- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 18, 2003

Right there. Put down the golf motif merchandise and back away slowly. Your serial gift-giving spree ends this season.

You know who you are. At this very moment, you’re debating the relative merits of a “Go Fore It” T-shirt and a coffee table tome featuring Greenland’s 25 greatest courses. We don’t want either. And shockingly, neither was on our holiday list last year, the year before or ever.

To paraphrase the season’s ultimate curmudgeon, Christmas is a poor excuse for offending a man’s sensibilities every Dec.25.

Now, we know it’s difficult for you. Golf has spawned a commercial leviathan which dwarfs any other sport.

“Golf is marketed as more than just a game, sport or hobby; it’s promoted as a lifestyle. Accordingly, the number of golf-related items out there is stunning,” says Rhod McEwan, owner and purveyor of the largest collection of golf books in the world. “Equally stunning is how few of those items are valued by golfers themselves. Rubbish masquerading as a golf collectible is everywhere.

“The irksome fact is that the industry isn’t trying to sell you, the golfer, this rubbish — it’s appealing to your relations to buy it for you, preying, in essence, on those who don’t know any better.”

Now that we have pinpointed the reason why Santa is such a shank, here are a few golf gift buying tips that should significantly lower his handicap:

1. Avoid tchotchke triple bogeys

We do not need a set of highball glasses etched with clever 19th-hole aphorisms, a mouse pad in the shape of a green or a coffee mug depicting Amen Corner.

If you are confused about whether you are about to make a purchasing faux pas, simply employ the two tchotchke tests: (A) If it cannot be worn or used during a round of golf — i.e. if it is neither apparel nor equipment — it is most likely a tchotchke; (B) the more vehemently an item claims to be the perfect gift for any golfer on your list, the more appallingly worthless it is likely to be.

If the item fails either of these tests, and the vast majority of true trash will flunk both, the safest course is to abandon the misguided effort and move on.

For the gambling Santa who must satisfy the Mickelson within, however, there are some exceptions to the first tchotchke rule. Books and memorabilia are the most likely purchases to fail the test but please your golfer. When buying books, think rare and/or autographed. And when buying memorabilia, think major championship or Ryder Cup. If you cannot name the four majors or think the Ryder Cup is affiliated with yellow moving vans, return the item, hide your credit card and proceed directly to No.2.

If you must buy a tchotchke, and we strongly advise against it, remember that extravagance can be doubly dangerous. Giving a cheap tchotchke only makes you mildly annoying. Giving an expensive one, like for instance the golf club tie tack from Tiffany and Co. that we received at the age of 18 from a former girlfriend, makes you both annoying and intellectually challenged.

2. What would Hogan think?

When buying apparel, which is by far the safest possible purchase if you must go with a golf motif, think Ben Hogan. Would the shirt, pants, shorts or hat you are about to gift a loved one look ridiculous on Hogan? If you can’t picture Hogan, try John F. Kennedy. If the item wouldn’t look right on either of these classically clean-cut dressers, chances are it will look even worse on your recipient. Hint: There’s a reason that colorful, canary yellow shirt was on the virtually free rack.

Also play close attention to brands and logos. If the item is endorsed by Duffy Waldorf or Tabasco, you’re looking at fashion anthrax. And if the logo is larger than a half-dollar, don’t even think about it. We once received a perfectly good rain jacket that was being attacked by a life-size neon profile of a shark. It would have been perfect for deer hunting or would have made a wonderful substitute lighthouse, the logo glowing unmistakably for miles around. But it was an instant abomination on the golf course.

We were nagged by our guilty conscience into wearing it once, and our buddies almost soiled themselves when it first darted out of our golf bag on the range. Heck, even the cart kid snickered. Have you ever tried to read a putt with your pals mimicking the “Jaws” attack theme in the background? And by the way, we never saw Greg Norman wearing this couture calamity.

The bottom line with apparel is always to err on the conservative side. Golf can be humiliating enough wearing khakis and a logo-free white shirt, thank you.

3. Equip yourself first

Never buy equipment for anyone with a sub-30 handicap without first knowing exactly, and we mean exactly, what that player wants. Buying clubs for someone without his specifications is golf’s version of a blind date — it’s always awkward and rarely works out.

Pay no attention to the sales pitch. In a competent retailer’s hands, every putter is the rage, every driver the most technologically advanced, every wedge a feel-player’s dream, every ball the longest and straightest.

Worried that asking your loved one for his preferences will ruin the surprise? Fine, if you really want a surprise, play pro shop roulette and give your loved one a random set of sticks. Watch the smile on his face sour as he realizes you’ve purchased him Callaways instead of Clevelands or regular shafts instead of stiff. The onus is then unfairly shifted to the giftee. He must either hurt your feelings by returning the clubs, or stew for several seasons while playing the unwanted clubs, which he will inevitably blame for his every errant shot. It’s a lose-lose deal.

Thanks to their lesser value, bad ball purchases are always less painful, though more difficult to return. Last Christmas we asked for a dozen Titleist Pro-VI X balls only to receive a box of unreturnable Titleist X-outs. Lopsided balls — now there’s a gift that says “I love you.”

Fact is, many golfers are feeling a bit Scroogy this time of year as they consider nasty weather, brown fairways and another restless winter. If you can’t put a bow around sunshine and a plane ticket to paradise, perhaps you should just eschew any gift relating to the game, or at least fall back on a guaranteed goodie.

The first golf groaner we ever received was a plaque that read, “On the Seventh Day, God Invented Golf.” Nearly two decades and a closet full of yuletide yips later, we’re here to tell you that on the seventh day, God invented the gift certificate.

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