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So are you ready to follow the sound of a beeping ball?

There are several innovative balls that lack exposure

John Gordon
National Post

Ninety-nine per cent of golfers will watch anxiously as the Tiger golf ball controversy continues this week at The Memorial.

That would be the same 99% who couldn't tell a Bald Eagle Distance from a Precept EV Lady from a TrakFlite. More about that later.

Titleist or Nike? Will it have an impact on the rest of us duffers, the ones upon whom Nike is counting to underwrite Tiger's reported US$80-million endorsement contract. Should it?


Here's some food for thought while you watch Tiger wrestle with his decision this weekend; some tales from the oddball side of the golf ball business.

The truth is most of us could use the TrakFlite Golf Ball Locating System -- a modified golf ball with a sound-emitting device. No joke; this golf ball makes a noise so you can find it in the rough or in the trees.

"The ball contains a miniature, shock-activated audio device powered by a watch battery," says the company. "When the ball is hit, the device emits a tone audible up to 50 yards. The battery is good for seven hours. Balls are designed to withstand the force of 100 shots and are recommended for use on tee shots and shots likely to result in loss."

The manufacturers emphasize that being able to track your ball audibly should speed up play. Not losing it also saves you a stroke-and-distance penalty. It would also be a boon for sight-impaired golfers, of course. It has the same playing characteristics as a standard ball, though it travels about a half-club less.

A fellow golf writer in Detroit used the testing procedure described by Louis Cashera in his book, Strictly Golf Balls. His swing speed was about 93 m.p.h., about average for an adult male. The ideal ball for him, in overall distance, was the Precept EV Lady. The ball, ostensibly designed for women, travelled an average of eight yards farther than his favourite ball, a 90-compression titanium unit from a famous manufacturer.

Then there's the Bald Eagle story.

Larry Phillips is a big guy. He might have played some college football when he was growing up in Colorado in the '50s. He certainly played some golf, and got to play it around the world during his career as a mining engineer. It was just an enjoyable pastime.

"We weren't interested in getting into the golf business," he said yesterday.

Then, a couple of years back, his friend, John Sellar, noticed that on occasion a pro golfer missed a short, flat putt for no apparent reason. After researching the problem, he decided that the putter was striking the ball obliquely, on the side of a dimple. That six-degree error was enough, he argued, to miss a three-foot putt.

This was not the yips, or nerves.

"It was the compressibility of the dimple peaks on the ball," Phillips says. "The closer you get to the hole, the softer you hit it with the putter, the more the ball turns into an incompressible solid. In effect, it's a cue ball from four feet in, and you don't see 432 dimples on a cue ball."

A par round on an 18-hole golf course allows for 36 putts. Assuming a quarter to a half of these are inside 10 feet, a scratch golfer will have between nine and 18 short putts per round. Statistically, of this number, from one to three putts will miss the hole, even if the golfer applies a perfect stroke on a perfect line.

Sellar came up with a unique design: The ball had non-dimpled areas at four spots, a flat spot at the four points of the compass. Then six original investors hired Larry Cadorniga, who holds more than 20 golf ball patents for his work with Maxfli, Titleist, Slazenger and others. The result was a ball comparable off the tee and fairway to major-brand premium products, with a proven advantage on the greens.

After several false starts, Phillips and Sellar took their Bald Eagle ball to the University of Denver for testing last year. Balls tested included two from Titleist, two from Spalding, and one each from Maxfli and Precept. On average, the other balls missed once in five tries. The Bald Eagle never missed.

Even though Iron Byron testing shows the Bald Eagle performs as well as comparable major brands, such as Bridgestone's Precept, the company is in trouble, and needs recapitalization if it is to survive.

Phillips is the lead man on the search for new money. He says his present job description is "grovelling before high net-worth individuals."

The money might flow in if there were a pro playing it. Not Tiger, by any means, but a name to give it credibility. Not just any name, and not just on any Tour.

Hollis Stacy used it on the LPGA last year and went to No. 1 in the putting stats. But what the Bald Eagle folks realized is that market credibility is only achieved through endorsement by a PGA Tour player. Several of the men have tried the ball, and liked it, but none has signed on. The reason is simple.

"We came close this year to signing a couple of players, but it came down to just a sheer money issue," Phillips says, adding that it takes from US$50,000 to $100,000 a year to get even a moderately well-known player. "We're not even close to competing with the big companies.

"But if there's a story that cries out for Tour credibility, it's the Bald Eagle ball. It lends so much weight to our marketing story. If you can cut half a stroke off each round on the Tour, you'd go from 100th on the money list into the top 10."

The old saying that if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door, rings true these days only if the trap is endorsed by Mickey Mouse.


Go ahead, follow the Tiger Woods' golf ball soap opera, and make your purchasing decision based on the outcome. But remember, as Phillips says, "99.9% of golfers can't tell the difference between one ball and the next."

Since I'm among that majority, I'm going to try the Bald Eagle or even the Precept EV Lady. There's a chance, slim perhaps, that they might help my game. (Just can't see myself with the TrakFlite, however.)

But most of you won't, since some name on Tour isn't using it.

And that's what Nike is counting on, and that's what keeps a nice guy like Larry Phillips grovelling.

What a sad lot we golfers have become