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Golfers, know thy distance: In praise of SkyCaddie

By Jennifer Mario, Contributor

Last Christmas I gave my husband a SkyCaddie. You know, one of those nifty little golf gadgets that calculate your distance from the green at the push of a button.

SkyCaddie closeup
SkyCaddie automatically provides yardage to the center of the green.
SkyCaddie closeupSkyCaddie

Last week my husband took my $350 gift out of the box.

We took it for a test run, and after about three holes we were sold. So sold, in fact, we started fighting over it. My husband took it with him into the woods after a bad shot, and I'd already become so spoiled that I was outraged when I had to pace my distance from a marker.

Unlike its main competition, the binocular-style Bushnell Rangefinder, SkyCaddie doesn't require you to aim, point or line up any lasers; it's a GPS system. Your yardage to the center of the green appears on the LCD screen automatically. Push a button and you can get yardages to different sections of the green. Push another button and it tells you how far you hit your last shot. You don't even need a clear line of sight - you can determine your yardage on the blindest of shots.

So who's SkyCaddie (formerly known as the SkyGolf GPS or SG2) good for? I can think of a few types of golfers who would benefit.

Slow players: SkyCaddie definitely speeds up play - an average of 30 minutes per round, according to RankMark, the JD Power & Associates of American golf. No more wandering around looking for that elusive sprinkler head.

Ready golfers: See above.

Stat keepers: You'll finally know exactly how far you hit your five-iron.

Players looking for that competitive edge: It really does help to have exact distances.

Toy collectors: Yes, your friends will be jealous. The same buddy who mocks you on the first tee will be asking for his or her yardage by the second. Of course, if you prefer to keep your device on the down-low, it's easy to hide - unlike the Bushnell, you could use it an entire round and no one would be the wiser.

But the SkyCaddie isn't for everyone. Here's who shouldn't bother.

Technophobes: If you're the type who hates leaving messages on those newfangled answering-machine things, leave the SkyCaddie on the shelf. While it's not as complicated as, say, adding new tunes to your iPod, activating it and downloading golf course info do require a certain amount of technological savvy.

Residents of sparsely populated areas: At this writing SkyCaddie covers almost 10,000 U.S. "SkyCourses" and a few thousand overseas as well. I live in North Carolina, so I don't have to worry too much - my home state boasts 370 such tracks.

But my friends in South Dakota, for instance, aren't so lucky. You do have the option of programming your course yourself, but that takes a little bit of time and some extra savvy.

Golfers on a budget: A lot of golfers don't have $350 to use on a toy like this, and many who do would prefer to spend it on a new 460cc driver (or two).

Mac users: Apple aficionados, you've been jobbed again. You can download course info from a PC - and only a PC - via a serial or USB port. Yeah, I know. But no one ever said life was fair.

Even if you're not one of the above, I'd leave the SkyCaddie at home when you play a new course for the first time. I'm nobody's old-schooler, but I do think you should get to know a course with your own eyes before you start relying on machinery.

Beyond that, my complaints are few. SkyCaddie may weigh only 4.8 ounces, but anyone used to today's sleek credit-card-sized cell phones and MP3 players will find it a tad bulky. It comes with a handy belt clip, but personally I think a bag strap is the best place to keep it, lest it interfere with your swing.

Also, while SkyCaddie connects to a PC via a USB port, guess what? It only comes with a serial-port cable. If your computer doesn't have an available serial port - and many do not - you have to buy a serial-to-USB adapter. Annoying.

I can hear the purists' squawks from here: "Distance-measuring devices are illegal!"

Relax, Bessie. They've changed the rules.

Effective Jan. 1, 2006, the R& and the USGA decided that distance-measuring devices, including GPS-based systems, are okay in competition, if local rules allow. I should emphasize that local-rules bit - check with an official before entering a tournament (and with your golf buddies if there's cash money on the line).

Many golf courses rent SkyCaddies in their pro shops. That might be a good way to get your feet wet if you're not sure you're ready to commit. Try one on the course a few times and see what you think.

One word of warning, should you choose to take the plunge: You might have to share.

For more information or to search for SkyCaddie-enabled golf courses in your area, check out www.skygolfgps.com.

Jennifer MarioJennifer Mario, Contributor

Jennifer Mario is a regular contributor to the TravelGolf Network and the author of "Michelle Wie: The Making of a Champion" (St. Martin's Griffin, 2006). A graduate of Duke University, she lives in the Triangle area of North Carolina with her family.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • SkyCaddie

    GolfNomad wrote on: Dec 27, 2006

    I read your article but one thing I have to disagree with was leaving it at home when you encounter a new course. This is precisely the most absolute reason to get one. Why add to not only not knowing the course but it's yardages. Sky Caddie offers 4 models now and I got the newer SG3..which is extremely small..comparable to the latest cell phone..it's like 4 X 1.5 inches..you can easily wear this on your belt..


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