Inventors Hit the Links

I’m not a golfer but I know that golf is one of the world’s most popular sports. According to the PGA website, there are 25 million amateur golfers in the U.S. alone. This huge multi-billion dollar industry is fertile ground for inventors seeking to cash in on golfers’ legendary passion for anything that promises to improve their game or ease their journey across the fareway. Fans of Caddy Shack will remember Rodney Dangerfield’s golf bag equipped with a wet bar, stereo and club dispenser. Professional golf associations, like the PGA, have strict rules on what technological improvements can be allowed. For example, a few years ago two physics professors at Cal Tech invented a ball that would not slice. Their design placed dimples only at the opposite ends of the ball, which greatly improved its aerodynamics. In response, the PGA prohibited balls that did not have a uniform dimple pattern on the entire surface.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I stumbled upon a show on the Golf Channel called Fore Inventors Only. The concept is similar to other invention shows such as American Inventor and Everyday Edisons. A panelist of three golf pros, Stina Sternberg, Bill Harmon and Fulton Allem, were recruited to judge hundreds of golf-related inventions. The grand prize was shelf space at Golfsmith stores for one year and $50,000 in commercial air time on the Golf Channel.

I watched several episodes of this addicting show, and actually liked it better than the other invention shows I’ve seen. For one thing, the judges were far more professional than the grand standing panel on American Inventor.

Many of the inventions were training devices for improving a golfer’s swing or stance. Some of the more bizarre ideas included an electronic caddy that offered encouragement in a grating, robot-like voice; a ball with markings that alinged with the earth’s magnetic field; and an golf ball shooting air rifle designed for people with disabilities who want to play golf but could not swing a club. The grand prize went to the inventor of the Club Caddy, an oversized clothspin that attaches to a club shaft to form a tripod that will keep the club upright.

The number of golf inventions is vast. According to esp@cenet, there are some 10,000 patents and published applications for golf clubs and another 6,000 for golf balls, not to mention more than 700 golf training devices.

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