Four old men gathered at the first tee, staring into my iPhone 3GS and asking rapid-fire questions about the Golfshot GPS app.
"There's no monthly fee?" one asked repeatedly.
"No monthly fee," I replied.
"I heard there are problems with the battery. Is that true?" another asked. "How accurate is it?"
"That's what I'm here to find out," I told them. "I also read that it takes a while to get a GPS reading, so I'm sorry if I take a little longer to hit my shot. Please don't hit into us."
Can you get there in two?
My playing partner, Ken, a Buddhist reverend somewhat adverse to technology, waited patiently for the chatting to subside before teeing off. Meanwhile, I called up the course on Golfshot- there are more than 15,000 mapped courses- and put our names into the app's scorecard (which pulled Ken from my iPhone contacts list).
Figuring execs need to get e-mail and phone calls on the course, I kept the iPhone's push notification on even though it might drain the battery. I checked the "disable auto-lock" in Golfshot's GPS settings, which the developer recommends to speed up GPS readings. I also took a mental note of my iPhone's current battery life, 96 percent.
Then I teed off, wayward left.
I'd decided to test Golfshot GPS for the iPhone at the Jack Clark golf course in Alameda, California, because the public course is fairly easy and cheap, which should appeal to the iPhone masses. That is, golfers preferring to pay $30 for Golfshot rather than hundreds for a standalone golf rangefinder would be happy to play there. It's also a tip of the newsboy golf cap to Jack Clark, the straight-shooting sports editor of the Alameda Times-Star for six decades.
The other reason I chose Jack Clark is because I couldn't get a tee time at Harding Park, 30 miles west over bay water, where the President's Cup is taking place this week and where Michael Jordan illegally smoked a cigar yesterday during a practice round.
Yes, smoking is banned at public golf courses in San Francisco but not in Alameda. With my briar pipe in one hand and the iPhone in the other, I faced my first dilemma. In order for the Golfshot GPS app or any GPS device to be really effective, as well as keep a pipe lit, you've got to carry both of them with you. They don't do any good sitting in the golf cart.
Thus my convoluted shot routine went something like this: place the pipe near my ball (not using it as an aiming device, mind you), wait for a reading on Golfshot, put the iPhone in sleep mode, holster the iPhone and, 20 seconds later, flub my shot. Naturally, I blamed bad shots on the iPhone. Its added weight- 4.8 ounces-on my hip threw off my svelte swing, I figured, resulting in a triple bogie on the fifth hole. That's my story.
"I think the app is hurting your game," Ken said. "You're relying too much on technology, Tom. Golf is about feel."
I bowed humbly even though my frustration level was rising in direct proportion to the drainage of the iPhone battery. Shouldn't your head be shaved, Zen Master? I thought. But he was right: Battery life had become part of my swing thought.
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