NEW YORK, N.Y. -- Ted VanCleave had an ominous introduction to the game of golf.
At the age of 15, he had never touched a club. But his father insisted on the two enjoying a round at the local country club in rural Indiana, where he recently had become a member.
Aside from a few lessons VanCleave's father had taken, their combined golf IQ was in the single digits. At one point in the round, his father launched a massive drive from the tee box, the kind that makes you feel as if you are leaving your shoes. The kind that, upon contact, you feel is going to be the best drive in the history of golf.
The only problem - and this is the common letdown among amateur hackers as soon as the ball leaves the face of the club - was that shot was not exactly following a straight trajectory, and instead was veering dangerously close to a few prominent businessmen. Although the unaware bystanders avoided harm, not everyone emerged unscathed.
"It was hilarious to me," VanCleave said. "There they were, crouching behind their golf bags, trying to shield themselves from the club's latest member's bad drive. Dad didn't think it was so funny, and it was years before he asked me to play with him again."
Given that our perceptions are so guided by first impressions, it is safe to say that someone who nearly witnessed fatalities and potentially messy lawsuits the first time they emerged on the golf course may not think to kindly of the game.
But for VanCleave, that is simply not the case. Instead, the experience seems to have given him a humorous outlook. That light-hearted vision, combined with an obsession for the absurd, has led to the creation of Golf's Goofiest Gadgets, a new Web site dedicated to the strangest and most laughable patented golf inventions.
His journey into the depths of golf absurdity began innocently enough while doing research for his book and subsequent Web site, "Totally Absurd Inventions: America's Goofiest Patents." VanCleave continually ran across inventions related to golf. He found that trend puzzling.
"After thinking about it for a while I came to the conclusion that golf is the sport of the people," VanCleave said. "It's played by young and old, men and women, fit and not so fit and the rules are the same all around the world.
"That's why there are so many so many golf inventions. Because your every day Joe, hanging out and having fun on the greens, has time to reflect on ways to improve his game by coming up with cool new golf inventions."
VanCleave said he has collected more than 100 ideas and gadgets for the young Web site, and consistently is adding one a week. Although clearly attached to all of the inventions, he was able to select a few of the more absurd of the bunch.
Never have two sports been morphed into a sillier contraption. At first glance, this gadget is just a regular putter. But it is in fact so much more. Along the shaft of the putter, near the bottom of the grip is a fishing reel intended to retrieve golf balls while practicing a little putting, or even to dip into the lake on the course during those unbearable bottlenecks.
There is not a golfer out there that has not been stuck on the course, at the absolute farthest point from the clubhouse, when it starts to rain. And the most common reaction is to leap for the trusty umbrella, huddle into the golf cart and search out the nearest tree or bathroom.
But what about the lightning that is sure to follow? Well, this invention seems to have the riddle solved. A collection of electrically conductive ribbons hang to the ground from either your golf cart or umbrella, and are designed to direct the dangerous electricity to the ground. Convinced? Didn't think so, and neither is VanCleave.
"The idea that some flimsy metallic ribbons will protect you from lightning on the golf course just doesn't get my vote of confidence," he said.
Just like something out of "Caddyshack," this driver puts the biggest, Big Bertha to shame. The face of the club is hollowed out to fit a loaded charge. After "loading" the club, you close the trap door and get ready to fire away. The explosion is triggered when the ball makes contact with the club's sweetspot, which means, of course, that even this absurd invention is not for just any weekend hacker.
Yet another invention that has turned the standard, age-old putter into something quite strange. Designed for those who enjoy golf, but just aren't that adept at actually swinging the stick.
The slingshot is built onto the top of the putter. Drop a ball into the loading bay and fire away from the tee box. Then you just repeat and repeat until the ranger kicks you off the course or until you reach the green, at which point the putter becomes a putter once again.
That is until someone discovers a way to update and enhance it, before running off to the patent office.
January 27, 2003
We all love golf course rankings, but there's quite a bias involved, huh? Host a major championship and you're basically guaranteed a spot on the list. What about the average duffer who's more impressed with the beer list than the slope/rating - or prefers friendliness over the fine, imported lotion in the locker room? Where's our list, hackers? Answer: Right here.
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