WSJ: Golf's Digital Divide

PT-AB968_cover__20060407151200.jpgWarning: more biased anti-technology agenda stuff from that cess pool of liberal anti-corporate journalism.

That's right, Reed Albergotti in the Wall Street Journal(.com) analyzes whether $50,000 simulators and $4,500 sensor vests "are driving a wedge between haves and have-nots."

Golf already has an elitist reputation, but a new generation of expensive high-tech tools is stoking a costly arms race among players looking for an edge. Pricey golf simulators can now be rigged to play matches over the Internet, while an increasing number of weekend duffers are investing in $3,000 "launch monitors" that use infrared beams to measure a ball's angle, speed and backspin. At the renowned David Leadbetter Golf Academy near Orlando, two-day courses in a new biometrics lab, where sensors attached to various muscles detect swing flaws, will cost $7,500 -- compared with the $3,000 tab for three days of old-fashioned instruction. And gearing up for tournaments from this weekend's Masters in Augusta, Ga., to the U.S. Amateur Championship, players are turning to laptop computers and digital video cameras to help hone their swings.

The result is a widening digital divide that's drawing new lines in the golf world. Traditional equipment makers are squaring off against upstart high-tech companies that hail from the world of Hollywood special effects. Courses are split on whether to take the high-tech route to woo new golfers or hew to more time-honored ways. And golfers who say the sport is founded on basics like practice and focus worry that turning golf into a kind of rocket science could ruin it.
All of this poses some risk for an industry that has seen little growth in recent years: The number of golfers has stayed at about 28 million since 2001, according to the National Golf Foundation, a trade group. With more complicated tools flooding the market, newcomers may wind up feeling that the sport takes too much time to master even before they get on a course.
But industry experts say much of this stuff tends to help experienced duffers far more than beginners. While overall spending on training and equipment hit $2.6 billion last year, up 73% from 1994, according to the National Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association, a trade group, average scores and handicaps have remained fairly flat over the last decade. "A better club will help Tiger Woods more than it helps me," says Marty Parks, a spokesman for the U.S. Golf Association.