If clothes maketh the man then equipment can reveal an awful lot about a golfer. In the modern era of space-age technologies, complex fibres and impenetrable jargon, the state of the game’s soul can be observed by taking a sneaky peek at what’s in an opponent’s bag, just as easily as it can be by walking into the clubhouse of an exclusive private members’ club. If your opposite number is packing a driver crafted from a discarded nose cone of a Saturn Rocket and sheathed in the softest brushed cashmere then it’s odds on that he’s either a sucker for manufacturer’s marketing spiel or got more money than sense. More likely, however, is that he’s both.
These days, golfers can be categorized by how many extensions to their mortgage have been taken out to keep pace with the relentless gallop of technology. Rather than take a series of lessons or make time to practice they will invest their hopes and hard earned in miracle cures peddled by golfing medicine men. They will try out a spanking new driver from the pro shop, swing it slowly and marvel at how far and accurately their tee shots fly. Until, that is, they take progress for granted and slip back into their bad old ways.
At the bottom of this food chain is a golfing species that rarely spends anything more than a green fee. The golfing Luddite, for whom ignorance is bliss and his ancient clubs sacred, has no truck with new technology, viewing it as a scam to part gullible golfers from their dollars. Refreshingly, he never tees up with a ball unless it boasts a line of ‘X’s concealing the brand name. Neither will he care a jot that his bag resembles a tartan badger approaching the end of a difficult pregnancy. He is nevertheless the worst type of golfer to lose money to.
Up a rung or two on the evolutionary ladder we find the traditionalist, a player who insists that the sensation of striking a persimmon driver out of the sweet-spot more than offsets the infrequency that he manages to do it. He will happily take on his peers with woods that play host to a colony of termites and irons that were probably forged from the propellers of the Titanic. Once on the green he will most likely putt with a leather-gripped, hickory-shafted relic that looks like it’s either been half-inched from the local pitch and putt or fashioned from the handle of a broken trolley. He will also site titanium headed, trampoline-faced metal woods as the work of Beelzebub. Sickenly, he is invariably a very decent golfer.
The traditionalist will be viewed as timewarped throwback by the wannabe pro, who strolls laconically behind an electric trolley that takes the strain of a colossal bag housing more gizmos than Judith Hann on a shopping trip to Cape Canaveral. Having stopped short of Tippexing his name on the side in swirling script, the wannabe pro thinks nothing of spending 80 to 90 per cent of his disposal income on any piece of equipment that promises to give him extra yards, greater accuracy and feather-lite feel around the greens. His wife or girlfriend will sigh about him to friends and despair of connecting with him on any other emotional level than observing that he is indeed using the same bounce on his lob wedge as ‘Poults’. He will rarely get his handicap below eight but will almost certainly have his nickname stitched into the heels of his golf shoes. One senses that deep down he is unfulfilled.
A close cousin of the wannabe pro is the Tinkerer, a player who changes his equipment with greater regularity than Claudio Ranieri changeds formations during Champions League semi-finals. He is likely to scamper in to the pro shop at the turn to see if he can part-exchange the irons that he played the front half with for an experimental set of cavity-backed prototypes developed for players far better than he will ever be. He then will almost certainly trade those in at the end of the round having failed to come home in seven under par. His world revolves around E:bay, affording him access to an online community of fellow Tinkerers who spend every spare waking hour trying to buy, sell or trade the bits of kit they have been using for the previous five minutes.
One type of golfer that combines elements of all the above is the inveterate game improver. This is the sort of bloke who will be fingering your clubs on the first tee, begging to give your new driver a try and subjecting you to a barrage of questions about what, where and how much. He has tried everything from the Chiptastic Problem Wedge to the medieval swing harness and beyond. He is not ashamed of his broomhandle putter and will extol the virtues of the anti-shank driving iron until the cows come home – even if he is palpably incapable of getting it airborne. For the game improver, like his hapless cousins, has been blinded by science. He is truly a child of his times.