There may be no greater accessorized sport than golf. When it comes to gift ideas, the options are nearly limitless. If you don't play the game yourself, however, the gifting landscape can get pretty foggy.
As someone who has received golf gifts his entire life, whether from family members and friends or while on boondoggles, I think I have a good grasp of that X-factor that can help you select a gift that will get plenty of use instead of one that ends up in the back of the closet.
Here are some tips and questions to ask before buying your golfer a gift this holiday season.
What should I look for in a golf polo?
A golf shirt might seem like an easy item to buy, but finding the right color and fit can be deceptively tricky. Sizes and fits vary much more from brand to brand than you would ever think. A size-medium polo from the Peter Millar collection feels like a muumuu compared to a comparably labeled polo from TravisMathew. Unless you are fully dialed into the size of the golfer on your list as well as his or her favorite-fitting brands, I'd say you're better off shying away from a gifting a golf polo this holiday season.
When choosing golf hats, outwear and jackets, consider form and function
Golf hats are a little easier to select than polos because most brands on the market are one-size-fits-all, but here, too, styles vary widely from wide-brim to sportier looks. Brands like Gfore try to make a statement with bold lettering, but that might not suit everyone. I like to wear something that really doesn't look like a golf hat but is breathable and light enough so I can work out in it. Consider what sort of conditions your golfer will be playing in. If I'm playing in hot and humid conditions, I'll go for something as light as possible. but if I'm playing where it is likely to be windy and possibly even blustery, I like a hat made out of heavier material for warmth and the confidence that it isn't going to blow off my head.
The fit of outerwear and jackets is also a little easier to get right than polos. One item that has been getting seriously heavy rotation for me this year is Linksoul's hooded windbreaker. It gets more action on dog walks than the golf course, but its versatility is excellent. I'm also a big fan of Linksoul's bamboo pants, as they are far more comfortable when I'm chasing kids around the playground, riding my bike or traveling.
Does it make sense to give clubs to the golfer in my life?
Unless you are going to the store and picking out the club with the recipient (my wife came with me to the store to buy wedges a few holiday seasons ago after I was suckered by the whole groove-change rule), golf clubs are a tough gift purchase. The look and feel of drivers, irons, wedges and putters are such a personal thing. It is virtually impossible to pick the right club for a person without them being there.
If the golfer on your list is devoted to a particular brand of golf clubs, companies like TaylorMade sell gift cards. That might be your safest bet.
There's also the issue of the length, lie angle and specifications of the club. Clubfitting (even putter fitting) has become a normal practice and can be done at local golf clubs with a PGA professional or at specialized fitters like TrueSpec, Club Champion or GolfTec. Retail outlets such as Golf Galaxy and Dick's now do fittings for the clubs you buy right off the rack. Many (though not all) fitters will waive the fitting fee when you buy the club. Along these lines, a series of golf lessons may be the way to give the gift of game improvement. (More: the clubfitting experience at TrueSpec and Club Champion).
What should I consider when gifting a golf bag?
It can be pretty easy to tell if the golfer on your list can use a new bag. Golf bags certainly take a beating. Before buying your golfer a new one, you should ask yourself these questions: Does he or she predominantly walk or ride? Does he or she travel a lot? Will this be their primary bag or do they have space for a specialty model? You can buy small "Sunday" bags or get massive "staff" bags the pros use (overkill for many, but many members at clubs use them.)
Or, if they've mentioned they are going to be taking their first-ever golf trip on an airplane, consider buying them a travel case for their golf bag. (More: guide to travel cases)
Golf shoes: The right fit for a holiday gift?
This is the risk-reward equivalent of golf gifts. Get it wrong and you are associated with blisters. Find a heavenly fit and you're a gifting legend.
Once again, you should start with a few questions before rushing out to buy anything. Does your golfer have a favorite brand or style of golf shoe? Do they think they could do better than what they currently have? If they complain a little bit about their shoes, consider switching it up. The shoe space in golf shops has grown quite crowded in recent years. FootJoy and Adidas are good brands for traditional performance models. Meanwhile, the lifestyle golf shoe has absolutely exploded. Ecco and Sketchers are two leaders here, and Linksoul recently revealed a special shoe in partnership with True Linkswear.
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Not up for the challenge of selecting a pair of shoes for the golfer on your list? You can still give the gift of comfort. Consider giving him or her some premium socks. I know that buying dad socks or new belt is like buying mom a new vacuum cleaner, but I absolutely love a good pair of new Kentwool socks. And on the subject of belts, they are a good choice because variety is your friend in this case. If you have the size right, chances are any attractive belt you select will be a winner because it will surely go well with something your golfer wears. NexBelt is one of my favorite go-to brands. I wear it a lot because it's comfortable and good looking.
Should I buy a golf balls for the golfer on my list?
No golfer who isn't sponsored will tell you they're all set when it comes to balls. Ammo is a much easier choice to navigate than clubs, especially if you are able to sneak a peek into your golfer's bag to see what their ball of choice is. What you shouldn't do is go out and by them a box of Titleist Pro-V1 or some similar pro-grade golf ball just because it is more expensive. I can't tell you how many sleeves of Pro-Vs I've been given over the years. Unfortunately, they really don't suit my game at all. I'd much rather be given a lower-spin ball like the Titleist NXT.
If you have some basic information about your golfer's game such as handicap or even swing speed, you can get an idea of what type of ball he or she plays by trying out a few golf ball websites that offer ball-fitting tools. Once you've made your selection, many of those same sites also feature online tools that allow you to put personalized inscriptions on the ball. Bridgestone and Volvik are two of the brands that provide this service.
Still more wearable golf gifts
One other item worth considering, especially if they don't wear prescription lenses, is a pair of sunglasses. A pair of shades can run the gamut from cheap to expensive. One note worth considering is that "polarized" lenses aren't considered superior for the sport of golf. Our own Mike Bailey recently wrote about sunglasses for golfers and offered some valuable tips on how to select the type that will best meet your needs.
Golf gloves are also a good utility item and they cost just $10-20 a piece. Take it from me -- we golfers can never have enough gloves. Again, sizing is a hurdle (do you know what "Cadet Medium" means? They are for shorter fingers) and you need to know what brand the golfer on your list wears. Also, don't just assume he or she plays right-handed and buy them a left-hand glove.
Gifting golf tech: Game tracking and analytics
It's Big Data's world and we're all just pawns in it. But the capability of amateur stats and game-tracking continues to explode. Consumer-based golf game analytics can be found in a variety of apps and products these days. One of the industry leaders is Arccos, regarded as a kind of "tech caddie" which, using individual sensors on each club, can tell you your performance with every club in your bag.
Does the golfer on your list have a golf rangefinder? If not, a rangefinder is a great gift that will cost you about what you'd spend on a golf club. I've debated the pros and cons of a rangefinder vs. GPS smart watch, but the constant is that with a rangefinder you know you can get pinpoint accuracy every time, whereas GPS devices can sometimes be a little off.
Also, I don't think you need to be upsold into the bells and whistles top-end rangefinders offer like slope or recommended club to hit, etc. Not only are these features non-USGA conforming, but I have never really found much use in them. As long as you buy a product whose laser is reliable, you'll be in great shape.
I really like my Leupold rangefinder but at $500, the price point is pretty high. Callaway offers two rangefinders at Revolution Golf for $197-247 that should do the trick.
If you get the sense the golfer in your life is a real numbers wonk, I'm sure they would love to receive a personal launch monitor from you.
What's a great golf book for the holidays?
Giving a book for the holidays is always a popular option. But how do you know it will be read?
It's tough to know for sure. I've got more than a few golf books sitting on my shelves that I've yet to read. But here are a few rules of thumb to steer you in the right direction:
Stick to a known classic instead of a title that just came out. Even if it isn't on your golfer's short list right now, these golf books will be still be useful a decade from now. The Match, by Mark Frost, sat in my library for about five years before I finally read it (and thank heavens I did!).
Look for something that might look good on a coffee table. Planet Golf, or Tom Doak's new Confidential Guides are easy reads that look great. The Golfer's Journal series is also taking a bite out of magazine subscriptions because each volumne contains virtually no ads, the photography is great, and the long-form feature articles address far more interesting topics than recaps of PGA Tour events or the latest swing tips.
Stick to short, fun reads over a long, continuous narrative. If the golfer on your list doesn't have a copy of Harvey Penick's Little Red Book, read no further.
Some go-to golf accessories
The best accessories for golf are those that can be used on the golf course and beyond it. A few include:
Yeti insulated mugs: They can carry hot and cold drinks both in the golf cart or on a daily commute.
Golf towels: Or a cooling towel if you know your golfer's plays a lot of golf in the South during the summer.
Divot repair tools: These devices are small, inexpensive and always useful. Look for sturdy, traditional models that hook onto a pants pocket. In recent years some switchblade-type models have come into vogue, but it's been my experience they fail pretty easily once some dirt gets into the cracks.
Bluetooth speakers: These speakers are great for the course or the beach. Look for a model that can take a little punishment and has a strong battery-life rating.
If you've seen their golf bag and the headcovers are worn out, getting them a fun specialty headcover, whether it's a big, fluffy animal or a set from their Alma Mater, is a sure winner.
Gift cards for golf: If you know the golfer on your list has a favorite course in their hometown, especially one that is a little out of their price range normally, get a gift card there. Or, you can get a more flexible gift card, such as one from TPC Network, GolfNow or Troon, all of which have courses all over the globe. Topgolf is also expanding like crazy and makes for a great night out.
What golf gifts should I avoid?
Golf tees: Tees are basically free everywhere. It'd be like giving someone ketchup packets.
Putting mat or driving range net: You're dictating how they use their living space too much.
Training aid: Unless they've mentioned a specific problem with their swing and you are knowledgeable enough to know which aid would do the trick, this gift stands a high probability of ending up in the back of the garage. The exception might be (and I stress might) be a specific aid they have their eye on.
Ball marker: I've never understood if a premium, gifted ball marker is supposed to be a decoration or actually used on the course. I usually just end up losing them.
A memento from a famous course you've played but they haven't: Thanks for the Cypress Point hat. How about an invite next time?