SkyCaddie takes to the ground

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ORLANDO, Fla. ' By day, Mark Long is a caddie for Fred Funk, his former golf coach at the University of Maryland. He also authors many of the yardage books that players and caddies use on the PGA Tour, including the U.S. Open yardage book. Oh, and he just happens to be a consultant for SkyGolf, walking many of the courses that the rangefinder company ground maps yearly ' more than 22,000 courses worldwide. Long developed the curriculum used to train all SkyCaddie mappers.
 
As a professional Tour caddie, Longs job is to walk every yard of the course prior to each tournament, getting accurate yardages and targets for Funk and helping formulate a plan for how Funk will attack the course come Thursday. He maps the course for Funk, which is exactly what SkyGolf does to provide the images and yardages youll find on its four GPS handheld rangefinders ' the SkyCaddie SG5, SG3.5, SG2.5 and SG2.5 Lite.
 
A team of individuals walks each course, just as the caddies do on Mondays and Tuesdays of a tournament week, mapping each course from the ground and providing the critical information that you see on each SkyCaddie, including all of those bunkers and hazards you are trying to avoid. Its essentially putting a caddie in your hand.

What differentiates SkyCaddie from other GPS systems is that we have a lot better chance of getting you to the right place, because were looking at what is in front of you, said Long. A lot of the aerial maps are 2 or 3 years old, and the targets have either changed or gone away. Plus, you cant see terrain from a satellite photo.

The advantages to ground-mapping a course versus satellite-mapping it, or using a laser-finder, are several. As Long pointed out, its much easier to see terrain and slopes from the ground than from 20,000 miles up in space. Also, you dont need a clear line of sight to get an accurate distance reading, whereas with a laser-finder, if youre obstructed by some trees or you have a blind approach, you cant get an accurate yardage.

Whatever you cant hit with the laser, you cant get, said Long.
 
Explaining the technology behind ground-mapping is difficult. Essentially, one of SkyGolfs people walks the golf course with this astronaut-like backpack device which sends his or her exact position of latitude and longitude up to a satellite, which returns a signal to SkyCaddie which is fed into a very large database. A team of 60 individuals mapped 7,000 courses across the U.S. in 2008. Each course takes approximately five hours to ground map, whereas satellite mapping takes approximately one hour.

Ground maps are a tremendous asset to have, said Richard Stamper, president and COO of SkyGolf. It enables us to do things in the future that other companies cant do.

By far the coolest feature with the SkyCaddie is its Intelligreen technology which automatically rotates the shape of the green to match your angle of approach. The SkyCaddie calculates your distance to the front, center and back of the green as well as any point in between, using the dimpled toggle device on the bottom of the handheld receiver. You can toggle to the exact pin location on the green and it will give you the yardage.

A new feature, Intelligreen Pro, shows contours and tiers on the green and will provide the exact distance to each, as well as the depth of each tier, by moving the cursor to the contours line of the screen.

Some other highlights to the SkyCaddie include a ball mark feature which allows you to see how far you hit every shot; automatically displayed hazards, such as bunkers, and the distance to clear them; and a birds eye view of each hole to help you with strategy. Each SkyCaddie displays up to 40 targets per hole. If, for example, you happen to be playing the eighth hole at Pebble Beach Golf Links, the SkyCaddie will tell you to aim at the gold house in the distance from off the tee. This is extremely helpful because from the tee on No. 8, you cant see much of the fairway or the large seaside cliff which looms about 220 yards away.

The intoduction of this technology gives the golfer what it needs most, and thats accurate readings on the course, said Stamper.

The SG5 is the highest-priced model, at $399. Its the only one of the four with a color display. The SG3.5 ($299), SG2.5 ($259) and SG2.5 Lite ($199) all employ a high-resolution gray-scale screen.
 
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