Last Thursday, I had the day off, since I was working on Saturday. So I put the time to good use, spending an hour or so at our nearby Washington Golf Center.
I had plenty of birthday money; most of it was earmarked specifically for golf equipment. But it wasn't just about prettying up the bag - I had actual needs.
Last summer in Oregon, the head to my three-wood snapped off. Snapped may be a little too violent a description; after one tee shot, I noticed the head was a little wobbly. I took a look at it and the next thing I knew, the head was in one hand, the shaft in the other.
Less of a need was a sand wedge. I've never played a round with one, chipping lightly with a pitching wedge. My wife - clearly the most talented golfer of the family - said a sand wedge was a great idea.
I had done the requisite research, reviewing Golf Digest's 2008 equipment rankings. It was helpful to a degree - like reading that Titleist irons/wedges might be too complicated for a less-skilled golfer (which I definitely am) and reaffirming my knowledge that Cleveland makes a pretty damn good set of irons.
Based on those prices, I'd come home with both clubs and really make a concerted effort to get better this year. No, really.
But that wasn't going to be the only test. I was going to give each club a try, even just a half-swing to see what felt most comfortable.
So with some knowledge and, perhaps more importantly, an open mind, I trekked up I-395 to Washington Golf. It was a quiet Thursday afternoon; no more than, say, seven customers in the massive store.
I perused all of the equipment displays: Nike, Taylor Made, Callaway, Ping, Cobra, Nicklaus and Cleveland, in order. Cleveland was the furthest away, so that's why it was last.
While there, though, something caught my eye: A CG4 sand wedge, sitting kind of off to the side. It felt good in my hands, not perfect, but certainly among the better ones I'd tried to that point. Then I saw the price.
Huh? I was expecting to spend triple that amount. Two different salesfolks assured me that there honestly wasn't anything wrong with it; most likely, it was part of a set that was left behind for one reason or another.
I took it up front and asked them to hold on to it for me. I wasn't certain I could trust the other six people not snatch it up first.
I walked back to the displays with a new sense of purpose. The savings from that club would allow me to put all of my birthday money toward three clubs.
Now it was onto the 3-wood, where my selection was more limited. I took brief looks at Ping's Rapture and Taylor Made's Burner, but both cost a lot more than I was willing to spend. Instead, I found myself coming back to the Big Bertha, which had the right combination of price and feel.
I had expected to be done by now. But there was more shopping to do - a club I don't much need but would love to have in the bag anyway.
Again I went through each of the displays (the first time around, I had no intention of looking for a third club). And again, the best came last: The club that felt best in my hands also had the bonus of being $20 cheaper than its competitors. So, with a wide grin, I picked out a Cleveland HiBore XLS 3-iron hybrid.
I took that and the Big Bertha to their indoor driving range and hit a few balls. My suspicions were confirmed: The clubs felt awesome. (Though I did feel a bit weirded out, since someone outside of family was watching me hit a golf ball. He assured me that I was nowhere near the worst he's seen, like the person who hit their head with the club on the backswing. Then I felt better.)
The two Clevelands are waiting for their spot in the bag, which is buried in our utility closet. The Big Bertha is due to arrive any day now; the guy who helped me said that since my swing speed wasn't terribly fast, I didn't need a flex shaft. But they were out of the normal clubs and needed to get one from their store in Chantilly. It should arrive any day now.
That took care of my birthday money - all with $20 to spare. Sadly, I spent the last $20 on this disappointment.
We're still a long way off from golf season. It's 29 degrees at the moment after an unexpected ice storm this afternoon; our highways were an absolute mess. My poor wife left the office around 8:15 and didn't get home until close to 9:00 - that's rush-hour traffic two hours after you expect rush hour to be over with.
Weather issues aside, I can't wait to get out to the course.
I've never been so excited for golf season.