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FOR THE GOLF NUT, GADGETS AND GIZMOS

Some can aid your swing--and one can even hold your cigar

No other sport has as many gadgets to sink money into as golf. Every year a slew of new products with memorable monikers appears: The Fat Lady Swings Putter, the Alien Ultimate Wedge, the Head Freezer. Sorting out the good stuff from the gimmicks can be exhausting and expensive. So before you order the latest gizmo being hawked on the Golf Channel, consider some of these gift suggestions for the obsessed.

First, you don't have to spend a lot of money to find practical gifts golfers are sure to appreciate. A number of inexpensive items make great stocking stuffers. Now that many private golf courses ban steel-spiked golf shoes to prevent wear and tear on the greens, why not buy a set of soft-spike replacements for around $7? Or if your favorite duffer tramps around the course with a stogie stuck between his teeth, for about $3 at most pro shops, you can present him with Tee-Gar. The plastic cigar-holder is shaped like a mini shoehorn. It clips onto any tee to keep a cigar out of the grass when it's time to hit.

Tabulating how many times you've struck the ball can be a challenge even for the most honest of golfers. The Par Score Golf Glove ($29, Scoremaster, 201 884-1475) has a digital counter attached with Velcro to the glove that helps eliminate the guesswork. The device keeps track of the par per hole and the number of strokes, then adds up the damage at the end of the round.

BACKPACK. For the golfer who has more trouble keeping track of clubs, Clubz Up ($13, Tandem Sport, 800 766-1098) easily clamps onto the base of any club so that it stands upright. No more forgetting that 9-iron you laid down in the fringe before you went to putt. Another useful yet economical gift is the IZZO dual strap ($30, IZZO Systems, 800 284-1220), which allows golfers to carry their bags like backpacks. Instead of resting all the weight of the bag on one side, the strap distributes the weight evenly across both shoulders, easing pressure on the back. The company also sells the Cruiser, a lightweight golf bag with a retractable stand and dual strap for $160.

Golfers always like to know exactly how far away they are from the pin. Although illegal during tournament play, binocular-like tools that measure yardage are perfect for practice rounds. One of the lower-cost versions is Brookstone's Golf Range Viewer ($13), which reads the distance from the pin up to 200 yards. Bushnell's Lytespeed 400 range finder ($300) uses a laser to get a more precise distance reading up to 400 yards. If money isn't a concern, Leica's Geovid laser range finder, which retails for $3,000, can read the distance to the green from as far as 1,000 yards.

Golf books or videos also make great gifts. One new book traces the games of U.S. Presidents from William Howard Taft to William Jefferson Clinton. Presidential Lies: The Illustrated History of White House Golf by Shepherd Campbell and Peter Landau ($24, Macmillan) ranks each President's game and reveals on-course Presidential antics. Also new this year, The Course Beautiful by legendary golf course architect A.W. Tillinghast ($35, TreeWolf Productions, 888 580-8455). It is required reading for anyone interested in the design of championship courses.

For those who can't get to the course or range to practice, instructional videos are the next best thing. In David Leadbetter's Practice Makes Perfect ($40, Telstar), the coach of several top professional players teaches viewers drills. Greg Norman One on One ($50, Visual Edge) features a 25-minute review of the fundamentals by the popular Australian pro. That's followed by 20 minutes of a personalized swing analysis. Call 888 NORMAN 1 or click onto www.theshark.com, for the closest location where you can go to have your swing videotaped. The tape is then edited into a customized video that compares your swing with the Shark's via a split screen.

Indeed, developing the perfect swing is every golfer's goal, and there are unlimited tools that ''guarantee'' to help. Surprisingly, the best are not always the most high-tech. The Matzie Amazing Assist ($60) has been around for years, but its oddly shaped grip and bent shaft make learning the proper wrist action and release second nature. The Original Ginty ($80, 800 600-1990, access code 00) is nearly 20 years old but it still is one of the best trouble clubs around. The utility wood with a 29 degree loft gets you out of even the toughest roughs. Another longtime favorite, the Medicus Pro ($100), is a hinged club that actually uncouples when you swing out of sync.

One swing fault that plagues even the pros is swaying rather than rotating the body. If you don't have a caddie like Nick Faldo does who will hold your knee in place when you swing, you may want to check out Sway Guard ($30, Tommy Braninger Sports, 414 876-2528). The metal contraption, which resembles a bookend, hooks around your knee to keep you in proper position.

BEEPER. For those willing to spend more, countless sophisticated electronic devices can help you swing or putt better. SoundAdvice makes grips and clubs that use an electronic sensor to determine if you are holding the club too tightly. The grip beeps when there is too much muscle tension in the body. One of the surest ways to shave strokes off your score is to improve your putting. And perhaps the biggest fault three-putters have is poor aim. No bigger than a camera--and only to be used during practice--PUTTron relies on infrared beams to tell you when you are properly aligned with the hole.

Lately, the biggest technological developments are in golf clubs. Titanium, billed as the Kryptonite of clubs, is all the rage. Among the best-selling clubs are the Tommy Armour Ti/100 irons, approximately $1,300 for a set of eight. The huge titanium heads make for a bigger sweet spot on the club. Another hot club right now is Taylor Made Golf's Titanium Burner Bubble wood with graphite shaft ($300).

In the past year, so many pros have won tournaments using putters from Odyssey Golf, a sister company of Tommy Armour, that demand for the $90 mallet putters has soared. The putters have a black insert in the face made from a material called Stronomic, which its makers claim leads to smoother putting. Another popular putter: the Alien Sport's Tutch Mallet ($140), the latest offering from those who brought you the Alien Ultimate Wedge ($100 for steel, $130 for graphite). The oddly shaped wedge has extra loft and a large face, so it's easier to hit out of the sand or rough.

Who knows if any of the gadgets mentioned here will help your game. But with so many to choose from in every price range, there's surely something to hand your handicapper.

TIPS: The huge titanium heads make for a bigger sweet spot on the golf clubs

Kerry Capell



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