.

In short, with the exploding interest in the sport, along with the winds of technology blowing through every game and gadget on earth, the old game by 2012 may be a different sport.

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Purists today decry the most noticeable postwar technological change in golf: the hordes of high-tech golf carts humming over courses, from prestige country clubs with carts-only policies to municipal courses with a few battered carts among the walkers and motorized caddies.

Former United States Golf Association president Sandy Tatum scorns the reliance on golf carts and suggests if it keeps up, golf should be called "cartball."

On major tours like that of the Professional Golfers Association, golfers still have to walk the fairways with a caddie carrying the golf bag. And to take advantage of some of the new golf technologies in tournament play, like laser binoculars, the rules would have to be changed.

ALARMED at the trend in golf to use more carts, David Fay, executive director of the United States Golf Association has said, "We strongly believe that walking is the most enjoyable way to play golf and that the use of carts is detrimental to the game. The negative trend needs to be stopped now before it becomes accepted that riding in a cart is the way to play golf."

Alternatives to golf carts exist today in the form of hand-pushed or motorized three-wheeled caddies with names like Kangaroo Cadet, Robo-Kaddy and the Riksha Big Wheel.

Yet another, Kaddy-Lite, asserts that it is "the perfect golfing partner, leaving you with the energy to concentrate on the game you love the most."

Some of these caddies come with remote controls, automatic brakes, and promises that they won't tip over.

They scoot up hills easily, and the golfer walks behind as vigorously as desired.

Using golf carts may thwart the exercise linked to golf's origins, but on today's crowded courses they help to keep games moving. "One of the things I love about golf," says Mona Gambetta of ProShot Golf, a golf communications company in Phoenix. "is the calm and solitude of walking. But if I owned a course, I would want golf carts because from a revenue standpoint, they help move the game along."

Add GPS technology like ProShot's OmniGolf from Trimble Navigation in Sunnyvale, Calif., and the game moves even faster.

An OmniGolf liquid crystal display on the golf cart measures the distance to the green, points out key hazards, allows the golfer to make make the right club selection, and offers tips just the way a caddie does.

Used now on 50 high-end golf courses in the US, OmniGolf eliminates walking off the distance to the hole, which translates to quicker games. "About 20 minutes is gained, "says Ralph Eschenbach, Trimble's chief technical officer, "in 20 minutes, a golf course can add three or four foursomes to the course. That means about $2,000 additional revenue a day."

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