Whether you want to improve your game, show off your individual style or do a bit of both, personalized golf gear and experiences are the key to making the sport your own.
By Dale Leatherman
Not so long ago, golfers purchased clubs off the rack based on appearance, feel, brand loyalty or the fact that a favorite TOUR player was winning with them. Golf bags were off the rack, too, with few choices in color and design. After a spate of boldly checkered golf trousers (that nongolfers will never, ever let us forget), golf garb settled into predictable khaki, black or white pants and pastel shirts—with collars, of course. Golfers expressed their individuality sedately, with driver covers in their school colors or resembling cute animals.
Fast-forward to golf today, which is certainly not your father’s or mother’s game. It’s uniquely and positively your golf—whatever you choose to make it, from the clothes on your back to the clubs in your bag and all the extras you desire. Women’s tailored Bermuda shorts and demure skorts no longer dominate the greens. Sacrosanct shirt collars are disappearing from PGA TOUR players’ attire. Dazzling colors and designs are the new normal for clothing, golf bags and other gear, reflecting players’ individual styles as never before. The message is: You got game? Show it. Want to play with orange balls? Do it.
However, the revolution in golf is more visceral than looking the part, as cool as that is. It’s also about seriously upping your equipment and your game in order to be the best you can be.
Made to Order
“Years ago we used to get assembled clubs sent to us, clubs built in multiple combinations,” says Craig Allan, Golf Performance Center manager and master club fitter at Sea Island. “During fittings, we’d have a golfer hit one club because the head seemed pretty good, then hit another club for the shaft, and then make some educated assumptions for the best fit. It was better than buying something off the rack because the specs were as close as possible. Today, manufacturers develop components for irons that are interchangeable, and components for woods that are interchangeable and adjustable.”
Drivers with adjustable heads are de rigueur, and fine-tuning them to individuals has largely been the purview of club-fitting experts. Adjustability has been a game-changer in customizing woods, according to Allan. “It’s great to be able to move the characteristics of the club in very small increments, to make it specific to the golfer without having to have another club built or find another head that’s similar but has that change,” he says. “We can make small adjustments that have a great impact for the golfer.”
Allan says the launch monitor is one of the most important innovations in club fitting. “It started as a camera-based product that would take a couple of quick images of the golf ball as it was struck and would give us some data,” he explains. “When the TrackMan launch monitor came along in the early 2000s, its radar technology let us see what the ball is doing in terms of launch angle, spin rate, landing angle and other factors.”
The combination of high-quality tools and products from the manufacturers, the experience of a well-educated club fitter and technology like TrackMan has made club fitting more efficient and accurate, allowing golfers to get clubs customized to a level that has never been possible before. “Not only is personalization good for golfers’ games, it’s also fun,” Allan says. “They walk away with clubs that are very specific to them. This has a positive affect on their games from a technology standpoint, but it also has an impact on their confidence. They have something that’s cool, that’s just as specialized as what’s in TOUR players’ bags.”
Players who watch professional golf on television are naturally prone to caddie envy. Now, there’s an app for that. The Arccos Caddie combines sensors in your grips with artificial intelligence (AI) from Microsoft to provide a virtual caddie on your smartphone. The sensors collect data on every swing you take, and after five rounds have enough history to provide strategic advice in real-time. Your caddie knows your game better than you do, and will predict probable outcomes on a choice of shots—and recommend which club to use. The app has more than 40,000 courses in its GPS, so it works almost any place in the world.
However, if you choose not to be glued to your phone for a round, you can browse the data later to see where you were brilliant, or might need more practice. It may sound too good to be true, but the company’s statistics show it can improve a handicap considerably.
If you do not like the thought of AI scrutinizing your every move, but want to have some technology on course, GolfBuddy, SkyGolf, Garmin and Bushnell continue to improve their GPS watches and clip-ons. Most offer voice functions that will politely tell you distances to the hole and leave you to make your own club and target choices.
While the average golfer is usually satisfied with the target identified by GPS (and happy to hit any part of the green), a scratch golfer or purist often wants to know the exact distance to the hole. Over the years, rangefinders by manufacturers such as Bushnell, Nikon, Sig Sauer and Vortex have improved tremendously, fine-tuning ways to lock onto the flag through a viewfinder and get a good measure of yardage. This year, Bushnell raises its technology a notch with the Bushnell Pro XE, which factors in current conditions that will affect the distance your shot needs to carry. Internal sensors measure temperature, altitude and slope (though slope can be turned off for competitions). The magnification is greatly enhanced and a red ring flashes on the screen when you’ve locked in on the pin.
Golf’s Stylish Split Personality
Personalization is also the name of the game when it comes to trending golf apparel and accessories. “For attire, it’s no longer the khakis-and-black-golf-bag scene,” Allan says. “Fashion has discovered the golf world. For business, people carry initialed briefcases. Now we’re seeing golfers with their initialed Sunday bags and Peter Millar clothing and Links & Kings belts with club logos or initials. It’s great, because it allows individuals to differentiate themselves from everybody else, and step out and make a statement.”
While customized club fitting and individualized technology are decidedly modern, there’s a retro trend in golf bags and accessories. Carry, or Sunday, bags are making a comeback, but with cool colors. Stitch Golf’s understated SL1 bag weighs in at 57 ounces and is available in shades ranging from baby blue to forest green, with a small metal plate for your initials. Matching leather head covers can be personalized, too, as can knitted ones that are a throwback to the 1900s. Laura Anne Mabbett, assistant buyer for golf at Sea Island, says Stitch “stood out as an up-and-coming brand at last year’s merchandising shows and has become the primary vendor we use for personalized items.”
Also reflecting the retro handcrafted trend, Oregon-based Seamus Golf offers personalized Sunday bags in fun floral patterns, hand-forged metal ball markers and monogrammed bottle bags to protect your favorite single malt. “It’s fun to hear the excitement from golfers when they learn how they can accessorize their golf bags with our products, and they see the care and craftsmanship that goes into everything we make,” says Seamus Golf co-founder Akbar Chisti. “We want them to look at golf as a time to be social as well as competitive. Everything we make is designed to feel right in that setting.”
Made-to-order bags and leather head covers from former snowboarding champion/designer Bert LaMar’s company, Iliac Golf, are being used by celebrities such as Peyton Manning, Clint Eastwood and Celine Dion. The California-based company is also famous for its cheeky handmade golf shirts and pants, which have been worn by professional golfers like Zach Johnson and Retief Goosen. “The customization trend is, in part, hero-driven,” LaMar says. “If I make something for Rory McIlroy and he wins, millions of guys see that and say, ‘I’d better get one like Rory’s.’ If the hero is using it, the average Joe wants it. It’s also driven by the care that goes into a product. Everybody wants something special. A lot of love and passion go into every design, every product I make. I’m constantly listening to pros describe how something could be better. I can always talk to the sewers in my factory in Carlsbad and make a change. For 2019 I have designs that are fashion-forward but traditional—tartans and plaids, but fun polka dots, too—and, for the first time, women’s shirts.”
For another business catering to notable people, including the current and former U.S. presidents, the European royals, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw and Tom Watson, leather is the main medium. Steurer & Jacoby in Louisville, Kentucky, uses crafting methods you would find in the early 1900s to create custom, handcrafted golf bags, head covers and more. Owner Will Jacoby has nearly 40 years of experience in manufacturing, designing and marketing golf bags and related products, and the seamstress team is lead by his daughter.
Of course, you don’t have to go retro to make a statement, especially on courses that don’t allow walking. Most of the major manufacturers are displaying some flash this year, such as the Titleist cart bag in bold red, and Callaway’s Chev multicolor cart bag featuring violet, teal and white. “We’ve ordered personalized bags from Titleist and Callaway,” Mabbett says, “and we get quite a few requests for Club Glove travel bags with names or initials.” Club Glove is a favorite of TOUR pros for its Train Reaction system, which connects the rolling golf bag case to other color-matching luggage pieces for easier transportation. The spiffy collections are guaranteed head-turners.
Whether you take advantage of personalized apparel, accessories or technology—or all of the above—the move toward customized golfing experiences offers numerous benefits. From showcasing your individual style on the course to showing off your improved skills thanks to expert club fitting, smart apps and gadgets, there’s a perk for every player.
Just as new personalized technology and equipment are benefiting golfers, customized exercises can also have a dramatic impact on performance. “Golf was once considered a recreational activity for nonathletes, but that changed when we began to have good athletes on the PGA TOUR like Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka, all of whom are in good shape and work out,” says Craig Allan, Golf Performance Center manager and master club fitter at Sea Island. “That helped golf become more accepted as a sport, and golfers are now doing golf-specific workouts that are personalized to them. In the Golf Performance Center, guests can be evaluated by fitness experts like Randy Myers. He works with the person’s swing instructor, and from that holistic approach they personalize exercises for the golfer to implement swing changes while addressing any ailments or things the golfer is trying to protect, such as a bad hip, shoulder or back.
“College golfers used to have assistant football coaches telling them to run sprints and lift weights,” he continues. “That’s not the case now. From junior golf through college golf into professional ranks and across the amateur scope, workouts are being done by trainers certified by the Titleist Performance Institute. The TPI was formed years ago to take golf fitness to a higher level.”