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Garmin Approach S1 Watch

With the Approach S1, Garmin has leveraged their background in making watches and combined it with their golf GPS expertise. But whether Garmin will be able to win over consumers where others have failed (some will recall the Finnish Suunto G9) remains to be seen.

The Approach S1 covers just the basics: distances to the near, middle and far points on the green relative to the player’s position, all available at the twist of the wrist. The Approach S1 lacks hazard distances, course images, and any ability to track stats or record scores. It can, however, measure shot distances, and provides basic watch functionality.

As with its big siblings the Garmin Approach G3 and Approach G5, the S1 comes with over 16,500 preloaded courses in North America. While it doesn’t require an annual subscription, at $250 retail, the Garmin Approach S1 approaches and even surpasses the cost of a number of full-featured golf GPS devices with color screens and statistics capability. While it may seem like an incremental difference from devices clipped to your bag or belt, we were truly surprised by how much more convenient it is to have the GPS information right on your wrist.

SCORE
91
GRADE
A-
Setup/Syncing
97
Course Availability
99
Ease of Use
98
Course Details
70
Features
80
Accuracy
92
Cost/Value
92
Pros:

  • Access to information with a twist of the wrist
  • Excellent course coverage
  • No fees to access course database

Cons:

  • Distance information limited to near, center and far points on the green
  • Battery life on the short side…for a watch. Just don’t forget to recharge after every couple of rounds!
  • Finicky charging clip

Retail price: $179.99
Three year total cost: $179.99
Availability: Discontinued. Replaced by the Garmin Approach S3 watch
Amazon.com: Check price now
Golfsmith: Check price now
The retail price was reduced from its original $249.99 with the introduction of the Garmin Approach S2


97 / A+

SETUP/SYNCING

The Good: The Garmin Approach S1 merely requires charging the included rechargeable battery before hitting the course. This is done through a cable that is clipped to the device, as opposed to using a more common USB or mini-USB plug. With courses pre-loaded, no downloads are necessary to get started.

The Bad: Users are limited to downloading maps for one region only (either the United States or Canada “and the Coastal US” for our North American device). The charging clip can be extremely finicky, so before walking away, make absolutely sure you actually see the battery charge symbol on the screen when you attach the clip, and make sure that it continues to appears on the screen. More than once we thought we had hooked up the charging clip properly (it feels like it is clipped in fine), only to return hours later to find that the S1 wasn’t charging. And if you happen to lose the clip, remember you’re locked in to re-purchasing the proprietary Garmin cable, as opposed to grabbing a generic mini-USB cable as you can with other GPS devices. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for a mini-USB plug in the next revision.

Details:

  • Required Steps. The user only needs to confirm the battery is charged in order to get started. For future course updates, users will need to download an application (“WebUpdater”) from Garmin’s web site.
  • Time Required for Setup. Charging the battery takes around 3 hours, and the Approach S1 will indicate a full charge on its screen when it’s ready to go (it won’t provide the percent charged during the process, however).

What’s in the Box: The Garmin Approach S1 comes with:

  • Cable (USB-to-charging clip)
  • Power Adapter
  • Owner’s Manual

Required Downloads:

  • WebUpdater (for future course updates). While an update using the WebUpdater software isn’t required before hitting the course, players will want to periodically check for additional course updates using the software. When the Garmin Approach S1 is connected to the computer via the USB-to-clip cable, the WebUpdater will automatically recognize the device, look for updated software and/or course information and sync it to the device. We checked for an update prior to our initial use and found one available. The process went extremely smoothly, and the S1 had the updated software within minutes. Well done!


99 / A+

COURSE AVAILABILITY

Critical Golf Test: The Garmin Approach S1 benefits from leveraging Garmin’s existing course database. The course coverage is excellent, although we’ve come to expect that from devices that offer only basic distance information.

Manufacturer’s Claims: Garmin claims to have 16,600 courses in the United States in its database, which currently places the Approach S1 about average in our course coverage comparison test for the region. Like the other devices in the Approach series, however, the Garmin Approach S1 is a region-specific device (we purchased the North American version, a Canadian version is also available). So if you are looking use the same device in the US and on the Old Course, you’ll want to look elsewhere.


98 / A+

EASE OF USE

The Good: Garmin has created a very easy to use device – something that other companies often fail to achieve even with devices with similarly limited feature sets. Garmin has made it simple to access and navigate menus, depress buttons, and manually move through holes if necessary. And most importantly, the information you are seeking is available with a simple twist of the wrist. The Approach S1’s performance doesn’t suffer due to its small size – the S1 acquires satellites and updates distance just as quickly as the other golf GPS devices we’ve tested.

The Bad: Not quite as comfortable as a standard watch due to its thickness, but easily tolerable through the course of a round. There is no way to access the rechargeable battery – it is not accessible to owners (without attempting to remove the case).

Garmin Approach S1 Golf GPS Watch - Course Selection

Details:

  • Buttons. The Garmin Approach S1 has four buttons: a backlight/power button, up and down buttons for scrolling through menus/holes, and an OK/menu button for selecting options and accessing the menu.
  • Screen. The black and white screen is easy to view under both cloudy and sunny skies. The screen viewing area is 1 square inch, not surprisingly making it the one of the smallest golf GPS screens available. There is a backlight available for the screen, which will remain on for approximately 8 seconds after activation. There is no ability to modify the default time the screen remains backlit.
  • Form Factor. Wonder Twin powers activate! Form of….a watch! The device has a smooth black rubber exterior, and weighs in at a mere 1.8 ounces, making it the lightest device in our test. It’s slightly thicker than an average watch, and though it didn’t cause any issues during our swing, it’s occasionally noticeable such as when digging deep into your pockets for more tees. The watch-style design provides the great advantage of quick access to distance readings – there are no delays while you remove a device from a carrying case or your pocket before each shot, or worries about whether it’s going to come unclipped from your push cart. The rubber exterior of the body and wrist strap appears well-made and durable, and the wrist strap can be adjusted in small increments to insure the appropriate fit.
  • Starting a Round. From the time view (hey, it IS a watch), users start a round through accessing the menu, and then selecting the desired course from a scrollable list (surprisingly, the watch displays enough text to easily identify the course). Ten courses are listed in order of proximity to current location. Once a course is selected, the device will default to the hole closest to your position – handy for a back nine or shotgun start.
  • Battery Life. Battery life is relatively short when the GPS functionality is running continuously – we have found in the range of 6 to 8 hours. The device will go into Power Save mode after a certain period of inactivity, after which the time and date are displayed, but not GPS information. Pressing the OK button will restart the GPS. The S1 never went into Power Save mode during our testing, and we weren’t able to complete two rounds without needing to recharge the Approach S1. If the device is used simply as a watch it will run for an estimated 3 weeks.

For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of golf GPS device features.


70 / C-

COURSE DETAIL AND MAPPING

The Good: The Garmin Approach S1 only provides three distances for each hole. However, unlike the relatively simple IZZO SWAMI and Bushnell neo+, the Approach S1 provides distances to near, center and far points on the green relative to the player’s position, as opposed to fixed front, center and back green points, a feature we much appreciate.

The Bad: The Approach S1 only provides mapping of the near, center and far points on the green. Nothing more. While there are players that only care about this limited information, some of our editors would prefer to have hazard information available, particularly when playing new or unfamiliar courses.

Yardage Display

Details:

  • Views. The Garmin Approach S1 provides a primary “hole view,” which displays distance information for each hole, and secondary screens with distance measurement and time.
    • Hole view – This screen displays the hole number, par, and distances to the near and far (in slightly smaller text at the top and bottom of the screen) points and center of the green (the largest text in the middle of the screen). All of which is simple to read at a glance.
    • Measurement view – Shows only the measurement of either a particular shot or the total distance walked, depending on what is selected from the menu button. Users can toggle between these views and the Hole view while continuing to measure distances. Neither shot distances nor total distance walked are saved for later viewing or analysis.
    • Time view – Uh, it shows the time of day. It is a watch, after all! The S1 shows the time (hours, minutes, seconds, and AM/PM) and the date (month and day). The S1 also has the ability to set an alarm – useful to ensure that you don’t lose track of time at the 19th hole.
  • Hole Information. The hole number and par (indicated by the number of “dots” shown on screen) are always visible on the “hole view” screen. Hole handicap is not available.
  • Custom Mapping. Users cannot add custom points to the course maps, nor can they modify any existing map data.

Suggestion Box: We wonder whether it would be possible to add hazard information to the Garmin Approach S1, though with such limited screen space this might be a challenge. Perhaps users could scroll through screens where hazard distances are available (much like scrolling through golf courses)? Something to consider…


80 / B-

FEATURES

The Good: The Garmin Approach S1 is a very basic device. The intention isn’t to provide a barrage of features in a watch ala Inspector Gadget, but rather the bare bones. It is waterproof, and though not intended to be used while swimming, can withstand immersion in 1 meter of water for 30 minutes. So go ahead and reach into that nasty blue-dyed pond…there are golf balls in there free for the takin’! Ooooh, is that a Pro V1 next to that turtle? While doing this, however, take a moment to consider what “reclaimed water” is.

The Bad: With this level of simplicity, there may be features that you wish were available, such as scoring. Didn’t the Finnish Suunto G9 offer more? Then again, using a failed device as a measuring stick probably isn’t the best idea.

Details:

  • Shot Tracking. The S1 can measure the distance of a shot, though this data cannot be saved. There is also a built-in odometer, so with some basic conversion (how many calories do we burn per mile when carrying our bag anyways?), you can figure out if you gained or lost weight net of the hot dog and fries you devoured at the turn.
  • Score and Statistics. We will keep this short and sweet: not available.
  • Auto-advance. The Garmin Approach S1 will automatically transition when you move to the next hole – users do not have an option to disable this feature. You can, however, return to previous holes (or advance) if you, for example, slice your ball onto the tee box of the next hole (and the watches advances to the next hole). Not that we have ever done that. We are just saying that we heard about someone who is an editor of an unbiased golf equipment review site who slices a lot and tested this watch, and was able to easily return to the correct hole through the intuitive S1 buttons.
  • Course Storage. Though small and light, users won’t suffer from limited course availability. With storage for all courses in the Garmin database available on the S1, you don’t have to worry about remembering to load the appropriate course before heading off to play.
  • Preferences. The Garmin Approach S1 has a limited set of adjustable preferences: measurement unit (yards vs. meters), language, tones. And as a watch, users can of course modify time and time format (though there is also the option to have the time automatically set by the watch as it acquires satellites).

Suggestion Box: Even with the relatively small screen size, adding the ability to track your score would be a nice plus.

For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of golf GPS device features.


92 / A-

ACCURACY

Our tests found the Garmin Approach S1 to be as accurate as other dedicated golf GPS devices, consistently providing readings within 3-5 yards of the actual distance. We have only experienced one case where a distance was more than 4 yards off from a marked sprinkler head, and that was by 7 yards. Stacked head to head against the Garmin Approach G3 and G5, yardages varied only up to 4 yards.

The distances to the near and far green points drop off the screen when the player is within 30 yards. The distance to the center of the green continues to be shown throughout the hole, however, which gave us confidence in the accuracy of the readings.


92 / A-

COST/VALUE

Retail Price: Garmin has reduced the Garmin Approach S1 retail price to $179.99 with the introduction of the Garmin Approach S2, and now is one of the less expensive golf GPS watches on the market and cost competitive across all devices.

Fees for Access to Course Database: As with the rest of the Approach series, the Approach S1 does not charge fees for access their course database.

Three-Year Total Cost of Ownership: With no cost for access to the course database, the three-year total cost of ownership for the Garmin Approach S1 is a reasonable $179.99. This makes the Approach S1 one of the lowest priced golf GPS devices over three years, and about average for devices providing limited distance information.

Value: The Garmin Approach S1 is one of the least expensive golf GPS devices. It doesn’t feature full color screens with hole maps nor does it have distances to hazards, but the convenience of having basic green distance information right on your wrist can’t be beat. As testers of a ridiculous number of GPS devices, we’re pretty tough customers, but the simplicity and ease of use of the S1 has won us over.


AJAX Parkridge

The AJAX Parkridge golf cart is a rare find indeed. If you don’t value your time and spend weekends driving from garage sale to garage sale, you may just be rewarded with a low-cost (or no-cost) option that is a combination golf bag and golf cart all in one. Oh yes…with a dedicated slot for each club, a pouch for your gutta-perchas, a slot for your scorecard, and solid tires, the AJAX Parkridge is well ahead of its time.

It’s a durable cart that, for some, can provide a very appealing value. Indeed, this may be the last cart you ever need to purchase. For us, however, the lack of reasonable amounts of storage space, poor on-course handling, and dated styling combine to drop the Parkridge to the bottom of our rankings. Maybe the AJAX Parkridge is for you, but it’s just not for us (if it is for you, please contact us to arrange a transaction – we’re willing to deal!).

SCORE
68
GRADE
F
Size/Weight
87
Ease of Set-Up
93
On Course Impressions
54
Storage/Accessories
63
Style
32
Value
75

Retail price: negotiated at garage sale

Pros:

  • It was cheap!
  • Combination of cart and bag
  • Includes a seat if you get weary on the course

Cons:

  • Creaky handling
  • No brakes
  • Apparently they don’t make it anymore

87 / B+

SIZE/WEIGHT

At a svelte 15 pounds, the Parkridge competes with even the lightest bag and cart combinations on the market. It’s trademarked handle design and lightweight wheel rims keep the weight down and the pleasure up. Additional weight from nesting spiders add little to the overall (see images under ‘On Course Impressions’, below), and do not create rolling resistance or cause any out-of-balance issues when pulling. Handling issues are native to the cart itself.

The AJAX Parkridge doesn’t fold into as small a package as some of the competition (unfolded measures 19″d x 19.5″w x 46.5″h, and collapses to a height of 31.5″), but given that it is a bag as well, the Parkridge can easily be slipped, clubs and all, into the trunk of your Thunderbird. Due to rough external bolts on the cart, we do not recommend transporting the Parkridge on your supple leather seats.


93 / A-

EASE OF SET-UP

The AJAX Parkridge is the most simple of all carts to set up, taking a mere three steps. Players need only pull the foldable handle in place and swivel two rusted clamps into position to lock down the handle. If desired, its just one more quick pull to get the seat to slide away from the cart so you can take a load off during play. Folding the cart for transportation is as easy as unfolding (for some reason there isn’t a clamp to lock down the handle when folded, but hey, that saves a step!). Exceptional!


54 / F

ON COURSE IMPRESSIONS

We found the AJAX Parkridge to be lacking on the course – the handling isn’t as tight as competitive carts, and there is no ability to make adjustments to suit a particular player.

AJAX Parkridge Golf Cart

Click for images
  • The tires are solid (hey, no flats!) and will stand the test of time while not creating any burdensome resistance. As there are two wheels (with support for the seat at the front of the cart), the cart will be better off being pulled than pushed.
  • The handle unfortunately cannot be adjusted, but rather abides by the “one-size-fits-all” motto. The long arms that make up the handle flex more than we wanted, and the handle is not integrated into the body of the cart well enough to provide any more than mediocre handling at best. The top of the handle does have a rubber “grip” to provide a soft surface from which to pull the cart.
  • The narrow wheelbase creates a less stable cart on hills, so keep this in mind when tackling the steepest slopes.
  • The rims use heavy-duty nuts and bolts to hold the tires in place. Much better than some of the competition’s cheap plastic pieces.

This cart came with clubs included for us (an even rarer find), and we quickly found that the balance of the cart requires that irons be put heads-down into each of the slots. If you choose to go clubheads up, as in standard bags, you are guaranteed to spend a lot of time picking your clubs up off the course when the Parkridge tips over.

Lastly, the stitching tolerances are not as tight as they should be, and the result is some of the irons are too large to fit into the clubhead slots. Trial and error will allow you to remember what best fits where. Oh, and given that the irons go in heads-down, you will want to put big stickers on the butt of your irons with the club number on each (see image at right).


63 / F

STORAGE/ACCESSORIES

The storage and accessories available on the AJAX Parkridge include:

AJAX Parkridge Golf Cart

Click for images
  • An extendable seat to take a break while on course. The seat can be left in the down position for the duration of the round, if desired, and will not interfere with the use of the cart during play. The seat may not accommodate the most “healthy” of Americans.
  • One zippered pocket to store balls and Reddy Tees. As the seat is located on the front of the bag and pivots away from the bag at the level of the pocket, access to the front pocket is far more limited compared to standard golf cart/bag configurations. The pocket zipper on occasions get snagged against the pleather, but for the most part it does not require attention.
  • A perforated slot for your scorecard (we are assuming the perforation is to save valuable ounces)
  • 10 slots, for irons and a putter.
  • 4 dedicated tubes to handle woods or irons; by pushing their shafts into the frame of the bag, you can get each shaft to be held snugly in place by a plastic clip.
  • At the back of the cart is a pocket that can carry other (relatively flat) belongings. If you flatten things a bit, you will be able to fit a jacket and a sandwich.

We are disappointed that the Parkridge lacks some of the features that are common in the competition, including brakes (though with only two wheels, they aren’t needed), water bottle holder, umbrella stand, and easily accessible handle-mounted storage space.


32 / F

STYLE

AJAX Parkridge

Click for images

While your grandparents may find the AJAX Parkridge appealing, we found the overall design and light-pea green pleather combined with white stitching to look like something out of the 50s. It is unclear if the cart comes in alternate colors.

The upside is, however, you are sure to be the talk of the clubhouse.


75 / C

VALUE

The price of the AJAX Parkridge ranges from $0 to whatever your local garage sale commands.

If cost is your only concern, assuming you can find one of these beauties, the Parkridge is a great alternative. Players that value usability and style, however, will likely want to look elsewhere.


Club Glove Last Bag

The Club Glove Last Bag is reasonably lightweight and fits a standard golf bag and clubs with a fair amount of extra room for shoes, clothing, extra golf balls and whatever else you’d like to cram inside. It’s a good-looking bag, easy to roll and maneuver, and durable enough to hold up to the abuse inherent within airline travel.

The Last Bag is advertised by Club Glove as the travel golf bag used by more professionals on the PGA, Champions and LPGA Tours than any other. It is also the travel golf bag used used by more Critical Golf editorial staff members than any other. Need we say more?


SCORE
93
GRADE
A
Design/Construction
95
Travel Impressions
91
Value
91
Retail price: $289
Amazon.com price: Check price now
Golfsmith price: Check price now


95 / A

DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION

The Club Glove is made of Cordura, an extremely durable fabric, and is, hold on to your hats, made in the United States!

In addition to the tough Cordura exterior, the Last Bag features a wheelbase made of high-impact plastic, which protects both the base of the bag and the lower portion of the back of the Last Bag, and houses two in-line skate wheels (with bearings, no less).

The design of the Last Bag includes:

  • 1 strap on the inside of the case to secure the packed golf bag,
  • 3 restraining straps with buckles on the outside to provide support, including one around the clubheads, one around the center of the bag, and one at the base of the bag,
  • durable plastic clips on the outside of the bag for the included (removable) shoulder strap,
  • 2 inline stake wheels that, when combined with the base and heavy construction, make the bag easy to move,
  • 3 handles, two of which are located in the middle of the bag that snap together, and one at the base of the bag to assist when lifting and moving the bag,
  • thick padding around the top of the bag to provide additional protection around the clubheads, and
  • a choice of 16 colors to distinguish yourself when traveling (go ahead – feel free to pick out a wacky color – Mocha with Pink webbing isn’t for us, but knock yourself out!).

The buckles, zippers and rivets are all made of heavy-duty materials and perform well over time. We have yet to find another soft cover bag that compares in overall quality of construction and durability to the Club Glove Last Bag. No, it’s not cut-proof, but it is as close as you can find in a soft cover golf travel bag.

While the Last Bag has all the basics the typical golfer would want in a travel bag, Club Glove also offers the Last Bag XXL, which is geared toward Tour professionals who require a larger bag for travel (and presumably don’t care about the extra fee for bags that weigh more than 50 pounds). The Last Bag XXL features the same construction as the Last Bag and costs about $30 more. We believe that the vast majority of travelers will be happy with the “standard-sized” Last Bag. And given the numbers of players that we see at the airport with these bags, make sure to make use of the external business card slot so nobody walks away with your bag accidentally!

Lastly (no pun intended), if you are concerned about the unlikely possibility of club breakage (which the company notes occurs 1 to 2 times a year across all Tour Professionals), the Club Glove Stiff Arm is available to add vertical strength to the bag. So if you just dropped a smooth $5,000 on eBay for a Scotty Cameron GSS Putter, you just might want to spring for this extra support.


91 / A-

TRAVEL IMPRESSIONS

Traveling with the Club Glove Last Bag is a breeze. The Last Bag weighs 10.5 pounds and accommodates clubs up to 47 inches in length. The high-impact plastic at the base and around the back of the bag provides a solid structure for the bag, allowing for the bag to be easily rolled through airports and slid in and out of vehicles (soft bags with no structure are more difficult to wheel around, because they keel over at every opportunity). The bag can be grabbed and lifted by the handles at the top and center of the bag. Because it’s a soft bag, the Club Glove Last Bag also provides a fair amount of “give” when you’re trying to fit everything into your trunk, and it folds up into a moderate size for tucking away into a closet when not in use. Compare this to the various hard-shell golf cases which don’t provide that kind of flexibility.

The Club Glove Last Bag has two external shoe pockets and comes with two shoe bags. If you’re only bringing one pair of shoes, you obviously have the option of using the second pocket for other belongings (such as golf balls…unless you are traveling through Edinburgh, where golf balls mysteriously disappear from travel golf bags on a regular basis). There are no locks built into the zippers of the bag, so those looking to further secure their valuables will need to purchase TSA-compliant locks separately.

Since there are no pockets on the inside of the bag, we usually toss in clothes in loosely or in a small packed bag. The Last Bag provides a healthy amount of padding at the neck of the bag, so you don’t need to worry about wrapping the top of your clubs to provide for additional protection.

Just a quick travel tip – given the ample space within the bag, it’s easy to quickly increase the total weight of the bag and gear above 50 pounds. If your bag weighs more than 50 pounds, the airlines will hit you up for a hefty excess weight fee ranging from $60-$175 each way (as if they don’t charge enough already…except for you, sweet sweet Southwest “Bags Fly Free” Airlines). It’s never a bad idea to make sure you have extra room in your carry-on just in case they weigh you in at more than 50 pounds and you need to offload some items. And yes, we have learned this from experience. Some travelers we know who shall remain nameless recommend that if you are going to exceed the 50 pound barrier by a reasonable margin, you should consider curbside check-in for your golf travel bag and wave a tip during the process, which can reduce the likelihood of your bag being weighed.


91 / A-

COST/VALUE

At $289, the Last Bag isn’t the least expensive golf travel bag on the market, but we think that it’s worth every penny. Some of our more “frugal” reviewers have tried cheaper bags in the past, before realizing the error of their ways and stepping up to the Last Bag.

The Last Bag comes with a limited lifetime warranty, covering defects in material and workmanship during “normal travel use”. Club Glove also now offers a $59 upgrade to an “unconditional” 5-year warranty. This unconditional (or “NQA” for “No Questions Asked”) warranty is offered by Club Glove to cover any damage that occurs to the bag. Keep in mind, however, that the Club Glove warranties just cover damage to the bag, and not the precious clubs inside.

There are a lot of soft bags on the market that are available for a lot less (yes, you can find ones on Amazon that are available for under $50), but if you travel to play golf on a regular basis, the purchase of a Last Bag is an investment you should make. In the long run, it’s a small price to pay for this level of construction and durability. Take it from us – in the world of soft-cover golf travel bags, there is the Club Glove Last Bag…and everyone else.

Retail price: $289
Amazon.com price: Check price now
Golfsmith price: Check price now


SKB Deluxe

SCORE
91
GRADE
A-
Design/Construction
95
Travel Impressions
87
Value
93

The 2SKB-4814W, aka the SKB ATA Deluxe Golf Travel Case, comes from a company still operated by the same group that started the business 30 years ago. Unlike many travel golf bag manufacturers, SKB doesn’t specialize in golf cases, but rather offers a wide range of hard travel cases to suit most any need. Are you in the market for a case for your archery bow? They’ve got it. A waterproof pistol/optics utility case? Not a problem. What about a case for your Roland V-Piano? They can do that too.

SKB has leveraged its experience across this broad range of applications to build a line of trustworthy golf travel cases. And it’s not just the rugged nature of the case itself that lets purchasers rest easy – it’s also the warranty. The SKB Deluxe Case is warranted against defects in materials and craftsmanship for the lifetime of the product. That’s not bad, but we can find that from other manufacturers. What really sets SKB apart is the $1,500 Content Coverage Warranty. That’s right, their warranty is something no other case manufacturer in the industry offers: SKB will pay up to $1,500 to cover the cost to repair or replace any equipment damaged by the airlines while the clubs are secured in the case. You simply can’t beat that!

Retail price: $259.99
Amazon.com price: Check price now


95 / A

DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION

Made in North America, the SKB Deluxe Golf Case is made of ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene that is made to ATA 300 Category I specifications. What does this mean in English? It means that SKB cases are made of the same plastic specified by the U.S. military for containers, and the case meets the highest standard for the Air Transport Association. It’s this type of solid construction that allows SKB to offer the warranty that it does.

Aside from the hard exterior, the SKB case includes 1/2″ thick padding around the top 14″ on the interior of the case to cushion the clubheads. There is no interior strap to secure the golf bag, but given the tight fit inside the case, there is little room for movement.

SKB Deluxe Golf Travel Case

Click image to enlarge

The design of the SKB Deluxe includes:

  • 3 industrial strength latches to secure the case -the middle latch has a TSA approved lock (2 keys are included) to allow airport security to inspect the contents (as they always seem to do with golf bags) and then re-lock the latches,
  • a tow handle at the top of the case for use in pulling the case through the airport,
  • a lift handle in the center of the case, and
  • 2 inline skate wheels.

If you were hoping to express your individuality through buying a golf travel bag with a racy color, you will have to look elsewhere – the SKB Deluxe only comes in black.

Those looking for additional space in a hard case should consider the slightly larger 2SKB-1649W (this product is also marketed as the SKB ATA Deluxe Travel Case, so check that you’ve selected the correct number when purchasing), with slightly larger dimensions.


87 / B+

TRAVEL IMPRESSIONS

The inside dimensions are 48″ x 14″ (thus the model name 4814), and the sculpted case accommodates the majority of today’s golf bags and clubs up to approximately (you guessed it) 48″ in length.

Golf travel hard cases are generally easy to maneuver through airports, and the SKB Deluxe Case is no exception. The tow handle at the top of the bag allows for easy pulling, the center handle helps in lifting the case in and out of cars, and the flat base enables standing the bag up while waiting in brutally long check-in lines. The down side of hard cases is that unlike with soft bags, there isn’t any ability to squish the case to make it fit in tighter quarters. So when you’re renting a car, opt for one with more trunk space.

Also note that the “Deluxe” in the name references its durability, quality of material and tight seal – the SKB doesn’t come with any additional bells and whistles such as additional straps, or additional storage space inside the bag for clothing or extra equipment. The silver lining, we suppose, of not having room for additional equipment is that you are unlikely to go over the airlines’ 50 pound weight limit (after that, they tack on a hefty surcharge). The case itself weighs in at 15 pounds.


93 / A-

COST/VALUE

Hard cases range in price from under $100 to nearly $300, and most come with latches to secure the case and a hard plastic exterior. At $259.99, the SKB Deluxe Travel Case is at the upper end of the pricing spectrum, but provides substantial value through its top notch quality, including more substantial latches with a lock, a tight seal, and excellent workmanship. On top of that, the benefit of $1,500 in club coverage makes the SKB Deluxe case tough to beat. In the end, most travelers have a clear affinity for either soft travel bags or hard cases. If you are in the hard case camp, and don’t need additional room in the case to pack more stuff, look no further than the SKB Deluxe Golf Travel Case.

Retail price: $259.99
Amazon.com price: Check price now


Callaway Performance Center

I’ve had fittings at retail golf stores in the past, but my experience at the Callaway Performance Center was my first directly with a manufacturer. The fitting session took place at Callaway Golf Company Headquarters in Carlsbad, California, one of 15 Performance Centers in the United States and six locations overseas.

Prior to My Visit
Visiting a Callaway Performance Center is as easy as a call to the Center in your area to book an appointment. For those without a Performance Center nearby, Callaway also has custom fitting locations at retailers nationwide. The number of visitors to the center varies by season, but with a bit of advance notice, Callaway can readily accommodate guests for the one hour and 15 minute sessions. The session cost is $150, a portion of which can be credited toward a club purchase (more on this later). Callaway recommended wearing comfortable golf attire and bringing my driver and 6-iron, which are the two clubs they use to fit a set. Visitors aren’t required to bring their clubs, but Callaway recommends that you do so in order to compare your equipment to the fitted Callaway clubs (and I recommend it as well). If you’re concerned whether you are “good enough” to have a fitting session, know that it’s not just for PGA tour pros – the majority of visitors to the center have a handicap ranging from the mid single-digits well into the 20s.

Arriving at Headquarters
I was met by my fitter for the session, Marc, in the lobby of Callaway Headquarters. Marc, one of four “Club Specialists” at the Center, led me down a corridor featuring images of Callaway-sponsored Tour Professionals and past an Iron Byron to their Performance Center. As we walked through the Center waiting area and upstairs to our fitting room for the morning (one of two dedicated fitting rooms in Carlsbad), Marc provided an overview of the brains of the center – “CPAS” (for Callaway Performance Analysis System), a proprietary system that originated in the R&D department at Callaway. This system collects a variety of impact information and is the same one that Callaway uses for fitting Tour Professionals, so visitors can expect a level of performance and data accuracy far beyond local retail systems. The only difference in environment and system used for fitting Tour Professionals versus average Joes like us is that Tour Professionals hit off of grass at a Callaway range, as opposed to the artificial turf mats in the indoor center.

Review of Callaway Performance Center View 1

Click image for CPC photos

Inside the Center
Upon entering the fitting room, you can’t help but be struck by an image of the view from the 18th tee box at Pebble Beach against the target wall. The other three walls are taken up by a dizzying array of irons and woods. In the center of the room is a turf mat with a monitor alongside, and there is one wall-mounted camera recording a side-view of the swing for review and reference, and two high-speed cameras mounted on the ceiling trained on the area of impact. The high-speed cameras capture 2 frames prior to impact, and up to an amazing 5 frames after – enough data to provide extremely accurate information on both the club and projected ball flight. Due to the complexity of the CPAS system, it is only available at Callaway Performance Centers (local Callaway retailers have portable Callaway Fitting Systems available).

Let the Testing Begin!
As I laced my shoes we started with a discussion of my game – current index, weaknesses and strengths, and goals. One of the keys to having a successful session is to be honest, and to listen to the fitting specialist and their recommendations. If you are the type of person who thinks you already know what is best for your game (you know who you are – to the delight of your doctor you also self-diagnose your illnesses using WebMD), then this type of fitting session is not likely to be a good use of anyone’s time.

Marc placed small circular reflective stickers on the top of my 6-iron to allow the cameras to capture club position during the swing. He then showed me where to place the ball so the high-speed cameras would be triggered starting just prior to impact. Lines are drawn on each axis of the ball to help the camera capture and determine the spin rate.

Marc stood behind a very well-branded “control center” (props to the Callaway Marketing team) where he could monitor the session. His views were mirrored on the screens I could see, and displayed:

  • a side view of my swing,
  • a view at impact of a ghostly clubhead and ball, along with data calculated by CPAS, including (get ready…): head speed and ball speed; attack, path and launch angles; back spin, side angle and side spin rates; and
  • their “Virtual Test Center,” which captures the launch conditions and then simulates ball flight. It also displays shot carry distance, total yards, and height of the shot, in addition to displaying the CPAS information.

I took a bit of time to warm up with my 6-iron (that’s odd, normally I hit so well on the range), while Marc set up the system for my session. Once I was warmed up, Marc started recording each shot, and removing those he deemed complete mis-hits (no really, I’m much better than this). It is a bit intimidating being “on stage” with your swing for all to see, with camera bulbs flashing at impact. Just relax as much as you can and remember that their goal is just to fit the right clubs, not to render judgement! Hit as many shanks as you like – as Marc noted, they’ve seen it all before.

Callaway Performance Analysis System

Click image for monitor images

Analyzing My Swing
Once Marc had a grouping of shots from my 6-iron, we reviewed the data collected. His goal was to get me into a targeted range for each piece of data based on Tour Pros and computer simulation (and I’m guessing Iron Byron down the hall). Marc walked me through the information and areas where they would be able to help – in my case, among other things, I had both too much back spin and side spin on the ball. All the while Marc was very engaged, tailoring his explanation of the data collected to a level at which I was comfortable and providing positive reinforcement.

He selected a Diablo Forged 6-iron for me to try, and as I rotated through several shafts we could see the spin rates on the ball vary widely (a surprise to me, not to Marc). He then paired the head with a Dynamic Gold S300 shaft, one of the standard shaft offerings from Callaway, and a 1 up lie (trusty impact tape helped assist with this recommendation). For those worried that the computer makes all the decisions, the head, shaft, lie and length of club were still based on my feedback as well as his judgment. They aren’t going to fit you to a club if you don’t like the “feel” of it, and even if the specs say one thing, there can always be some tweaking. For example, I was measured to a club +1/2″ in length, but based upon my swings Marc decided to stay with a standard length club. With the recommended Callaway clubhead and shaft the spin rates moved within his target range, and projected ball flight became both more accurate (of course, I am speaking in a relative sense) and gained slightly over a half-club in distance. Why didn’t I come here long ago?

The process with the driver was generally similar, the exception being that I needed to hit the selected Callaway FT-iZ quite a bit more to get accurate readings. The high-speed cameras had no trouble keeping up with my swing speed, but weren’t able to deal as well with the reflections off the shiny flat surface on the top of the FT-iZ clubhead. What are the odds that Callaway R&D can convince the product team to put design matte surfaces on future drivers?

While a fitting session isn’t meant to be a lesson, Marc pointed out that my angle of attack with the driver was descending (believe me, that isn’t the only issue with my game off the tee), and that without a shift to my swing path, a fit driver wouldn’t have as great of an impact as the irons. I tried modifying my swing slightly to get a “positive” angle of attack during this portion of the session, but this of course is something that is best handled later by a local teaching professional. Marc paired the FT-iZ head with an FT-iZ Tour Aldila Voodoo stiff graphite shaft, though he also discussed the option of using the FT Tour if I preferred a “look” that is closer to my current driver.

All Good Things Must Come to an End
And just like that, my session had flown by. In contrast to fittings offered by some other manufacturers, the Callaway Performance Center fitting doesn’t include a dedicated outdoor range to test the recommended clubs, and there isn’t time to walk through any more clubs in the set other than the driver and 6-iron. Keep in mind, however, that those other fitting experiences come at a significantly higher price tag.

We went back downstairs to the waiting area, where another guest was getting ready for their fitting. I relaxed on a comfortable leather couch surrounded by Callaway equipment as Marc quickly pulled together the summary of the recommended club specifications.

For those concerned about being pressured into the purchase of a condo or a set of ginsu knives at the end of the session – don’t be. As Marc walked me through the spec sheet he explained that the specialist’s role is to provide the best experience to the player, and that they aren’t salespeople. For players who decide to purchase clubs, $100 is deducted from the total cost if the clubs are purchased at the Performance Center or afterwards by phone. If clubs are purchased through an authorized retailer at a later time, the player will receive a $100 gift card for use at the Callaway online store. Given that the fitting includes a dozen balls and a cap or towel, with a purchase of clubs you are talking about a wash in terms of total cost.

No wedges were included in the club specifications recommendation – wedges are more difficult for Callaway to fit since the session takes place indoors on mats, although the fitter can make a wedge recommendation if requested. Callaway’s Performance Center also has a very small putting area in the waiting area where a visitor can be fit to their putter with adjustable lie and loft. And while any putter fitting lacks the data that CPAS captures for your 6 iron and driver, the specialist can can assist with recommendations. You are probably wondering, as we are, if visitors could just take the information and purchase clubs from a different manufacturer. Of course you can, but given that the fitting is for specific clubheads, and pairs the qualities of those clubheads with a selected shaft, it makes far more sense to purchase Callaway clubs if you have a Callaway fitting.

As part of the fitting I received a dozen Tour i(z) balls, which Marc recommended for use with my current clubs, and also a suggestion to switch to the Tour i(s) if I move to the Callaway set. Included in the fitting also is the choice of a Callaway cap or towel (being follicly-challenged, I went with the cap) and an engraved bag tag.

Overview
The experience overall was very positive. The staff was extremely professional and courteous, and the session was fun as well as informative – both about their technology and clubs as well as my swing. Marc was just the kind of fitting specialist you want to work with: energetic, friendly, knowledgeable (with over 6 years and 5,000 fittings of experience), and a good listener.

It’s a straightforward process that takes relatively little time and is a great way to get many of the same fitting benefits as Tour pros at an extremely reasonable cost. I recommend a visit to a Callaway Performance Center for any level of player considering a purchase of new clubs.

Contact information (tell ’em you saw them on Critical Golf):
Callaway Performance Center – Carlsbad
2180 Rutherford Road
Carlsbad, CA 92008
1-888-223-7842

For more locations, please see Callaway’s detailed listing of Callaway Performance Centers in the U.S. and overseas. “Corporate” and ‘Retail” Center Locations share a similar setup and use the same technology, the only difference being that the “Corporate” locations are staffed by Callaway employees and “Retail” Performance Centers are non-Callaway employees that have undergone extensive training from Callaway. If there isn’t a Performance Center in your area, Callaway also has Callaway Custom Fitting Locations across the United States.


Top 10 Golf Quotes

We’ve assembled a few of the best golf quotes ever (we limited ourselves to one from Caddyshack)…Feel free to add your favorites!

1. The Simpsons
[Homer is in a bunker]
Mr. Burns: For God’s sake, man, use an open-faced club…the sand wedge.
Homer: Mmmmm… open-faced club sandwich.

2. Caddyshack
Judge Smails: Ty, what did you shoot today?
Ty Webb: Oh Judge, I don’t keep score.
Judge Smails: Then how do you measure yourself with other golfers?
Ty Webb: By height.

3. Tin Cup
Roy McAvoy: Sex and golf are the two things you can enjoy even if you’re not good at them.

4. Happy Gilmore
Happy Gilmore: [to his golf ball] You little son of a b**** ball! Why you don’t you just go HOME? That’s your HOME! Are you too good for your HOME? ANSWER ME! SUCK MY WHITE A**, BALL!

5. Tiger Woods
Hockey is a sport for white men. Basketball is a sport for black men. Golf is a sport for white men dressed like black pimps.

6. Jack Nicklaus
The older you get the stronger the wind gets and it’s always in your face.

7. Lee Trevino
If you are caught on a golf course during a storm and are afraid of lightning, hold up a 1-iron. Not even God can hit a 1-iron.

8. Chi Chi Rodriguez
I read the greens in Spanish, but putt in English.

9. Gary Player
If there’s a golf course in heaven, I hope it’s like Augusta National. I just don’t want an early tee time.

10. Phil Mickelson
I am such an idiot.

Build Your Own Home Golf Studio (on a $50,000 Budget)

All too many garages sit unused, collecting a barrage of items that you haven’t used in years (yes, including the treadmill you bought after you put on a few extra lbs in the 90s), covered with dust and spiderwebs.

The good news is we consider this to be an easily fixable problem. The solution, of course, is to get rid of all that crap via freecycle, and build your very own custom residential golf swing analysis center. You’ll be the envy of the neighborhood!

Now go find your checkbook and make sure you have enough in your bank account to send your children to college. We will need to immediately drain these funds.

The shopping list:

  1. The basics: to get up and running, order a TrueStrike golf mat with all the trimmings ($800) and a hitting cage with net ($500) to be able to start swinging before all the other goodies arrive.
  2. The hardware: for the power you’ll want to invest in a nice desktop computer (we always prefer a Mac) with a minimum 500GB drive and enough ports for all of your cameras. To be safe, let’s get the latest Mac Pro from Apple and pair it with a lovely LED display. You’ll also need Parallels Desktop for Mac and a copy of Windows to run the swing analysis software. $6,000.
  3. Cameras: to capture all the action, train a minimum of 3 cameras on your buttery swing. Since you’re flush with cash don’t hassle with repositioning these cameras for putting analysis, but instead bring the tab to about $3,000 by ordering up two more cameras to dedicate to your putting stoke. 3 large should cover the cost of lens purchases as well.
  4. The brains: teaching professionals use it, and we think you’ll do just fine by it as well – order up one of the most popular golf swing analysis packages available, the V1 Pro 2010. As there will be a minimum of three cameras to capture your full swing plus another two for your putting stroke, you’re going to need to pony up $7,000 for the Eight Camera License. But hey, with 3 years of their Pro Advantage service included, you’ll get full access to Tour player swing models filmed at 300 frames per second.
  5. Lights: no makeup is necessary, but you are still going to want some decent lighting. Crack open the piggy bank and grab another $1,500 for a set of DP studio lights.
  6. Showing it off: whomever is controlling the software will have a nice display on which to break down your swing, but we bet you are going to want at least two televisions – one for each of the full swing area and also the putting area. Let’s not get crazy here…some 52″ Sony’s will be fine, and only set you back another $4,000.
  7. Just like on TV: unless you live on a serious amount of land and can open your garage to hit into a field and watch your actual ball flight, you will love digging deep into your pockets for a TrackMan Home Studio. Just as seen on golf tournaments, the TrackMan measures ball launch and club movement, calculates the length, dispersion and trajectory of each shot, and then displays a graphic representation of ball flight. Awesome. And it starts at only $16,600.
  8. Get balanced: you’ve come this far with your spending, so no reason not to be a good American by ruining your credit and putting yourself deeper into debt. By going all out and dropping another $7,000, you can distance yourself from the competing home golf studios on your block with a Dynamic Balance System (DBS) to help improve your stability.
  9. Odds and ends: while you’ve ordered all the main components, don’t forget all the little things. Allocate at least another $500 or so for cables and camera mounts.
  10. Last but not least is the small matter of construction of a wet bar in your garage, and any hourly fees to provide for a bartender or waitress. We leave this spending to your discretion as well as any investment in the couches that you wish to provide for a seating area (did someone say “Corinthian leather”?).

And please…don’t forget to invite us over when it’s complete!

Built a home golf studio before? Send us your pictures to share with the community in a future blog post!

Christmas Holiday Stocking Stuffers for the Golfer

With the holidays just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking of some gifts for the golfer in your life (well, or ourselves). What better place to warm-up our holiday shopping than with some Christmas stocking stuffers? One of the great things about these gifts is that they are (relatively) inexpensive, and every player can use them.

Scotty Cameron Holiday Headcover

Click image to enlarge
  • Golf Tees. Something players will always need, regardless of ability. Tees aren’t just plain white wood ones anymore – check out the latest tees from Evolve (their epoch low-friction tees have 127 wins on tour), Zero Friction (the Lock N Drive comes with an adjustable stopper to get just the right tee height every time), and Pride Golf (wood tees with color coded bands on identify the length and how far to inert into the ground) . Prices range from $4 – $8 for a pack of 50.
  • Gloves. Another item that all players go through regularly. We are partial to the FootJoy WeatherSof and, when the weather gets nasty, the Zero Restriction Rainleather glove. $10 – $13.
  • Towels. Keep your equipment clean and dry with Frogger Amphibian’s Golf Ball Towel or their larger Club Towel (available in black, blue or red). $10 – $30.
  • Divot Repair Tool. Everyone should fix their ball marks on the green, and why not do it in style? Flashy divot tools include those from Scotty Cameron, which even come in their own branded tin box. Smooth! $10.
  • Impact Tape. For the Vijay in your life that spends the day at the range, you can’t beat the instant feedback of impact tape for woods and irons. These pieces of tape quickly stick on and peel off, and show the player the spot of impact to help diagnose their swings (now you can more easily blame your clubs…see? You should have purchased with a lie 1 degree up!). $20.
  • Energy Necklaces and Wristbands. We don’t play with them, but there sure are a number of players that do. Trion:Z wearers include the likes Rickey Fowler, Rory McIlroy and Ryo Ishikawa. $18 – $22.
  • Grips. Most players won’t splurge on a nice grips, but why not help them step it up with some ultra-soft grips like the Winn DSI AVS V17? Keep in mind that players don’t have to be do-it-yourselfers, they can take the grips to the nearest golf shop and have them put them on at reasonable cost. $6 – $8 each.
  • Favorite Golf Ball. We admit it…we lose balls each and every round we play. If the golfer in your life shares this trait with us, we have no doubt they will always enjoy receiving some of their favorite golf balls. Just in case you are really feeling in the holiday spirit, our preference is for Titleist Pro V1s. Hey, they even come with free personalization! $40.
  • Golf Books. Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book provides technical information as well as anecdotes from one of the most respected teachers ever, in a stocking-friendly size. $10.
  • Holiday Headcover. Tough they can be difficult to track down (your best bet is probably eBay), a Scotty Cameron Holiday Headcover is a great gift for the collector or serious Cameron enthusiast. You can’t go wrong with one of these fun works of art. $35 and up.

Happy holidays, everyone!