Golf Treatments: Golf widows: out. Golf facials: in. So are golf yoga, pilates, body treatments and massage. Yes, with nearly 30 percent of today's spa goers men (up from 24 percent in just 2002), resorts from Pinehurst to Kiawah Island are getting hardcore about pampering players: Doral offers "Yoga Fore Golf" classes. Idaho's Coeur d'Alene Resort gives free mini-massages on the range. England's Grove offers a two-hour "Golfer's Ritual." There's even a "Golf Specialty Massage" at Arizona's Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale in which heated Titleist balls are rolled along the golfer's back. Presumably, this feels good.
Putting Courses: In the return of a once-common amenity, natural-grass putting courses are springing up on the grounds of some top resorts—Hawaii's Kapalua, Florida's World Golf Hall of Fame, Washington's Desert Canyon and California's Quail Lodge among them—often replete with elevation changes, rock formations, bunkers and water hazards. "It's become a social gathering place," says Quail Lodge's director of rooms Robert Boerner. "Guests can check in, grab a glass of wine and hit the course for a couple of hours." Advice for after a few glasses have been drained: Aim for the cup in the middle.
Practice Facilities: Once, the traveling golfer who wanted high-end video instruction had to kiss the wife and kids goodbye and head to a golf academy. No longer. Resorts have entered the "golf studio" game, with the Four Seasons in Nevis, The Breakers in Palm Beach and the Boca Raton Resort & Club all installing video technology rivaling what Tour pros use to train. Boca even allows for the creation of an online "library of progress" that a golfer, and his local pro, can access at home—perhaps the most useful vacation movies in history.
HOT U.S. DESTINATIONS
The American Club, Wisconsin: The PGA Championship might bring Whistling Straits to the masses, but tour planners we polled say these four Pete Dye tracks and sensational Tudor-style accommodations are already a thriving American treasure. (800-344-2838; destinationkohler.com)
Bandon Dunes Resort, Oregon: From inaugural to essential in just five years: "It's the new notch on the belt," one travel agent declared. "You must go to Bandon at least once in your golfing life every bit as much as you must go to Pebble and Pinehurst." (888-345-6008; bandondunes.com)
Kapalua Resort, Maui, Hawaii: Is it the unrivaled exposure of the Mercedes Championships?The three strong layouts?Actually, planners say Kapalua's spacious villas—with room for a gaggle of golfers—make this resort the hottest in the islands. (800-527-2582; kapaluamaui.com)
Kiawah Island Golf Resort, South Carolina: Word of Kiawah's spectacular new Sanctuary hotel must be spreading. Although not slated to open until June, bookings for this luscious $125 million haven are strong—and those five superb courses don't hurt. (877-683-1234; thesanctuary.com)
Pebble Beach Resorts, California: How does the all-time hottest get hotter?By improving Pebble's pace of play, unveiling a sleek spa, burnishing the Lodge and debuting the luxury suites of Casa Palmero. They've invested. Golfers have requited. (800-654-9300; pebblebeach.com)
Pinehurst Resort, North Carolina: With the coming of the 2005 U.S. Open to the storied No. 2 (not to mention Tom Fazio's reworked No. 4 and Rees Jones's refurbished No. 7), the granddaddy of golf reasorts is the destination for those in the know—who are playing it now, while they still can. (800-487-4653; pinehurst.com)
We tried to find an heir to its throne: Callaway's new HX Tour?The relaunched Top-Flite Strata?But the stats are undeniable: An incredible two-thirds of all PGA Tour golfers are playing Titleist's Pro V1 or Pro V1x. Indeed, thirty-four of last year's forty-eight Tour events were won by one of these balls, and the first thirteen events of 2004 begat nine V1 winners (Els, Mickelson, Singh and Weir among them). For at least another year, the V1 will remain the one.
The mullet may be out of vogue, but the mallet—as in mallet putter—is white-hot. Indeed, the four most-used putters on Tour this year are mallets, led by a Scotty Cameron prototype that hits stores this summer as the Red X. Other Tour faves are the Odyssey White Hot 2-Ball (Charles Howell III), the Cameron Futura (Phil Mickelson) and Rossa's red-and-black Monza (Bernhard Langer). And don't get the now-sidelined Jim Furyk started on the Ben Hogan by Bettinardi Baby Ben he used to equal the all-time scoring record at last year's U.S. Open. Furyk put the putter in his bag for the first time that week; as one could imagine, it's stayed.
The pros have been onto this one for years, and now that clubfaces have reached their legal limit in size and springlike effect, the magical property known as launch angle is filtering down to the rest of us. "Welcome to the modern world of golf technology, where launch is your friend," says MacGregor owner and CEO Barry Schneider.
The gist is this: For maximum distance, the trick is getting the ball up fast and keeping it there, and the angle at which the ball actually leaves the face—not to be confused with the club's loft—is a big determining factor. Match the right launch angle (say, twelve degrees) with the right ball speed and spin rate (e.g., 2,500 r.p.m.), and combustion happens. Got it?If not, don't fear: A proper club fitting will help ensure you're wielding a well-calibrated weapon.
Long irons are on the way out and hybrid clubs are in—your bag, that is. New hybrids are debuting this year from almost every club maker, from upstart Sonartec to traditionalists Ben Hogan and Tommy Armour. Once a small revolution, the hybrid trend has spread for one reason: They're undeniably easier to hit than long irons. Factor in highly lofted fairway woods (like Vijay's nine-wood) and new super-game-improvement irons like the Ping G2 HL, and the days of the troublesome two-iron appear numbered.
When it comes to the big dog most Tour players have in their bags, the TaylorMade R510 TP (for "Tour Preferred") barks loudest. The list of pros using the 510 is more than two dozen names long and includes Darren Clarke, Fred Couples, Sergio Garcia and Hank Kuehne, who you might have heard hits the ball pretty far. Word is that TaylorMade, never one to rest long on its laurels, will soon offer its Tour players an even more technologically advanced driver. Which figures: The company has had the Tour's top driver every year since 2001.
Even without those amusing Charles Barkley ads, there's no denying Nike's Slingshot irons. Since their debut in 2003, word of their astounding forgiveness has spread. From November through February, they boasted the greatest jump in market share among all irons and the highest share in the game-improvement segment. Their secret is a bowed band of steel across the back—hence the name—that moves the center of gravity behind the clubface. Think you're too good for all that?Consider this: A growing number of Tour players, including Rory Sabbatini and Trevor Immelman, now play Slingshot long irons. That's right: a game-improvement club . . . on Tour.