At first glance, the StarCaddy appeared to be the most promising golf gadget since Rodney Dangerfield's bag spit clubs into the air, played tunes and served draft beer in "Caddyshack."
A gadget that relies on global satellite positioning and golf course maps loaded into an attached handheld computer, the StarCaddy allows you to measure precise distances to a green's center from anywhere on a hole.
In my testing, I could see where it might help knock a few strokes off someone's game. But the $249 StarCaddy probably won't knock those $400 Callaway drivers, or a snazzy pair of knickers, off the top of my golf wish list.
Then again, I'm too cheap to pay for a real caddie, let alone a satellite caddie. I suppose if I were a duffer with deep pockets -- and just a modicum of tech savvy -- I'd order mine today.
The StarCaddy comes with a global positioning receiver that plugs into most PDAs, but if you have a compatible GPS receiver you can buy the software alone for $49.
Detailed course maps are currently available for about 3,000 of the roughly 17,000 golf courses in the United States, with downloads costing a pricey $20 per map.
Purists note: The United States Golf Association bans GPS systems at sanctioned tournaments like the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur championship. But it does allow rounds played with them to be included when calculating a handicap.
In my first round with a StarCaddy, I failed to get it to work properly. The receiver did its satellite positioning thing but the software wouldn't paint the "X" to denote my location on the course map.
As you play, the "X" moves as you navigate the course, even the Serengetti-type areas where my tee shots tend to land. The distance to the center of the green is given to the nearest yard.
My StarCaddy debut at the Cranbury Golf Course in New Jersey was thus a washout.
To make matters worse, I was befuddled because it appeared I had the wrong map. So I gave up and left the PocketPC in the cart. A few holes later, I discovered the problem. The front and back nine were flip-flopped, so holes 1-9 were numbered 10-18 and vice versa.
Still, the StarCaddy offers some cool features -- even without the GPS. The ruler tool lets you draw lines on the map and get exact lengths. This is a big help when planning strategy on long holes. You can find out exactly how far a distant water hazard is, or gauge the best approach to a dogleg.
You can even plan two shots at once with the "layup" tool.
The zoom feature lets you eye dangers lurking near greens, or measure hazards and widths of fairways.
The StarCaddy can also keep a foursome's running score, automatically compute handicaps and keep track of side bets -- a cheater's worst nightmare.
Since it was useful without the GPS, I allowed StarCaddy one mulligan and decided to try it again a few nights later -- after talking to tech support and rebooting so the magical "X" actually appeared.
When I appeared at the course at 9 p.m., the kid closing up the cart shack was ready to give me the boot -- until I showed him the StarCaddy. "That's phat!" he exclaimed before allowing me to wander the course in the dark.
This turned out to be a fun way to test it out.
Getting a GPS connection is easier once you are familiar with the menus and troubleshooting tips in the user's guide.
In pitch-black darkness, I used the GPS to find the first pin with no problem, then navigated through a few other holes and back to the parking lot. It proved just as useful the following Sunday when I played another round.
After my successful navigation, I reconsidered the StarCaddy: Is it worth the money? For me, one issue may tip the scales.
The folks at LinksPoint, which makes StarCaddy, say they hope to eventually set up wireless networks at finer clubs and resort courses. This means you could use the StarCaddy to order drinks or schedule a post-golf massage while still on the course.
The future surely looks bright.
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