Managing The Michigan Golf Maze On The Web
By Jim Neff
Five years ago if you were looking for information on the World Wide Web about "Michigan golf," and if you were persistent and a little bit lucky, you might have uncovered a half-dozen sites. Today, a scan of the six biggest search engines on the Web yields over 106,000 "documents" (sites, articles, directories...) about "Michigan golf." Michigan Golfer Magazine (www.michigangolfer.com) lists over 150 quality links in its web directory. Your problem now is that there's so much information you might not be able to find the specific items you want. Here are some tips that will help you manage the maze.
The first thing golfers usually look for on the web is golf course information -- course location, layout, cost, and services. Finding a course online is unbelievably easy; most of the time just spelling the course name as one word and adding a dot.com to the end (in your browser's address slot) will take you to a specific course. If you need to use a general search engine, however, the best one might be Ask.com (www.ask.com). This engine is different from most because you can ask it a question (instead of typing in a category): For example, "Are there any golf courses near Muskegon?" Ask.com then provides you with links that answer that specific question, plus gives you links to related categories on the subject, like hotels in the region or west Michigan golf directories. By using Ask.com, your search time will be dramatically reduced.
The Internet home of the National Golf Course Directory is Play 18.com (http://www.play18.com), billed as "The Official Golf Course Internet Site." This mega-directory includes detailed information on over 14,000 public, private, resort, and military courses, so if you can't find a course here it's probably not worth finding. Play 18 collects course data on a daily basis, so updates are continuous, making this the most accurate golf course directory on the Web. Course searches can be done by course name, city, state, or proximity, and you create your own personal course list and customize the information to your tastes. You can even become a field correspondent and submit data to the National Directory (and play some golf for free). Downloads of the National Golf Course Directory are also available on the site. For basic information, nothing fancy, try NetCaddy.com (www.netcaddy.com/mi/michigan.htm). This is a straightforward site that features a full index to all courses in Michigan (and elsewhere). Because it has few bells and whistles, you can get what you need fast and easy.
If you're golfing in northern Michigan, Michigan Interactive Golf (http://fishweb.com/recreation/golf/) is an excellent graphic way to visualize your plans. Courses are highlighted on a map of Michigan and you click on the course of your choice. That course's information then pops up, complete with pictures, prices, and a scorecard.
Perhaps the best all-purpose golf directory on the entire Web is Golfsearch.com (www.golfsearch.com). Finding Michigan courses is a snap using the built-in Golfcourse.com (www.golfcourse.com), a golf-specific search engine. In addition, Golfsearch.com offers 24 specialized directories, including women's golf, travel, junior golf, gifts, organizations, and golf news.
Even if all you want to do is hit a bucket of balls, you can find a place to practice in your area on Michigan's Golf Driving Ranges (http://diamond-enterprises.com/golfdrive.html).
Once you decide where to play, getting the best greens fee rates becomes a consideration, which is why Golf At Half Price (www.golfathalfprice.com) is a "must click." Over 4,500 discounted golf locations (all over the country) are listed on this site, all with 2-for-1 deals or reduced fees. Many Michigan courses participate, and you can even pay for the reduced fees online.
Perhaps the most innovative new "search site," however, is TeeMaster (http://www.teemaster.com), which provides a glimpse into how the Web will serve golfers in the future. TeeMaster's "Fast Finder" search capability and fee discounts are only a small part of its services. The site's most awesome function is booking tee times online. You sign up for a free TeeMaster membership and can then access the network by using your private password. Select the course, tee time, criteria (golf cart or walk), and the system adds your name to the tee sheet at the pro shop in real-time. You then confirm with a credit card number and you're set to play. But that's not all. Online you can print up your confirmation sheet, review your tee times, and cancel or modify your reservations. By phone, you can call TeeMaster at 612-525-7800 to access all the reservations services. Just as golf courses have embraced the Web as a marketing tool, golf equipment retailers have begun to offer their wares and services online. To find a pro shop or golf store, check out the Pro Shop Directory on Golfsearch.com (www.golfsearch.com) or the Michigan Golf Equipment Stores listings (http://diamond-enterprises.com/golfequip.html). Internet-based pro shops are also blossoming online. Golf On A Shoe String (http://golfonashoestring.com) is a virtual pro shop that draws from a network of distribution partners to offer an extensive collection of equipment, apparel, and accessories. Everything from a dozen golf balls to whole sets of custom-fitted clubs can be purchased, often with same-day shipping Chipshot.com (http://www.chipshot.com), which touts itself as "golf's new address," is another sort of virtual pro shop. Taking advantage of the burgeoning market for custom-built clubs, Chipshot.com developed the "PerfectFit Online Fitting System" that matches a golfer's size and skill level with custom clubs. Expert golfers are invited to configure their own woods and irons, and club makers can order components. Chipshot.com's clubs are designed to look and feel like brand-name clubs, but cost up to 70% less. The site also offers brand-name merchandise, golf gifts, golf tips and even special areas for Juniors and Women.
In addition to golf shops, some Michigan golf product companies have their own websites, some with items or deals not found in stores. The NiteRac Golf Storage Rack (www.niterac.com), for example, is a slick golf bag storage unit that you can mount on a wall. The Tell-Tail Visual Trainer (www.saveonsite.com/telltail.html) is a self-help training aid that checks your posture, balance, stance and alignment. The site even has an "Internet Coupon" for free shipping.
And if you want a deal on golf balls, the Golf Ball Zone (www.golfballzone.com) is amazing. Would you believe 6 dozen name-brand balls for $24-$33? Only on the Web!
The Web is also the place to get first dibs on new product lines. Big Aussie Golf USA (http://www.bigaussiegolfusa.com) out of Grand Rapids is a good example of this. Designed and manufactured in Australia, Big Aussie's clubs are for the middle to low handicap player who is looking to increase distance and accuracy, but also wants reasonably priced gear. The Big Aussie site features pictures of their new line of clubs plus information on where you can test the equipment. As a bonus, you can sign their guestbook and qualify for a weekly prize drawing. Finally, one of the great things about the game of golf is the camaraderie. A round of golf is a perfect opportunity for conversation, and as the world's largest library the Web is a wealth of golf knowledge (some important and some just plain fun).
For the Rules of Golf (www.usga.org/rules/index.html), the USGA site is the authority. It's not a cut-and-dried site, however. There's information about golf etiquette and other aspects about playing the game, and a really neat interactive quiz to test your knowledge.
Hard data about Michigan golf is contained in "Michigan Golf: Attitude, Play & Economic Impact (http://webgolfer.com/sportsresearch/golf_report/golf_content.html), a report from the Sports Research Institute.
The best tee-side material, though, is of the "fun" variety. The Trivia Golf Country Club (www.triviagolf.com) is a compendium of useless knowledge bound to dazzle your playing partners. For example, what is the highest number of strokes ever taken on one hole in a professional tournament? The answer is 23, but you'll have to go to the site to get the whole story. Another delightful service is at Daily Golf Jokes (www.dailygolfjokes.com), a treasure trove of yuks that will make you the Bob Hope of the 19th hole. You can even sign up to have one golf joke e-mailed to you each day.
Keeping up with the Michigan golf boom "on the ground" is daunting enough, let alone trying to keep tabs on the developments in cyberspace. The good news for golfers is that whether you're looking for a wonderful course, a great deal, or just a story to make your buddies laugh, it's all available right here in Michigan.
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