A Tale of Two Demo Days

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Your ball speed was140 mile per hour.
 
Apparently we have entered the age of the talking launch monitor.
 
Launch angle10 degrees.
 
Behind me, just down the tee line at a recent Orlando-area demo day, a robotic voice tinged withwell, it could only be sympathetic politeness announced the swing parameters of a hapless amateur.
 
It was a standard launch monitor, displaying on a screen under the nearby Nike tent the usual yardsticks of club performance: clubhead speed, initial ball velocity, backspin and launch angle. But this one was the first I had ever heard withwell, ever heard, period.
 
I couldnt resist the implied challenge.
 
When the current victim was finished (the announcements had only made him try harder, which of course diminished his clubhead speed, sapped initial velocity, clobbered his launch angle and backspun him into oblivion), I stepped up.
 
Your ball speed was134 miles per hour.
 
Well, thats about right. My clubhead speed was about 90 mph, and ball speed is usually about one and a half times clu '
 
You need to commit to the swing.
 
I looked at the boxy machine. Did it just gokinda all human on me?
 
And how about tennis?
 
Now look here, I sputtered.
 
Just kidding. [meep] Excuse me. I am resetting myself. You must commit to the shot.
 
I looked around to see if anyone would see me addressing a gray plastic box on the ground. Then, in a half-whisper:
 
Really?
 
Sure. Youre really not that bad. Dont read the discussion boards.
 
O.K., maybe that last part was a daydream. But the talking launch monitor was the real thing, and it put me in mind of how this so-ancient game continues to reinvent itself, always stretching away from its past ' but never breaking away.
 
Take the demo day. Its a relatively recent invention, a practice range demonstration of one or many manufacturers wares, out there in bags, just waiting for the most effective test: Your swing. Time was, and it wasnt so long ago, when fitting was just something for tour pros and every club purchase was a risk. It worked for Joe in your foursome last Saturday, so it should work for you, right? Every golfer over 30 remembers the pit-of-the-stomach disappointment when the same club felt like a broken tool in your hands. Returns? Forget it.
 
Now that theyre big ticket items and competition is so fierce, the marketers have their way: You get to try clubs before you buy, and so it should always be. You may even run into a talking launch monitor along the way. Talking or not, demo days are getting launch monitors, hybrid clubs, the latest drivers, fitting technology and more to consumers ' and in the end, theyll be happier golfers for it. Time spent searching manufacturer websites for demo days is well spent ' so is going and hitting the gear.
 
What you find when you get there improves every year. From composite-and-metal combinations to moveable screws to light density metals, some of the best engineers in sports are working with the weight budget in ways we couldnt have imagined just a few years ago.
 
Case in point: Cleveland Golf is shipping its new GC4 game improvement iron June 1. This cavity back club is made of a lighter density metal, which Cleveland says will improve feel for any kind of player. (It also allows designers to drop the center of gravity even lower and push it back, which of course helps get the ball airborne.) The material is called carbon metal matrix steel, which has 17 times more carbon in it than the kind of steel often used for iron heads ' and much of this carbon shows up in the head as about 20 million tiny nodules, which absorb much of the vibration of impact, Cleveland says. (The company uses a similar material in its CG10 wedges.) Cleveland is after a soft but solid feel with this club, and claims CMM Steel is to titanium what titanium was to stainless steel drivers.
 
The CG4 is just one of many innovations coming down the premium pike, proof that although rounds played are essentially flat year to year over the last half decade, golfs big designers are trying to be ready for an upsurge - -all while keeping the current avid player interested.
 
Modernity reigns.
 
Or does it govern by consent? In all the years I have covered golf equipment, I have never gotten tired of watching golf minds innovate, create, work around, and solve. The eternal puzzle, though, never goes away. Two puzzles actually: getting the ball to and in hole, and enjoying the effort.
 
But as exciting as modern technology can be, the history of golf equipment is never far away. That might explain why I get such a kick out of playing hickory clubs. The set I ordered arrived in the mail the other day, and I rushed over to my club, went up to the forward tees, and went low-tech. Well, 70-year-old tech. Those who have read my rhapsodies about hickories will understand why I enjoy this kind of golf. It feels like another game, but one you know ' a bonus game, the charm of Old Timers Day at the ballpark whenever you want.
 
I wont bore you with tales of my birdie the first time out (niblick, 26-footer, draino), but I will tell you about another demo day I saw recently.
 
Peggy Kirk Bell, the smiling octogenarian hostess at the fabled Pine Needles Resort in Southern Pines, N.C., had a cold the other day when we were shooting a Whats In The Bag? episode there with local LPGA star Donna Andrews. But Ms. Bell wouldnt think of letting us off the property without saying hello.
 
Now heres someone who actually played with hickories for money for part of her career. She remembers Glenna Collett Vare on a first-name basis (she played on the two Curtis Cup teams Vare captained). She is still tall, upright, unassuming, friendly ' in short, a delight, and we were all quite taken with her insistence on coming by, despite being under the weather.
 
Course is coming along, isnt it? she said as we surveyed the right-to-left slope of the stunning 18th fairway at Pine Needles. These ridges ' can you see them? ' thats the direction of the washout. We had such a wet spring. But well aerify a bit more, and that will smooth out nicely.
 
It was already fine golf turf, but Ms. Bell is a perfectionist about her Donald Ross gem. And she is in love with it, and golf, after all these years, balls, shots and technology under the bridge.
 
After the days shooting, I returned to my room to clean up for dinner. My veranda overlooked the practice range. And there in the gathering twilight was an older woman in a golf cart, driving across the range from target to target, flag to flag, with a little Corgi dog running ahead. I recognized her immediately: it was Ms. Bell. Evidently a cold has no chance against this woman.
 
She would from time to time get out, wedge in hand, and start hitting long, low shots into the targets ' over and over, as long as the light lasted, always one more shot, one more try, the fluidity of love and habit gracing every swing.
 
After awhile, she whistled loudly enough to be heard in Raleigh, and the little dog jumped up on the cart, and off they went.
 
I liked that demo day too.
 
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