Michigan Golfer ON-LINE

The Soft Sell of Spikeless

By Jack Berry

Two-time National Long Driving champion Evan (Big Cat) Williams wears them. So do David Fay, Executive Director of the United States Golf Association, and Tom Meeks, the USGA's Director of Rules and Competition. Two-time United States Open champion Andy North wore them in the Open last summer at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island. Raymond Floyd wore them at the Masters. Fuzzy Zoeller says everyone will wear them at his new Covered Bridge course in New AIbany, Indiana.

What are we talking about? Non-metal spikes. Softspikes and its neighbors in the business like Greenspike, Inc., a Michigan non-metal spike company founded by 10 Crystal Downs Country Club members. Non-metal spikes can do more for the enjoyment of the game than graphite shafts.

Imagine every green as smooth as a pool table, no Mt. Everest spike marks in your way, no chain of Rocky Mountains where people carelessly dragged their feet.

Play a course where the metal spike ban is in effect-and they're becoming more common all the time-and at the end of the day the greens are as good as they were when the first players hit them in the morn ing.

So far it's been the upscale public courses and top private clubs that have prohibited metal spikes and while it will take time for everyone to switch, it's an idea whose time has come.

Meeks said the rules question he is asked most is when will players be permitted to tap down spike marks.

"Won't happen," Meeks said, adding it would be like opening Pandora's Box to a host of ills.

"The British PGA tried it for a year and dropped it," Meeks said. "I'd like to see people practice etiquette and tap down spike marks after everyone has putted out. Gary Player is very good about that."

Players on the pro tours have been slow to adopt Softspikes, reasoning that metal spikes will give them better footing. But the best golf swings are swings that are made with good balance and they could be made in deck shoes.

"Softspikes are light and you can wear them anywhere," said Williams who gives clinics and exhibitions from coast to coast. "I've slipped a couple of times but I slipped in metal spikes too."

Art Sellinger, another two-time National Long Driving champion, is a Softspikes wearer and so are Byron Nelson and Pete Dye.

It's ironic that some of the country's best clubs ordain spikeless year-round but then permit tour players to wear them when they go in for a tournament-metal is banned at Jack Nicklaus's meticulously-maintained Memorial Village Golf Club-but they're permitted for the PGA Tour Memorial Tournament.

Metal is banned at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., but the steel spikes were permitted for the USGA Senior Open last summer. Metal is banned at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., but you saw last summer how chewed up the tender new greens were during the PGA Championship when metal was permitted.

Innovations usually start with tour players but this time it's the public that got the word first and is spreading it.

Steve Kircher, vice president of Boyne USA, and the Michigan PGA agreed a year ago to play three championships: the Boyne Tournament of Champions at Boyne Mountain and Michigan PGA Championship and Michigan Pro-Am Championship at Boyne Highlands, spikeless.

In a wonderful ironic touch, Jeff Roth of Flint Golf Club won the Tournament of Champions. Roth didn't agree with the metal ban so he took a pair of new shoes, unscrewed the spikes and played that way.

It certainly proved metal spikes weren't necessary for victory.

And, another ironic touch, Softspikes were developed in Boise, Idaho by Ernie Deacon and Faris McMullin because metal spikes were banned for winter golf. Deacon unscrewed his spikes and started experimenting with a plastic plug to fill the holes.

He came up with fan-like spiral design of hard plastic and patented it. Easterner Bill Ward had a place in Jackson Hole, Wyo., and learned about Softspikes while in the west, acquired worldwide marketing rights and then bought the company.

Andy North is a friend of Softspikes president Rob O'Laughlin and North, who has had numerous surgeries on his knees, became a Softspikes convert.

Golf course superintendents love them- they reduce maintenance and don't harm greens. Now more than 300 clubs nationally have banned metal spikes. Kohler's Blackwolf Run in Wisconsin, ranked among the Top 100 Courses in the world by one national magazine and ranked No. 3 among the Top Courses You Can Play by another, has gone spikeless.

Boyne's Kircher said the Heather course at the Highlands will remain spikeless again this year as will the new Bay Harbor course. Kircher said it is the first step in converting all Boyne courses to non-metal. The staff at the Heather will change spikes for customers who arrive with metal spikes.

And the Golf Association of Michigan said it will require contestants in all of its championships and qualifiers played at clubs with a non-metal policy to go spikeless.

Gretchen Postula, a native of Detour Vil lage in the Upper Peninsula and a Ferris State graduate, is marketing director for Softspikes. Her job is to get out the message and convert everyone to Softspikes.

How do you convince the public course trunk-slammer to switch?

"Softspikes pay off for course owners and operators in better conditions and reduced maintenance cost," Postula said. "Some ways that owners and operators can get consumers to switch is to offer to change spikes for $5. Or offer $2 off the greens fee or a free bucket of range balls. It can be a selling point to owners and operators that their course has a spikeless policy so conditions will be better.

"At first some operators said they couldn't ban metal because they were public. Then some said they needed to do it just because they are public and they want people to return," Postula said.

Softspikes is into its second generation which the company says provides greater traction without puncturing the turf.

A pack of Softspikes retails for $7 to $9 and includes 24 cleats. They're sold in most golf retail outlets.

Greenspike was invented by Ed Abbey, a 77-year-old retired manufacturer who lives in Frankfort and is a member of storied Crystal Downs. The Greenspike is a series of concentric circles and the spikes are self-threading. Start turning them into the cleat socket by hand and then tighten them with a spike wrench and they seat themselves.

Greenspikes sell for about $7 a pack. To order, call 800-757-8711.

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