I’ve been doing annual golf gift guides for years, regularly testing the newest gear and staying on top of the best technology and products to make golf and golf travel better and more enjoyable. Every year there are improvements and innovations, but one thing rarely changes – I always caution against buying anyone actual golf clubs, it’s a bad idea. Golf clubs are highly personal, highly customized, very complicated in all their permutations, and most golfers already have their set and are wedded to brands or styles. Stay away from clubs and you’ll still find a great range of gift options at all price points. The ones below have all been tried, tested and curated. Happy Holidays!
The Gift Of Golf – All The Time
Bad weather? Winter? Darkness? None of that can stop your favorite golfer if they a full-blown golf simulator at home. These offer the fun of playing some of the world’s most famous courses (Pebble Beach, St. Andrews, etc.) with their friends – but without greens fees – inside their home. But because flights monitors and shot tracking software have gotten so good, these are also awesome for practice, improvement and hyper-accurate swing and ball flight feedback you simply cannot otherwise get on your own. Simulator technology has changed dramatically in recent years, and while just about every PGA Tour star – including Tiger Woods – has one at home, many of those set ups have traditionally run $30-$50,000 or more and require a lot of dedicated space. Because of this, most amateurs used to have to travel to a specialized facility or Top Golf type of place to use a simulator. But with the advent of affordable personal flight monitors and portable radar and camera-based shot analysis systems, you can put an honest to goodness home simulator in for a fraction of what it used to cost, and many are portable enough to go in a garage or basement and have the enclosure fold up and move out of the way when not in use.
This is Bucket List stuff, the ultimate dream gift on this list, and there is no golfer I know who would not love a home simulator. In fact, many have coveted one for years, if not decades. The basic components are a ball flight monitor, course/playing software, HD projector, impact projection screen, hitting/putting mat and netted enclosure. These have traditionally required a laptop to run as well, and people often opted for a dedicated gaming model, but these days many can be run on an existing iPad, pushing prices down even further. For expert advice, a wide selection of brands, installation help, great service and low prices (with best price matching), turn to The Indoor Golf Shop, a leading curator of everything related to DIY simulator installation. They carry many monitors from all the leading companies, Skytrak, Flightscope, Uneekor, Foresight, Garmin, Fullswing, Bushnell and more, with turnkey packages beginning under $6,000, multiple brands and options from $7-$8,000 and deluxe packages in the $12-$15,000 range. Packages built around the SkyTrak launch monitor, rated Best Value Golf Simulator and Editor’s Choice by Golf Digest, start at just $7,000. There are also many custom packages.
Bushnell Tour V6 Laser Rangefinder
I just came back from a trip to the Caribbean where two of the four courses I played did not show up in the map listings of my golf GPS. This is especially a problem with new or renovated courses that have yet to be mapped. In addition, despite the ubiquity and convenience of GPS, there are other benefits to having a laser, most importantly for an exact distance to the pin, rather than a front, center and back range typically given by GPS. I use GPS more often, but always use the laser multiple times each round, usually on every par-3 and any tricky approach shot. It’s also a great back up because it always works on any course, anywhere, in any weather condition, not the case with GPS. They are also handy for shooting more precise carry or lay-up distances, like the front of a bunker or a tree on the other side of a ravine.
Bushnell has long been the runaway leader in golf course laser rangefinders, the brand used by more pros on every major Tour including the PGA Tour, and it seems like every year the units get better and smaller. I just upgraded to the Tour V6 Shift, and of the dozen or more lasers I’ve used in my life, it is the best. It’s small, light and super easy to hit the flag and lock on, in all weather and light conditions. It also has visual “jolt” indication in the viewfinder that confirms you’ve locked on, instead of hitting something in the background, a problem with many cheap lasers. It adjusts for slope (changes in elevation) giving truer “plays as” distances, and this feature can be easily turned off for tournament play, per the rules of golf. Bushnell says it is the most accurate, consistent and longest-range model they have ever released, and I believe it. It is also the most weather resistant model ever (IPX6). The built in magnetic “bite” keeps it securely mounted to the upright on your golf cart it is always within easy reach, and it comes with a durable case and carabiner for those walking (better!). It uses a long-life batter, and after trying several brands, I am thoroughly convinced that a battery is better than USB rechargeable, because you often forget to take it out of your bag and bring it into your house after a round and vice versa. The battery lasts a full season, is cheap and easy to replace, and I just keep a spare in my bag. ($400)
Garmin Approach S70 GPS Golf Watch
The beauty of golf GPS is the ease of use, and a watch constantly displays the distance to the front, center and back of the green. Unlike cart mounted systems, it gives you good numbers even when you walk across the fairway to your ball, which can be very different from where the cart is (plus, most courses still lack cart-based GPS at all). I use the newest Garmin Approach S70, and while they make more affordable models, this is considered the premier golf watch on the market today.
Garmin has long been the world’s leader in consumer and industrial GPS for planes, boats, biking and hiking, so the technology is excellent and proven. The S70 automatically knows what course you are playing as soon as you arrive at the tee, and shows a full color map of the hole so you know if it doglegs or has other surprises. It has a touchscreen so you can tap and get distances to whatever point concerns you (such as lay-up or cross hazard) and it lists the distance to each hazard from the tee and as you move. It comes pre-loaded with more than 43,000 course maps worldwide, and new ones are added for free. I went on a golf trip to Turkey and played some courses considered off the beaten path and they were all in my watch. It gives detailed green contour maps so you can see which side of the pin to play to, has a super-bright touchscreen display, and a “virtual caddie” offers club selection recommendations based on your past performance and wind conditions – yes, wind conditions! In fact, the S70 has new and greatly improved “plays like distances” you won’t find in most GPS (or lasers) that measure environmental factors including wind, elevation change, air pressure, temperature and humidity.
In addition to all the great golf features it has the other things you’d expect in a state-of-the-art smart watch, such as full 24/7 health monitoring and fitness tracking with heart rate monitoring, blood oxygen sensor, sleep scoring and many sport specific trackers for cycling, running, etc. It even has built-in strength training workouts you can follow. It’s very weather resistant and can run for 20 hours in GPS mode (two days of 36-holes) or more than two weeks per charge in smartwatch mode. ($700)
Have Massage Gun, Will Travel
A lot of golfers get sore, especially on weeklong trips playing day after day, and even more when walking and/or playing 36 a day as is often the case on dream trips to the British Isles or similar destinations. Back, legs and shoulders all can get overuse in a way many golfers are not used to, and there’s no simpler solution than packing a good quality portable massage gun. Bu there are not many of these on the market, as most massage guns are flimsy, underpowered and not durable. Hyperice is an exception, making some of the highest quality percussive massage guns. I’ve used their top-of-the-line Hypervolt 2 at home for years, and when they launched the Hypervolt Go 2, a noticeably smaller, portable version, I got one and took it golfing (and skiing!). It has just three speeds versus five on the big version, but it is considerably smaller, weighs just 1.5 pounds, uses USB-C (3-hour battery life) instead of the dedicated charger on the big one, and is cheaper – you cannot beat the quality for just $129.
Cocktail Hour on Any Course, Any Time
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but I’ve found it’s theft. On a recent Jet Blue flight home, my TSA lock was removed from my golf travel bag and the only thing stolen was my High Camp Torch flask – filled with Barbadian rum. High Camp makes beautifully designed and machined stainless-steel flasks that have corrected all the problems the flask industry has ignored for the past two centuries. I’m a big fan for just about every use, but especially golf, and I’ve given several as gifts that were very well received. The Torch is a tube that has a very heavy duty, screw on full width bottom cover so you can fill it easily, and more importantly clean it easily, something many flasks never seem to have considered. The smaller top opening also has a great leakproof screw, covered by a magnetically attached sipping cup as lid. It’s far more dignified to sip from your cup than chug from the flask, and it also makes your spirts taste better. The simplicity, elegance, bulletproof design and aesthetics cannot be beat, and as a gift they will also laser engrave your order to personalize it, a great touch. The Torch fits easily in any golf bag, holds 177ml and comes in four great-looking finishes ($99). If your recipient has a regular partner or foursome and always takes a cart, consider the Firelight 750 model, which holds an entire bottle of spirits (or wine) and has two magnetic cups attached, top and bottom, for a more social experience ($125). These flasks will last forever – or at least until they are stolen.
For the Tech Driven Golfer
GameGolf is GPS shot and stat-tracking sensor platform that measures how far and in what direction every shot with every club went during practice and actual play. This is the kind of concrete feedback and precise metrics that better players who practice regularly want to improve their game, and is especially beloved by single-digit handicappers and more serious golfers. The new cutting-edge GameGolf KZN platform offers multiple playing modes and a Smart Caddie feature that analyzes 10 key data points to help golfers improve. 14 lightweight smart tags attach to the clubs, while a sleek, compact main hardware unit clips to the golfer’s belt. Once on, they won’t even notice they are there. It sounds confusing but if you’ve got a cerebral, obsessive or techy golfer on your list, this is probably what they want. The kit includes all the KZN hardware and a free one-year membership. ($270)
It’s Not All Sunshine
Golf is a sport we sometimes play in the rain, like it or not. And for that, good golf rain gear is essential. This means more than waterproof, it must also be breathable and light enough to wear even in the humid and warm weather of the Caribbean or Florida where rain is common, and it must be comfortable and stretchy with an athletic fit that does not hamper your swing – at all. For years, golf’s leading accessory company, Sun Mountain, which makes the best bags, best travel bags and many other great products, has also made some of the best raingear on the market. Now it is even better. New for fall 2023, the Sun Mountain Tour Series+ Rainwear Collection offers a very impressive 20,000+ mm waterproof rating, 30,000+ MVP breathability rating, and high degree of 4-way stretch. The technical fabric has the added bonus of 37.5 Technology, which accelerates vapor movement and prevents overheating and moisture build-up. The Men’s lineup includes full jacket, long-sleeve pullover, short-sleeve pullover and pant, while the Women’s has a jacket and pant. All jackets feature waterproof two-way front zippers, adjustable waist, adjustable cuff, and zip-through comfort collar. The women’s jacket adds a hood, and both come in several colors. Tour Series+ pants include elastic side panels at the waist for comfort, a silicon grip pattern inside the waistband, zippered rear pockets with storm flaps, deep leg zips, a cinch system at leg opening, and a snap system at hem that shortens pants 2.5”. ($200 – $300).
Have Clubs, Will Travel
Anyone who travels for golf needs a golf bag travel cover, and I haven’t found one better than Sun Mountain’s ClubGlider, which I have been using for years. I recently recommended it to a golf journalist I know and she has fallen head over heels with it, and we both keep getting compliments from bell staff, porters, and shuttle drivers who have not seen anything like it. The big innovation is a fold out set of wheeled legs, so when you push or pull it, it rolls like a 4-wheel shopping cart, smoothly and effortlessly without you bearing any weight – you can push it with one finger. It also stands by itself, so when you wait in line at the airport you can just keep pushing it along a step at a time instead of constantly putting it down, bending over and picking it up, or literally kicking it along, which is how every other golf bag on the market works. When you get to car or counter, the legs fold up in two seconds into a protective recess. It also has Sun Mountain’s heavy-duty construction that has made them the leader (by far) in regular carry and cart bags, padding to protect clubs, extra pockets for storage and comes in multiple colors. If someone on your list flies with their clubs, even once a year, this is what they need. The ClubGlider comes in four models with different capacities. ($290-$390)
A Training Aid That Actually Works
The golf industry has long been full of gimmicks and “As Seen on TV” type home training aids. But the Kavooa Pro is different. Developed by an avid golfer during the pandemic when he had to train solo, he borrowed a popular technique from just about every golf lesson ever given, which is where the instructor holds a club or something against a part of your body, head, shoulder, back, hip or such and tells you to move it or not move it, or to imagine your back against a wall when swing or similar. This kind of training tip has many variations, and the Kavooa Pro handles all of them – without an instructor. It is a lightweight, very foldable, tripod-based device with dual telescoping, adjustable rods (golf alignment sticks) that can be set up in infinite arrangements to do things like stabilize a golfer’s head and hips during the swing. That, in turn, helps solidify pure contact for consistent ball striking.
The unit also includes a phone clip holder, allowing you to easily take videos of your swing. Kavooa Pro is extremely flexible and can be used any time you are trying to isolate or keep weight or pressure on any part of the body (or two parts!). As such, it works great for chipping and putting as well, allowing you to practice and solidify forward weight or lean. It weighs just 3.5 pounds and can quickly and easily collapse to be stowed in the side pocket of most golf bags. It can be used on the course, at the range, or in a backyard – anywhere you can swing a club. ($130 with special holiday discounts)
Look Sharp, Play Sharp
Besides clubs and balls, the one thing every golfer needs is clothes. There are more quality golf wear brands right now than there have ever been, but nonetheless, Travis Mathews has proven a runaway favorite and quickly has become one of the most popular names in both golf and classy casual war. That is a big part of the appeal, using high-performance technical fabrics that feel good, wick moisture, hold up in the heat and stretch, but don’t look techy. The result is polos, pants and shorts that are perfect for golf but also perfect for not golf. I have many pieces and some of the shirts seem “too nice” to wear on the course, so I use them for regular wear and travel. I especially love the bestselling Beck Shorts which have become my go to shorts for just about every round, while the Heater Polo has become a golf course signature shirt that anyone will appreciate (both are $90). These two choices are foolproof, but Travis Mathew make a full range of tops, bottom, jackets and more, for men and women, and when people ask me what brand of golf clothes to consider, it is always the first answer.
Lighter, More Sustainable Footwear
I’ve been a fan of Adidas golf shoes for as long as I can remember, and their vaunted Tour 360 has been the Pro choice for years. But Adidas recently released a new model to consider, the ZG23 lineup, which comes in eight color schemes, as well as a vented hot weather model, an extra waterproof and higher rain model, and models with BOA-dials and cables instead of laces. But the basic reason to choose these is that it the ZG23 is a full feature golf shoe, not the sneakers passing off for golf these days, with all the support and traction you need, the grip of real soft cleats, the athletic support of a technical sole, midsole and insert, and a waterproof upper. All of this comes in lighter than ever package that is very comfy, and the ZG23 series is made with a minimum 50% recycled content. For men and women. ($200)