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  • Alistair Tait

This will help your golf – honestly!

The elderly couple spent 20 minutes trying to convince me their revolutionary new invention was going to take the golf world by storm. It would knock strokes off handicaps after just one practice session.

They were so earnest I didn’t have the heart to burst their bubble.

Same with the golf professional who had invented a system of instruction based around the letter T. He, too, was convinced his brainwave was the eureka moment for golf instruction.

Both were exhibitors at the PGA Merchandise Show. This annual golf equivalent of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth took place this week. Today is the last day. Unlike previous years when it was held under the big top of the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, this year’s show was a virtual one because of Covid-19.

Pity, a trip to the PGA Merchandise Show is a yearly pilgrimage for many in the golf industry. It’s when the great and the good gather to catch up, compare products, and find out what new creations might generate some buzz in the golf world.

Including the dreamers who think they’ve hit pay dirt with new inventions.

Shame the show is only open to those in the golf industry, because even slightly geeky golf aficionados would find it fascinating.

I certainly do. I’ve only attended a few times. What captivates me most is not the big companies trying to outdo each other with my merchandising stand’s bigger than yours statements, but the small-time operators convinced they have the next best golfing gizmo to take the industry by storm.

The elderly couple I met in my first trip in 2000 as editor of a short-lived title called Golf Life had invented a practice device that controlled the right elbow. The 70-something gentleman, a PGA professional of 50 years, said he’d learned that if amateurs paid particular attention to the position of the right elbow during the swing then they would knock strokes off their handicaps.

The device he and his wife had lovingly created was a tunic similar to the vest of a three-piece suit, with an elastic band attached to a short sleeve that went over the right elbow. The idea was this elastic band would pull the elbow into the body, helping the player keep the right elbow close to the chest throughout the swing.

They asked me if I wanted to try it out. I declined on the basis I thought it would be weeks before I’d get another pint to my lips if I did.

I wish I could remember why T was such an important letter for the other golf professional I bumped into. Other than the T-like contraption he'd created with plastic tubing to help with alignment and ball position, I can’t remember his other T instructions. I just know I spent 20 minutes of my life listening to him drone on that amateurs only needed to remember the letter T and everything would be fine. I think he’d not had anyone come past his stand in so long that he just started talking to me because I’d happened to walk by and glanced in his direction.

My thought at both stands was this: I hope these poor deluded creatures haven’t invested a lot money on their dreams, haven’t banked on them providing for them in their retirement.

There were other mom and pop stands on the fringes of the main show with everything in golf you could think of. Stuff I never saw make it to market: hats to kept your head steady during the swing; practice devices along the line of the elbow vest that looked like they could do you a serious injury.

There were clubs of all shapes and sizes supposedly designed to make you hit straighter, longer shots; hole more putts; improve your chipping, your bunker play. Stuff you could clip to your hat or visor to improve your concentration. It was a fascinating cornucopia of golf implements, some perhaps invented by descendants of snake-oil salesmen who plied their trade in the wild west.

They all seemed to be screaming: these products can make you play better golf. Thing is, too many times we believe such inventions actually can make us play better. All you have to do is look inside my garage…

#JustSaying: “One of Peter’s sidelines was as an inventor of things that didn’t work. He was proud of that.” Jerry Tarde on the late Peter Dobereiner

Thanks to Canadian golf writing colleague Rick Young for the use of the photo

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