archive page October, 2011 | Critical Golf

Critical Golf: Unbiased Golf Equipment Reviews

More »

Archive for October, 2011

Nike Vapor X Carry

The Nike Vapor X weighs a bit over four pounds (as tested) and enters the Nike lineup as the lightest of their fully-featured carry bags.

The bag has six functional pockets for storage (5 zippered), enhanced water-resistant design, and a fleece-lined pocket for your valuables. There is a 5-way, 2 full-length divider system and putter-well, and in case you need some hints on where to place your accessories, there are icons for the valuables pocket, glove patch, GPS/rangefinder loop, pen-sleeve and insulated water-bottle sleeve. “Nike AIR” technology is incorporated into the S-curved shoulder straps to provide a comfortable and more ergonomic fit. The bag, while very comfortable and easy to carry, provides perhaps less storage space than those who like to really load up would want. We also weren’t fans of the legs, which don’t provide as stable a base as we like.

As far as design, with options such as Swan-Action Red or Electrolime-Neptune Blue, you shouldn’t have any trouble matching your favorite golf outfit(s).

The bag carries a steep retail price of $230, though is more commonly found for $189 or less. For those who are looking to keep their bag as light as possible, but still have a reasonable amount of functionality, this bag could fit the bill.

SCORE
88
GRADE
B+
Club Storage
93
Legs
85
Straps
93
Pockets/Storage
88
Rain Hood
93
Carrying Impressions
94
Style
93
Innovation
88
Cost/Value
82

Retail Price: $230.00 (street price of $179.00)
Amazon.com price: Check price now
Golfsmith price: Check price now


93 / A-

CLUB STORAGE

The Nike Vapor X features an 8.5″ top (which is a bit smaller than most) with a five-way divider. There are only two full-length dividers, which split the bag into three areas that are further organized via the five-way top. Overall, we felt like the design of the Vapor X provided a nice compromise on club storage, balancing the trade-off between organizational efficiency and the additional weight created by adding more dividers.


85 / B

LEGS

The legs of the Nike Vapor X swing out easily from the bag when setting down, but the legs didn’t extend as much as we wanted, often resulting in a rather unstable bag when standing on its own. This is a result of the combination of the suspension that holds the legs in place (tighter than most other bags) and the sheer length of the legs (a whopping 2.5 inches longer than the Nike Performance Carry golf bag).

The legs hold nice and snug to the bag when walking. There is an external foot at the base of the bag that activates the legs to swing out when the bag is set down. When the bag is standing upright, the foot doesn’t protrude, so it doesn’t create any issues if you’re using the bag on a riding or push cart. Elastic loops at the base are available to secure the legs down when you don’t need to use them, a nice addition.


93 / A-

STRAPS

Those familiar with Nike products won’t be surprised to see “Air” technology used on the Vapor X in the form of a revolving double-strap system, each one featuring their “Max Air” design. A revolving buckle attaches the two shoulder straps at the center of the back and is supplemented by additional padding around the buckle. This system allows for even weight distribution and comfort, and we didn’t need to worry about our clubs sliding out when walking. The straps have 4 adjustment points where they attach to the bag (there is no adjustment at the revolving buckle).

The straps are comfortable, though it’s difficult whether it is the “Air” technology that makes this possible or simply the amount of padding built-in. Whatever the source, we were fans, this a pleasant surprise for a bag that is largely focused on saving weight. The straps fit our shoulders well, benefiting from the unique curved design, which is slightly “S” shaped.


88 / B+

POCKETS/STORAGE

If you are looking for extensive storage space, the Nike Vapor X may fall short of your needs. There is room for all the basics, but if you like to really load up, you will quickly find many of the pockets at capacity (even though marketed as “stretch-fit” pockets). We would trade off a bit more storage room for a bit more overall weight.

There are five different zippered pockets:

  • a garment pocket runs along the right side of the bag, and features a mesh pocket inside of it, which we found more useful than expected, allowing for quick access to smaller sized items, such as snacks or a wallet. This large pocket will store most of your needs, but may be stretched for capacity if you’re preparing for a rainy day with a waterproof jacket and pants. There is a small fleece-lined waterproof pocket along the outside of the garment pocket, barely large enough for a wallet and a GPS unit.
  • one very small pocket and one medium-sized pocket sit on the spine of the bag. We used the smallest pocket for extra tees and balls.
  • one medium-sized pocket on the lower left side of the bag, which we would customarily use for gloves and other items. Outside of this pocket is a open insulated sleeve to keep a cold drink.
  • Not included in the pocket count is an pen/pencil sleeve, and a Velcro patch to attach your glove.

The Nike Vapor X has a straps for securing an umbrella, a metal ring at the top to attach a towel, and a flat fabric loop for clipping a GPS or laser.


93 / A-

RAIN HOOD

The Nike Vapor X rain hood easily attaches with two buttons on either side of the bag, and has with good coverage both at the top of the bag and cutouts to let the shoulder straps move freely. There is a nylon strap with Velcro at the end that loops around under the legs to further secure the hood. Overall it is slightly on the small side and can be a bit tight when accessing clubs, but overall is a very good hood and easy to attach.


94 / A

CARRYING IMPRESSIONS

The Nike Vapor X is one of the lightest bags we’ve tested. Combine that with good balance and padding, and you’ve got a bag that is a breeze to carry. Hey, maybe we’ll go 36…

  • Weight. While Nike claims the Vapor X weighs less than 4 pounds, ours tested at 4.3 pounds (4.5 pounds with the rain hood). Funny thing…we generally find you at least a quarter of a pound to the marketed weight (or even name) of a bag to get to its actual weight. The Vapor X rightly belongs in the “lightweight” category of bags – Nike, however, takes liberties and classifies the Vapor X into its “ultra-lightweight” grouping with bags like the Nike Weekend Carry (under 2 pounds). Nothing like some poetic license! In any event, the Nike Vapor X is still one of the lightest full-featured bags in our tests. Carry on!
  • Balance. The revolving buckle in the center of the back helped us always be at ease with the balance of the bag on our shoulders.
  • Padding. Even at a rather low overall weight, we were pleasantly surprised by the amount of back padding on the bag, which is ventilated to boot
  • Handles/Straps: The Vapor X doesn’t feature the handle at the top of the bag that is starting to proliferate within the industry. There is the traditional lower strap handle at the base of the bag, however.

93 / A-

STYLE

Nike Vapor X Lightweight Golf Bag

Click for more colors

The available range of Nike Vapor X designs range from subtle hues to brash combinations. We like the design – it’s nothing over-the-top, but the Nike swoosh and Max Air shoulder straps will still gain some attention.

The bag comes in 7 different marketing-inspired colors:

  • Black/University Red – Dark Grey
  • Gym Red/Swan – Action Red
  • Cool Grey/Action Green – Swan
  • Storm Blue/Electrolime – Neptune Blue
  • Safety Orange – Soar Neutral Grey
  • Granite/Electrolime – Smoke
  • Pink Flash/Deep Night – Swan

88 / B+

INNOVATION

There isn’t much new to the Nike Vapor X that we haven’t seen in other bags, and some items are lacking. It does feature the Velcro glove patch that has started to become more common, and we like that the foot used to activate the legs doesn’t protrude when the bag is set into a cart.

The marketed innovation points for Nike are the light weight, the “Max Air” revolving double strap system, and curved shoulder straps, all of which enhance the bag’s comfort on the golf course. It may be a stretch, however, for Nike to refer to it as having an “advanced hauling apparatus” (now that is marketing!).


82 / B-

COST/VALUE

$230 retail is an extremely high MSRP for a bag with fewer features than most of the carry bags we have tested. There are a number of other bags that either provide additional storage space, or are lighter with the same features. What you are getting with the Vapor X is a solid bag with the Nike name, but at a price.

We should note that while the Nike site quotes a $230 MSRP, they are selling it on their web store for $179 (and we find the bag available for less via other sites – see Amazon, for example). Even at that more attractive price, however, the Vapor X is still not a value standout.


Cool Clubs

We recently paid a visit to Cool Clubs, one of the few manufacturer-agnostic fitting centers with locations nationwide, and one of only two that focuses entirely on club fitting. Our editor visited the new 2,800 square foot Cool Clubs studio located within the Mariners Point Golf Center in Foster City, California.

Founded in 2007, Cool Clubs may be a new name new to most, but founder Mark Timms brings with him 20 years in the club fitting industry. The company is headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona, with seven United States studios located across Arizona, California, Connecticut and Texas, and one in Tokyo, Japan.

Cool Clubs offers a number of different custom club fitting packages. The options include: 1) driver, 2) long game (fairway woods, hybrids, and longest iron), 3) iron, 4) putter, and 5) wedge. The majority of clients select a full fitting package, which is priced at $375, includes fittings of all clubs in the bag, and lasts 4.5 hours. Each component fitting is also available separately – they are generally priced at $100 and last one hour with the exception of the iron fitting, which is $150 and lasts 1.5 hours. If you’re visiting Cool Clubs’ facility in Scottsdale, prices are a bit higher as all component fittings last an additional 30 minutes and use Pro V1 and Pro V1x balls for the outdoor session at TPC Scottsdale. That sure beats the hacked-up range balls I’m used to hitting! If, upon the conclusion of your fitting, you decide to order either off-the-rack or custom-built clubs through Cool Clubs, the cost will be the same as from big box retailers. Unfortunately, as with other manufacturer-agnostic fittings, you don’t receive any credit for the cost of the fitting against the purchase price of the clubs.

Clients can set up a fitting by calling or emailing Cool Clubs headquarters or contacting a local Cool Clubs studio directly. There is no specific skill level or handicap required to sign up, so don’t be intimidated. Though most clients’ handicaps are in the teens, players at most any level (as long as they are regularly making contact with the ball) can derive value from a professional club fitting. Cool Clubs didn’t ask for any information at the time of booking the appointment. I only needed to show up with my set of clubs and be ready to swing.

The Cool Clubs Studio

The Cool Clubs center we visited, located in an unassuming building at the Mariners Point Golf Center in the San Francisco Bay Area, features all the latest fitting technology spread throughout two indoor fitting rooms, a putting studio and indoor artificial turf green, and a small repair shop. There are even a pair of comfortable leather chairs to relax and enjoy whatever tournament is playing on one of their flat-screen TVs (you’ll have to head next door for beer and food, however). In addition to their indoor space, Cool Clubs also has access to the outdoor range at Mariners Point.

Cool Clubs Fitting Studio

Click for more images

One wall of their facility is filled with custom shafts, with enough variety to satisfy even the pickiest client. Likewise for club heads, where visitors will find all of the major manufacturers available. Cool Clubs also carries specific products (but not necessarily the entire manufacturer lineup) that they find to be strong performers, such as Fourteen wedges and Tour Edge woods and hybrids. If you have a particular favorite brand or club you want to test, however, it never hurts to confirm whether it is available when setting up your fitting.

The most prominent features in the dedicated fitting rooms are the projection screen displaying a graphic image of a hole, and the hitting mat in the middle of the room. Each room is equipped with a TrackMan launch monitor and equipment to measure club specifications. Along one wall is a desk with monitors and a computer from which the fitter controls the TrackMan and the proprietary Cool Clubs fitting software. The monitors display a variety of information throughout the session, including graphic representations of ball flight and shot data.

One of the nice advantages of the Mariners Point Cool Clubs facility is the ability to spend a portion of the session in a controlled indoor environment, and then move outdoors (with the TrackMan) to the grass range. Some locations, such as the headquarters in Scottsdale, allow clients to select whether they want the fitting to be indoors or outdoors in its entirety, and some permit clients to move between settings. Only two locations, Orange County and Tokyo, are held exclusively indoors. If you are interested in a wedge fitting, an outdoor fitting is recommended due to the importance of the interaction of the wedge with the turf. Putter fittings are all held indoors.

My fitting team for the day consisted of Justin, who has been working in fitting for 11 years with Mark Timms, as well as Kevin, a PGA Professional new to the Cool Clubs team. As I warmed up the team took measurements of my current clubs at a level of detail beyond any other fitting we have had to date, including the frequency, length, swing weight, and loft (as well as lie for irons and wedges) for each club. My current set consists entirely of stock clubs, and the team wasn’t surprised to see some discrepancies from what the specifications should be. Given that stock clubs are mass produced, tolerances aren’t as tight as those built at Cool Clubs, where clubs are hand-built as well as are both frequency matched and go through the SST PURE Shaft Alignment process. As they said…”custom is always better than stock”. But don’t think that custom clubs are necessarily beyond your reach – Cool Clubs works with customers to provide different club and shaft options that work within their budget.

I warmed up with my 6-iron on the mat as my fitter entered a bit more detail into my Cool Clubs system profile: basics including my handicap, the number of rounds I play per year, and measurement of the distance from my knuckle to floor. Once I was warmed up, we moved to start the session off with the driver fitting, which they prefer to do while clients are still fresh.

As alluded to before, Cool Clubs uses a TrackMan to capture ball flight and swing data, the benefit of which is that it neither requires any distracting “holes” in the mat like those utilized by infrared systems nor any cameras that flash at the time of the stroke. My target was a vertical red laser line projected on top of the graphic display of a hole the screen. Unfortunately, the laser is lined up a few feet to the right of the center line on the screen graphic due to the room setup, which was a bit distracting initially.

Cool Clubs Fitting Room

Click for more images

The Big Dog
Because my driver was a recent purchase, my fitting was focused on getting the most out of that club, rather than looking across a variety of brands for a new purchase. To compare apples to apples, during both my driver and iron fitting sessions, we used the same brand and model golf balls I normally play, the only difference being the addition of reflective dots on the covers to allow the TrackMan to better capture flight information. The Cool Clubs team can thereafter provide a ball recommendation in addition to the club fitting.

Having taken a number of swings with my adjustable-head driver, Justin and Kevin set out to first optimize (er, “fix”) the lie and loft that I had set on my own (the ball paths with my adjustments are shown by the white line in the graphic at right, below). This change in setting changed the face angle at impact and resulted in quick improvement to both accuracy and trajectory. So much for trying to determine the correct setting on my own…

Cool Clubs Driver Fitting

Club heads are just one piece of the puzzle, and finding the right shaft for your woods or irons can make a difference by further optimizing launch angle and spin rates. After taking another half dozen swings to capture launch and ball flight information with these changes, the team selected two custom shafts that they determined were appropriate for my swing speed and tempo and would enable us to achieve the goals of bringing my spin rate lower (to near or just below 3000rpm) and increasing my launch angle (to just over 11 degrees). These specific target numbers don’t necessarily apply to everyone – the Cool Clubs team uses the Trackman to determine the optimal spin and launch angles for each player.

We started by comparing my stock Diamana Kai’li 65 S shaft to the Graphite Design Tour AD DI-6. I took approximately 10 swings with each (with Kevin removing mis-hits from the data captured by the TrackMan software), and then moved to a Fujikura Motore Speeder 6.2. At this point they modified the driver setting to provide a bit more of fade-bias and recommended a slight change in ball position…ahh I’ve heard THAT before! One point to make here is that unless it is abundantly clear one shaft is a better match for your swing, you’ll want to evaluate each shaft with the same club and position changes. With each shaft my launch data moved toward our target goals in spin and launch, with distance changing little between shafts after the initial lie and loft adjustment.

Their overall driver analysis showed that my recent purchase was a very good fit (phew!), and the adjusted setting would provide overall improvement. Beyond this adjustment, their next recommendation was to move to the Fujikura shaft, but at $400 list this is something that may have to wait for an end of the year bonus (remind me to discuss that with the Critical Golf payroll department). Those who are budget conscious can be reassured that Cool Clubs works with customers to find not just the optimal shaft/head combination without consideration to cost, but also what other options are, including stock or less expensive custom shafts …much like a series of “good”, “better”, “best” performance options.

On to the Irons

We started my iron fitting with impact tape on the face of my 6-iron. I took a few swings on the lie board, and the lie tape indicated that my club was striking the board toward the toe, and that my lie should be moved up 1 degree. Kevin headed to their Mitchell digital irons machine in the corner of the room and quickly modified my 6-iron. A few more swings on the lie board confirmed that the new specs were working well, and the team then modified the lie for the other irons based off of the modified 6-iron lie angle. Prospective customers take note: one of the benefits of a Cool Clubs fitting is that even if you don’t purchase a new set, club adjustments such as lie and loft are included in the cost and can be made on the spot. So at the very least, your existing clubs can be modified to fit you better the very same day.

We then removed the lie board and I took swings off the mat with the modified 6-iron to capture ball launch and swing data. Based on my indication that I like the feel and feedback of my current steel-shafted irons (Rifle), we stayed with steel instead of trying any graphite shafts. Kevin’s observations of my swing speed, tempo and level of play gave him the information he needed to recommend the shaft most likely to fit my game – a steel KBS Tour 5.5 shaft. He then pulled three club heads to test: the Titleist AP-2, Mizuno MP-58 and TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC, and I requested we add the TaylorMade Burner 2.0 (hey, I can’t help it if those Burner 2.0 ads lure me in…). Some clients ask for their fitting to focus on one manufacturer, and Cool Clubs can certainly oblige. But with a slogan of “Play Better Golf”, their team’s goal is to get you into the optimal club head/shaft combination for your game, regardless the combination of manufacturers. Indeed, most Cool Clubs customers wind up being fit to at least three different manufacturers across a full set.

Cool Clubs Iron Fitting

We stepped through the irons using the same KBS shaft for each, taking around half a dozen swings with each club head and discarding any mis-hits as before. My launch angle and spin rates were already in their target range with my current clubs, so the focus during the testing was on feel and other areas of possible improvement. In my case, distances changed little among the four tested club heads, but the KBS shaft made a difference, improving the face angle of the club at impact and providing greater consistency and accuracy (see image at right and detailed iron fitting report, below). I preferred the feel of my current club heads to the other irons tested, even to the newer model of my current irons, and Kevin suggested keeping my current set, but simply replacing the shafts to gain performance.

To the (Artificial Turf) Green

From the hitting bays we moved into the putting studio, which features a whopping 8 cameras covering a variety of angles, including from above to see the stroke path, from above the cup to see the shaft angle and eye/shoulder position within the stance. In a putter fitting, the fitter will first measure your current putter specifications, and then capture information on standard putting results for long and short putts.

Mariners Point Putting Studio

Click for more images

Kevin manned the computer alongside the studio, which allowed him to toggle camera views and then, using V1 Software, analyze my stance and stroke. We walked through a variety of key items (the putter fitting provided more lesson elements to it than the other fittings) for body position, including:

  1. eye position over ball
  2. where my hands fall relative to my shoulder
  3. spine angle
  4. and then the club position:

  5. clubface at address
  6. club path
  7. clubface at impact

Based in large part on the information above, the team will help find the ideal face balance, head style, and putter weight. I didn’t have a full putter fitting as a part of our session, but did have the chance to briefly walk through the different elements that Cool Clubs provides.

Analyzing the Results

Based on your fitting session, Cool Clubs provides a number of ways to help improve your game:

  • Adjusting irons (and woods as possible) to new lie/loft specifications.
  • Recommending an optimal set, including club heads and shafts.
  • Recommending other combinations to meet other constraints (and yes, there are $399 shafts that you can pair with that $399 driver head if you desire). The team can recommend custom shafts at different price points, as well as the best performing stock shaft.

The Cool Clubs goal is to help improve your game – through basic modifications to lie/loft of your current clubs, new shafts or club heads, or a new stock or custom set. Cool Clubs isn’t tied to a particular manufacturer, and can easily work with what your goals and budget are.

As takeaways from the session, Cool Clubs provided me with data for both the driver fitting and iron fitting:

  • Fitting Summary. An abbreviated listing of each club/shaft combination tested, along with a variety of data for club information (speed, attack angle, path, etc.), launch (ball speed, vertical angle, spin rate, etc.), and projected landing (carry, side, etc.) and total distance.
  • Fitting Summary Trajectory. A listing of each club/shaft combination with a graphic of the projected path of each ball flight, including landing and roll-out. The TrackMan also allows for assumed wind speed, temperature, and altitude.
  • Driver Fitting Dispersion. A listing of each club/shaft combination along with a graphic of the calculated final location of each shot.

Lastly, Cool Clubs also provides a full report (note this is just a mockup of what a full client report would look like) with original club specs, new specs and pricing.

Overall Impressions

Cool Clubs is a great way to get a manufacturer-agnostic fitting in an environment that employs all of the latest fitting technology, with both indoor and/or outdoor locations. The team at Cool Clubs keeps the fitting accessible to players of all skill levels. With the support of their Scottsdale headquarters, Cool Clubs has the ability to build a customer a set and deliver it within 2 business days of receiving the club specs (assuming all components are in stock).

If you are in an area with a Cool Clubs center, or are passing near one of their locations (yet another reason to visit Scottsdale for a long weekend of golf!), we fully recommend a visit. Cool Clubs has a wide variety of clubs and shafts available for testing, experts that are focused solely on club fitting, the latest technology, and a price that is in line with other fitting centers. You’ll be able to find the right set for your swing, be it off-the-rack or one that is custom-built. So stop on in. Hey, their whole goal is to help you “Play Better Golf.”

Contact information:
Cool Clubs
Scottsdale, AZ, with additional locations in Arizona, California, Texas and Japan
http://www.coolclubs.com
United States: 888-284-9292
Japan: +81-3-3443-5337

Callaway Golf Odyssey Marxman Putting Mat

OVERALL RATING: 89. GRADE: B+. The Callaway Golf Odyssey Marxman Putting Mat combines an excellent putting surface with some unique teaching tools, such as a smaller than regulation cup and alignment and backswing markings. It is the widest of the entry-level putting mats that we tested, which, combined with the moveable cup, provides some leeway to putt at different angles.

There isn’t much to the product outside of the surface (the mat is completely flat, and there is no ball return mechanism), but the quality of the surface makes it a nice product for practicing at home or in the office.












SCORE
89
GRADE
B+
Setup
97
Teaching Value
88
Fun
84
Construction/Durability
94
Cost/Value
88

Pros:

  • Quality putting surface that unrolls flat and replicates the texture of an actual green
  • The “cup” is smaller than an actual cup, promoting greater accuracy

Cons:

  • Nothing too exciting about it – this is just a flat mat, with no ball return

Retail price: $69.99
Amazon.com price: Check price now


97/ A+

SETUP

There are only two simple steps required to set up the Callawy Golf Odyssey Marxman Putting Mat – unroll the mat, and then affix the “cup” wherever you want to place it, using the velcro on the bottom of the “cup.” We call it a “cup” because it isn’t a hole, but rather just a raised semicircle with a target (the Odyssey logo, to be more precise) painted on it. The end result of your practice should be the same, but if you crave the sweet sound of a golf ball dropping into a cup, you won’t get it here.

The mat is thick enough that it lay flat immediately upon unrolling, without requiring us to place any heavy books on it to smooth it out.


88 / B+

TEACHING VALUE

The Callaway Golf Odyssey Marxman Putting Mat markets itself as promoting better putting through:

  • Putting Cup – the “cup” is 1/4″ smaller than a regulation hole, and thus ostensibly promotes greater accuracy in the long run.
  • Alignment Markings – the mat features a straight line down the middle, which can be used to teach your eye to see when you are correctly aligned with the hole…assuming, of course, that you properly velcro the hole in line with the alignment markings!
  • Tempo Markings – there are four separate lines that are drawn perpendicular to the alignment tool. Presumably, you choose the one that matches the tempo of your swing, and practice making sure you take the putter back to that same line each time. Note that these lines are only drawn on the mat at the 7 foot marking, and not available at the 3 or 5 foot points.
  • Distance Markings – the mat indicates 3, 5 and 7 foot distances, but don’t take these measurements as the gospel. To begin with, the cup isn’t permanently affixed anywhere, so to get a true 3 foot putt, you have to pull out the measuring tape and place the cup accordingly. More importantly, however, the markings aren’t actually two feet apart from one another – it’s more of an approximation, as the distance between the 5 and 7 foot markings was about a 1/2 inch shy of two feet, and the distance between the 3 and 5 foot markings was more than 1.5 inches short of two feet. This is unlikely to make a real difference in your putting, but it did strike us as bizarre.

The Callaway Golf Odyssey Marxman Putting Mat’s teaching tools struck us as helpful, although, as noted above, each one is executed in a way that is slightly odd.


84 / B

FUN

The fun factor in the Callaway Golf Odyssey Marxman Putting Mat is relatively muted, since it’s just a basic flat mat. Without any nifty gizmos like an automatic ball return, what you’re left with is a basic surface on which you can practice your putting stroke. After having experimented with other mats that shoot the ball back to you, we’ve discovered that it’s a lot more fun to practice when you don’t have to take those few steps to retrieve the ball after every putt.


94 / A

CONSTRUCTION / DURABILITY

The Callaway Golf Odyssey Marxman Putting Mat is the best constructed product among the entry level putting mats we tested. The loom woven carpet provides a consistently smooth surface on which to roll putts. The backing of the putting surface is rubber, keeping it from skidding.

Interestingly, the graphics printed on the mat seem to be oriented toward left handers. It doesn’t really affect the way the product is used, but just struck us as odd.

Finally, the width of the mat (1’10”) results in the front part of your feet being on the mat, and the back part being off. Contrast this with the other entry level putting mats we tested, which are so narrow that the entire foot is usually off of the mat. This probably isn’t the end of the world, but it can be a bit disconcerting. The mat is 8 feet in length, which, combined with its width, makes it the largest entry level putting mat we tested.


88 / B+

COST / VALUE

The Callaway Golf Odyssey Marxman Putting Mat comes at a pricey MSRP of $69.99, but the excellent construction makes it feel like a premium product. The lack of features, however, keep it from achieving a top score in value.


EyeLine Golf Putting Laser+

The EyeLine golf laser is a simple offering, a laser that easily clips on to any putter shaft. The laser projects two perpendicular straight lines onto the ground (intended for indoor use) – one that points to the target and is perpendicular to the putter face, and the other that is along the face of the putter and is square to the target line to show the position of the putter face throughout the stroke. This allows players to get instant feedback to easily see if the putter is aligned or is moving off target.

The Putting Laser+ comes with an included case, and has an estimated battery life of approximately 1 hour, operating on 3 watch batteries (LR44).

EyeLine Putting Laser+

Click to enlarge

Retail price: $59.95
Amazon.com: Check price now






In action….


Medicus Golf Dual-Handle Putter Trainer

The Medicus Dual-Handle Putter Trainer looks and works unlike any of the other putting training aids on the market. The Medicus trainer temporarily attaches to your putter by “sitting” on the butt end of your grip, with two handles that extended to either side of your putter handle, and then the entire trainer attaches at the base of your grip. It’s a little difficult to explain, so best to look at the image.

The goal of the training aid is to train the movement of the shoulders so the putter moves back and forth in a pendulum motion, without sideways motion from the intended path. With the two handles that you grip onto with your hands, this encourages your arms to both work as one unit, with the result being keeping your ball on line every time. You can choose two ways to putt – either by moving moving your shoulders, or else by pushing with your right arm.

Medicus is currently blowing out their Dual-Handle Putter Trainer for $19.95, down from their original $69.95 (which was excessive, mind you).

Medicus Dual-Handle Putter

Retail price: $19.95(!), originally $69.95
Amazon.com: Check price now





ProActive ProCircuit Putt Return System

The ProActive ProCircuit Putt Return System is a putting mat with an electrically powered ball return. The magic of this device is its excellent ball return mechanism, which uses a diverter at the end of the ball return track to get the ball to pop back out on to the mat right where it started. Perfect for the lazy golfer who doesn’t want to reach the 12 inches to get the ball back! One thing to note about the ball return mechanism is that it requires an electrical outlet, so some advance thought on where the mat is going to be placed is recommended.

Where the ProActive ProCircuit Putt Return System fails is in the quality of the putting surface. The putting surface retained curls, folds and irregularities from being rolled up, even after we reverse rolled it and then lay heavy books across the surface for several days.

Use some caution in evaluating ProActive’s product description – while they claim that the mat is adjustable to 3, 6 or 9 feet (more accurately, the ball return track is adjustable – the mat, of course, stays the same length), our mat only measured 8 feet, 1 inch in its entirety. This isn’t much different from most mats on the market, but if you are looking at the ProActive ProCircuit exclusively because you think that it is longer than the competition, you should re-evaluate.

If just want something to putter around with in your office (or as a golf gift to someone who is going to use it as an office toy), the ProActive ProCircuit Putt Return System is a fun device, but the lack of a smooth putting surface made the ProCircuit essentially useless as a serious game improvement tool.

SCORE
81
GRADE
B-
Setup
84
Teaching Value
80
Fun
91
Construction/Durability
79
Cost/Value
78

Pros:

  • The ball return is fantastic, as the ball shoots down a track and then is steered back on to the mat right in front of you

Cons:

  • Thin putting surface wouldn’t flatten out, and can be fast or slow depending on the type of floor/carpet on which you place it
  • Ball return must be plugged in, which may limit where you can place the mat

Retail price: $69.99


84 / B

SETUP

In theory, this should be a dream to set up. The instructions provide a nice step-by-step description of how to unroll the mat, attach the backstop/putter stand to the putt return base by popping in three little plastic screws/fasteners, connect the three ball return tracks, and then plug the putt return base into a nearby electrical outlet (the cord is 6 feet long) to power the ball return mechanism.

Where the theory fails is unrolling the mat. We followed the instructions on how to smooth out the putting surface, including rolling it in the opposite direction and laying books across the entire length of the putting surface for several days. The result – the putting green still looked about as smooth as a linen shirt that was balled up wet and thrown into a laundry hamper a week ago.

As far as we can tell, there isn’t an easy solution – the putting surface is just too thin to lie flat on its own.

The remaining setup steps were not problematic, and easily accomplished without any tools or mechanical aptitude, for that matter.

At 8’1” long and 1’ wide, the ProActive ProCircuit Putt Return System was the smallest mat among the entry level mats we tested.


80 / B-

TEACHING VALUE

The ProActive ProCircuit Putt Return System excels at what its name would lead you to believe – returning the putt to you. But in terms of teaching value, the only thing that it does is encourage you to putt the ball past the hole by setting the cup on a slight incline. The other incentive for giving your putts sufficient pace is that the ball only comes back on the nifty return track if you hole the putt or reach a trough located past the hole. Hit it short, and you’ll have to walk the couple of paces on your own to get the ball back. Ah the things we’ll learn because we’re lazy!


91 / A-

FUN

There’s probably only so much fun one can actually have with a putting mat, but we’ll admit that we were hooked by the ProActive ProCircuit Putt Return System’s entertaining ball return system. As described above, the ball returns right to your feet (assuming that you are standing at about 3, 5 or 7 feet from the hole). The ball returner consistently fired the ball back, so you’re spared from the drudgery of fishing your balls back all of the time.

It’s so automatic that you could practice putting during a conference call – and who doesn’t want something to make conference calls more entertaining?


79 / C+

CONSTRUCTION / DURABILITY

As mentioned above, a problem that the ProActive ProCircuit Putt Return System shares with some of its competitors is that the material from which the putting mat is made is too thin, which results in its retention of bumps, creases and bulges from when it was rolled up into its box.

The lack of heft to the green surface meant that it tends to replicate the speed of the surface upon which it is placed. This is most problematic if you’re using it on a thick carpet, in which case it becomes like putting through heavy rough. Place it on a hard surface, and the speed increases noticeably.

The ball return track is made of thin plastic, and didn’t fit together perfectly. The imperfections didn’t affect the performance of the device, but neither did they give the impression of a high-end finished product.

A problem that the ProActive ProCircuit Putt Return System shares with many of its competitors is that the plastic frame upon which the “hole” area is built isn’t substantial enough. We’re fairly confident that accidentally stepping on it would lead to serious damage.

The backstop/putter holder that snaps on to the hole platform is also made of thin plastic, and didn’t exactly inspire confidence.

Our final complaint about the fit and finish is that the end of our mat wasn’t cut perpendicular to the direction of the putt, but rather cut at a slight diagonal.


80 / B-

COST / VALUE

At an MSRP of $69.99, the ProActive ProCircuit Putt Return System is priced in the upper band among basic putting mats. The ball return mechanism is nifty, but is counterbalanced by the poor build quality of the putting surface and the other component parts.