Holiday Gift Guide 2020: The Best Golf Gear
Need the best holiday gifts of 2020? It is weirdly Masters time at Augusta, where Tiger Woods is defending champion, and thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19, golf enjoyed a huge participation boom this year, as those staying home and working from home flocked to the fairways for outdoors, socially distant recreation. The busiest golf season many courses can recall means it’s the perfect year for golf gifts, and I always recommend skipping clubs, which are too personalized, too fitted and just too tricky to give as gifts. That’s why I’ve rounded up the best non-club gear you can give your favorite golfer this holiday season.
It’s worth noting that two big trends accompanied golf’s COVID-inspired growth. One was a major increase in walking, since people have been eager to get exercise and skip the (often closed) gym. This led to such a surge in the sale of pushcarts or trolleys that most good ones (except below) have been sold out all year, and sales of quality carry bags also spiked. Secondly, the use of technology for accurate distance measuring has increased, in small part because many country clubs and resorts that previously offered caddies shelved the use of human assistance, and in larger part because wearable watch based GPS has gotten so much better, and lasers have also steadily improved with new features.
The Lightest Carry Bag: A lot more people are walking, and that means a lot more people are carrying golf bags, so why not lighten the load for your favorite golfer? Sun Mountain invented the now industry standard stand bag with automatic legs and has long made the best golf bags on the market – I’ve carried Sun Mountain for two decades now, and their bags are amazing. But at under three pounds the 2.5+ is also the lightest fully featured stand bag you will find, and despite its lack of heft, it is still built to Sun Mountain’s demanding standards with the company’s exceptionally durable carbon fiber legs and patented roller-bottom leg mechanism for quick, strong action. Another big trend in golf bags now is growing demand for models with individual club dividers, so Sun Mountain added the 2.5+ 14-way bag, with fourteen individual slots, the lightest divided model at under four pounds, even with handy features like an additional accessory pocket for a range finder. The 2021 2.5+ 14-way is available in four different colors ($240) and the regular 2.5+ with a standard six divided club slots comes in a whopping nine color schemes ($230).
Retro Trolley: In a case of perfect timing, upstart Walker Trolleys released its immediately popular Cape Model ($399) just as the market for golf trolleys was exploding, yet they managed to keep shipping and meeting demand throughout, and right now it is the best (and one of the only!) push carts in stock for the holiday season (though that may not last!). The Austin, Tex.as based company designed the Cape to be distinctly different from other push carts, drawing inspiration from roadsters and ultra-cool bicycles from the 20s and 30s. It has an anodized aluminum frame, waxed canvas storage, handcrafted leather handle and a clean, classic design that gives it a retro feel – it even has “whitewall” style tires. Yet the Cape utilizes modern technology – it was designed by a former high-end baby stroller engineer and has found favor among the niche of those who run the course while golfing – to fold up with one easy tug of the handle. Collapsing it is simpler than most competitors and it fits in the trunk or cargo area of almost any vehicle. It has actual inflatable tires rather than simple plastic discs on many carts, the upper and lower storage areas conveniently hold easily accessed water bottles, outerwear, rangefinder and more, and for the holidays, Walker is rolling out customizable soft good accessories, starting with a Grateful Dead tie-dye pattern and a Southern themed print featuring Bourbon, football, and Waffle House. Custom storage units ($125) be added to the Cape at checkout.
The Better Push Cart & Bag: The just introduced Sync bag from Sun Mountain, the best golf bag manufacturer, is the first ever designed specifically to be used with a push cart or trolley, which in turn have been wildly popular – and widely sold out – since the pandemic began in March. Sun Mountain’s own excellent Speed Cart GX ($250), the model I use, is currently sold out from the company online for the holidays, but some golf retailers still have stock (GlobalGolf.com, GolfDiscount.com, GolfGalaxy.com). Whether you find a Speed Cart, you buy the Walker Cape Trolley above, or your favorite golfer already has a cart – the Sync is a perfect upgrade. All pockets are forward facing for easy access and unlike conventional bags, won’t be blocked by the crat straps. In seven colors ($230).
The Golfer’s Flask: Scotland gave us Scotch whisky and golf, and the two have remained forever intertwined. Sometimes a wee nip on the course is just the thing, and the VSSL flask is the perfect solution. It is a totally waterproof, nearly indestructible but lightweight metal tube 2 inches in diameter that stores easily in the side pocket of any golf bag (or for faster access, in the cargo area of a push cart) and also fits the cupholder of a powered golf cart. What sets the VSSL aside from traditional flasks besides its very easy to clean shape (the bane of most flasks) is high-end engineering, precision manufacturing – and the fact that it holds two collapsible metal shot glass in one end compartment and a generous 9-ounces of the water of life in the other. It even has built in flashlight and compass in case you finish all nine ounces and are still wandering around the course in the dark. Kidding aside, it is actually great for any outdoor adventure, from golf to skiing to camping, with a lifetime guarantee.
Better “Hydration”: One advantage of using a push cart is that the weight of your bag no longer matters like it does when you carry, so in addition to all the supplies, extra balls, rain suit, flask, what and whatever else you want, you can carry more water – and keep it colder. Since I moved from carrying to pushing a Speed Cart, I also upgraded from a plastic water bottle to a 26 ounce YETI Rambler bottle with “Chug Cap” ($40-$45). YETI products are famously durable and well designed, and like other double walled insulated bottles it keeps cold water cold the entire round, but what differentiates it from competitors is the unique cap, the best I have found. The two-piece cap makes it easy to drink and easy to clean the bottle, usually a trade off in these vessels. The Rambler bottle comes in four sizes and eight colors, but I’ve found the 26 the perfect one for golf, the biggest that still fits in the pocket of my Sun Mountain bag. Whichever size you choose, make sure to get the chug cap.
For those golfers on your list who still like to drive a powered golf cart, consider the smallest in YETI’s Hopper line of soft sided, ultra-insulated lightweight coolers, the Hopper Flip 8. Its stiff sided construction prevents it from collapsing, and it keeps more than a six-pack (up to about 8 cans depending on size) cold all through even the longest 36-hole days. It fits perfectly in the back storage bin of a standard golf cart, with both an easy top carry handle and removable shoulder strap. The Hopper 8 is the best beer cooler for the golf course, but also works with non-alcoholic beverages, and will please your giftee in many situations, even for picking up ice cream on the way home. In three colors ($200).
Better Golf Shoes: Wrapping up our walking gifts is the perfect combination of on course comfort and off course style, the Ecco Street Retro. When Fred Couples wore the original Ecco Golf Street shoe onto Augusta at the 2010 Masters he changed golf comfort and fashion forever. Now every brand makes a knockoff of the skate park inspired look, but Ecco has a long rich history of comfort innovation in footwear, and still makes the best – and they are not hideously ugly like today’s running-shoe inspired golf footwear. The leather shoe has panache but is much more comfortable than your traditional golf shoe, with a textured sole instead of removable spikes. These are so comfy and good looking you can put them on before you leave home, drive to the course, go out to eat afterwards, all with “golf shoes” on. When you are playing, they have a full grain Napa leather upper that’s treated with the company’s Hydromax water resistant technology, plus 100 traction bars molded into the sole for grip, and a removable footbed for increased breathability. I have these Ecco Golf Street shoes in three versions and love them, but the new Retro model, with added fabric micro-suede style collar is the best looking one yet, in four color schemes ($150).
Better Rain Suit: You don’t have to be headed to Scotland to need a good rain suit, you just have to play on those days with a 20% chance and get unlucky. For years there have been a lot of excellent high-performance, very waterproof suits on the market, but in most cases, fit and style took a backseat to protection. That’s what led the founder of Galway Bay to decide to make fitted, better looking rain suits so you look good no matter what the weather, and play well with a more athletic fit that allows for natural unrestricted movement. I have a lot of top shelf rain suits from the “best” brands, but since I got one from Galway Bay, the rest have been jammed into a back closet. They live up to the company’s motto, “Just because the weather changes, doesn’t mean your swing has to.” This high-performance outerwear is 100% waterproof, but also highly stretchable and soft, expertly tailored and designed to allow for maximum breathability and flexibility without hampering your swing. But with winter coming and people trying their hardest to extend golf season, a really unique piece you might want to consider in shoulder season climate zones is the All Weather Lined Pants ($199), which couple the Hydro-Flex 32 exterior fabric with a temperature regulating interior ling that makes them cozy for play right down to the freezing mark. Galway Bay also makes vests, pullovers, short sleeve models, and unlined warmer weather jackets and pants.
TAG Heuer Connected Golf Watch: The ultimate over the top deluxe golf gift! There are a lot of GPS watches for golf but there has never been a luxury Swiss model for the same crowd that wears a nice watch off the course. This new model breaks down the boundary and couples the classic three sub-dial chronograph vintage auto racing look TAG Heuer is famous for with cutting edge technology and golf features. The retro chrono dial is virtual “analog” created digitally but it looks so good you can hardly tell off the course, and it is just one of many virtual watch face options you can pick from. From the ultra-clear OLED touch screen to the precise wrist heartrate monitor, this has every bell and whistle. More than 40,000 courses worldwide (nearly all of them) are mapped and the display of each hole on the screen is easily manipulated to show distances to hazards, actual pin positions, etc. What’s really cool and different about this watch is that because it was built to look like a classic mechanical watch, the two pushers and crown really work and provide important functions, most notably a simple way to record the distance and club used on every shot to create over time a performance library that helps with club selection and analytics. It can also be used for fitness and other sports with cycling, running and other sport specific trackers built into the app, it can display text message and emails and so on and so on. This is a full featured golf watch with lots of smart watch functions that is highly customizable, masquerading as a work of art. Even the packaging is stunning, and very gift worthy – a large, oversized box contains smaller leather cases with the watch, logo Titleist Pro-V1 balls, a custom Scotty Cameron divot tool and all the supporting materials and magnetic charger ($2,550).
Garmin Approach S62 Golf Watch: Let’s say you don’t want to spend over $2,500 on a golf watch but still want every cutting-edge feature available? The Approach S62, the newest generation model in an acclaimed line of golf watches from longtime GPS technology leader Garmin, which outfits commercial aircraft and ships, is the perfect solution. What does the S62 do? It would be easier to list what it can’t do (which is not much). It arrives pre-loaded with maps of over 41,000 golf courses and knows where you are playing as soon as you arrive. Unlike many other golf GPS devices, there is nothing you have to download in advance, and no subscription fee. It has a larger touch screen then the previous model with high res display that automatically compensates for the sun to make it readable even on the brightest days. Customizable watch faces like a smartwatch let you change the appearance so you can wear it off the course. Full-color CourseView maps display actual distance and “plays like” distance, accounting for the difference in elevation and even wind! It offers manual pin positioning that lets you drag and drop the pin to its actual location and you can also move the crosshairs for precise lay up or carry distances to any hazard or part of the hole. You can switch to hazard view and get all the layup and carry distances. It even features a compass like “pin pointer” to give you the line on blind shots and green view display for close up detail on approach. No more guessing! A big addition is the Virtual Caddie feature. It tracks every shot you hit and by entering what club (with optional sensors you can automate the club tracking) it records distance and direction and can suggest what club you need to hit and where you need to aim, based on your game and accounting for wind and elevation. The Garmin Golf App lets you analyze strengths, weaknesses and scoring in detail. You can receive emails and texts, use Garmin Pay for cashless, touchless transactions, and it has extensive fitness capabilities. The S62 measures both heartrate and pulse oxygen at your wrist, tracks steps, has an odometer, and features preloaded activity trackers for running, cycling, swimming and more. Wow ($500).
Bushnell iON 2 Golf GPS Watch: Suppose like me, you are low tech, don’t track analytics off the course, use a different device for exercise, have a nice watch for after golf, and just want to show up at the course, do nothing, and still get precise distances to the front, middle and back of each green without spending an arm and a leg. Then the iON2 is for you (I use this one). It is lighter, sleeker and more comfy than much of the competition, still comes preloaded with more than 36,000 courses worldwide (30 counties), and has better battery life than peers – enough for three rounds on a charge. It isn’t featureless by any means, and still tracks shot distance, displays hazard distances, has an odometer and step counter, but is idiot proof. Of course, if you want more detail, the app on your smartphone displays full color course maps with all the details. Give this to someone, they open the box and will be using it the next day (or same day). Done. It sells for $199 but can be found online for as little as $129 and you cannot get more bang for your buck.
Bushnell Tour V5 Shift Laser: There is still an argument to be made for laser rangefinders over (or in addition to) GPS, and there are good reasons why all the PGA Tour players use them. Laser rangefinders are more accurate, simple, not affected by weather, work on any course anytime, and can give you get exact distances to the flag, hazards, or anything you point it at. Bushnell has been the industry leader and number one on all the professional tours for so long I’ve lost count. The newest model, the Tour V5 Shift, has all of the best technology Bushnell has developed over the years: PinSeeker to make hitting the flag easier, Jolt for physical feedback when it is locked in, magnetic mounting so you can just slap the unit on the upright of a golf cart, exceptional display brightness and clarity, and “plays like” distances accounting for elevation change, a feature that can be turned off to make it legal for tournament play. It is waterproof, so rain won’t stop you, and because it uses a replaceable long-lasting battery, you never have to fret about forgetting to recharge it – an increasingly common fear with other devices. You can pair it with the Bushnell golf app to display GPS maps on your smartphone ($400).
Golfer’s Swiss Army Knife: You rarely need a knife on the golf course, but what many players do need is a cigar cutter – until now, not something found on the traditional Swiss Army Knife. But the company synonymous with the “original multi-tool,” Victorinox, offers the unique Cigar 79 Swiss Army Knife, which has a precision cigar cutter, plus 10 more implements with 15 functions, many of which can come in useful on the course, from screwdrivers to scissors – but especially bottle opener and corkscrew. This is the perfect gift for the golfer who has everything, the golfer who enjoys cigars, or the non-golfer who enjoys cigars ($52).
Cooler Clothes: Does the golfer in your life need more style? John Ashworth is the Bill Gates of the golf apparel industry, and three decades ago he reinvented the industry by combining high-performance materials with classic good looks under his eponymous Ashworth label. That was sold, and now he is back with LinkSoul, so named to bring soul and style back to an industry that has become tech fabric obsessed. In sharp contrast, LinkSoul sources the best and softest cotton fabrics to get the kind of drape synthetics can’t match, so you look good, and the result is golf lifestyle clothing that works just as well off the course. Personally, I wear my LinkSoul shirts more for general travel than playing because I like them so much I don’t want to get them dirty. Either way this is a really sharp, comfy collection of pants, shorts, shirts, and weatherproof outerwear, as well as non-golf stuff like boardshorts, tees, long sleeve button down the front shirts, and much more.