Monthly Archives: February 2015

Out, See, Go: Mid-winter (ice) break

By Chris Engle, contributor

About this time four years ago, I was aboard the Coast Guard cutter Mackinaw, crushing through the frozen Straits on assignment for the Gaylord Herald Times.

The morning mission was not led by the Coast Guard. Instead, a group called Employer Support of Guard and Reserve (ESGR) had commandeered the vessel for the special task of giving employers a chance to experience a day in the life of their enlisted workers. ESGR calls these trips “Boss Lifts” so bosses can earn a greater appreciation for their employees who take leave to serve their country.

The 3-hour tour took myself and a dozen others from the dock at St. Ignace out into the Straits, under the Mackinac Bridge and halfway to the island. All the way we busted through a sheet of ice six inches to a foot thick. The sound of that ice snapping and grating against the hull is something I’ll never forget. If you’re bothered by fingernails on a chalkboard, this is about 10 times worse.

The whole trip I was taking pictures for the paper, peering over the bow and pausing occasionally to scrape frozen water droplets off my camera lens. Air temperatures were somewhere around zero and the breeze from the ship’s steady clip through the Straits made my eyes water and cheeks burn.

Midway through the trip I made my way up to the wheelhouse to catch a break from the elements. The term “wheelhouse” is a misnomer – the Coast Guard calls this part of the ship the “bridge,” which could get confusing when you’re busting ice under an actual bridge – because there is no steering wheel on this boat.

Instead, a young crew member was guiding the Mackinaw with a joystick, the same kind you’d find on your typical arcade Pac-Man machine. Control of the 240-foot behemoth rested in his fingers. I have trouble steering a little yellow circle across a screen – granted I am being chased by ghosts.

Naturally, I asked if I could drive. He politely refused. When you find yourself in that type of situation, always ask.

I never needed the elastic wristbands I’d brought along to relieve sea sickness, or the Dramamine I’d considered taking before the trip. The only motion on the boat was an occasional lurch onto thicker ice before it sank back down again into the churning lake – the thing can break through several feet of ice with ease. The scenery was enough to keep my mind off the movement.

I’ve been a fisherman all my life and there have only been a few instances where I’ve gotten nauseous on the water, and almost all of them involved Lake Huron.

Salmon fishing off the coast of Alpena, about 80 miles south of the Straits, sometimes came with a turn in the weather. The calm lake can quickly churn into 3- and 4-foot waves, which toss a 16-foot aluminum boat around like a bathtub toy. I do not recommend it.

There was another trip many years ago in Munising Bay on Lake Superior – a Pictured Rocks sightseeing trip in my uncle’s fiberglass boat.

Within minutes the weather turned from fair to fearsome. The sky darkened and the lake turned black. Tour boats were heading for the docks and urging us over the marine radio to do the same. Waves were breaking over the open bow and my brother and I bailed water as my uncle turned tail to steer us to shore. Our boat rode the capping waves like a surfboard and we survived the trip.

There’s a saying that goes “A bad day on the water beats a good day at work.” That is a lie.

I have a better saying: No fish is worth dying over. It works all year long and applies to wretched waves and dangerously thin ice. They’re good words to live by if you want to keep living.

I was thinking about that ice breaker trip this weekend while I cleared my driveway of two feet of drifted snow. Forty mile per hour winds had swept corn husks from the field to the north into my yard and they twirled around in the air like New Years confetti. The two-hour chore sent me into a whirl of daydreams.

My moustache froze as my snow blower chugged through the deep snow, and all I could think about was how I’d rather be standing on the frigid bow of the Mackinaw just to hear the splash of open water under my feet.

Just before he bit Mayor Jonathan Freund on the ear, a groundhog in Sun Prairie, Wis. did not see his shadow two weeks ago, suggesting an early spring. Let’s hope he’s right.

– Chris Engle is a stay-at-home dad, an avid outdoorsman and outdoor columnist for the Gaylord Herald Times. He can be reached at

Technology Highlights Golf’s Super Bowl, the PGA Merchandise Show!

By GolfPRGuy

It seems like yesterday that I was a young PGA golf professional coming for the first time to buy merchandise and check out the latest buzz at the Super Bowl of the golf industry – the PGA Merchandise Show.

This year marks my 23rd consecutive show.

After walking the millions of square feet of space containing golf equipment, clothing, gadgets and more over the years, I have finally become numb to all of the hype relating to golf equipment, drivers, balls, and irons, which dominated the scene in the 90’s and 2000’s.

Golf equipment doesn’t seem to carry the buzz it once did, mainly because I think we have all figured out the pitch of the marketing machines that are Titleist, TaylorMade, Callaway and Ping. While they all make great equipment, we know we are not going to keep hitting it farther and farther every year with new clubs. Maybe that is why TaylorMade decided to skip the show for the first time in years.

This decade has become the technology era of golf beyond the clubs. GPS systems, swing analyzers and tracking stats seem to be the buzz the past few years. Most of the technology companies even had their own section on the show floor this year to showcase the latest products. GPS rangefinders like Bushnell or SkyGolf and Golf Buddy with their new watches have become the hot product stops.

My time spent on the show floor these days is not as long as it once was, but I do always try to make the rounds and check out what is new and what I might be picking up in 2015.


Get Smart on the links

When I head to the golf course today I feel like Maxwell Smart armed with a shoe phone, watch gadget and other necessary technology to gain the advantage against KAOS. Today, KAOS is any modern golf course with its expanded tees, tight fairways, unrealistic length and overcooked green complexes.

I have become a former traditionalist, at least in that I used to not believe in using GPS technology. I have found though that these new GPS devices help speed up play to battle golf’s KAOS and I find I’m all for it now.

Whether it is one of the new watches from Skygolf or Golf Buddy, or the upgraded handheld units, it’s clear the gadgets help golfers make quicker decisions in club selection. My favorite is the simple Bushnell Pro X7 Jolt Slope ( I always want the yardage to the flag, and the combination of factoring in elevation and the vibrating burst when you hit the pin adds that much more confidence to your club selection.

Become a stat geek on the links

When Trackman technology hit the golf scene, it changed the entire dynamics of teaching and custom club fitting. Today, golfers can bring that same technology right to their smart phones and tablets with Arccos ( Arccos has created sensors that attach to the end of each club.

The sensors are then paired to your device, which allows you to keep track of all your swing stats with no need to tap, touch or interfere with your game during your pre-swing or between shots. Every shot you take is now club to cloudtracked through GPS and Bluetooth technology. Find out exactly how far you’re hitting your driver, woods, and irons, as well as shot patterns. It allows you to react and make the proper changes right away. I believe this is also a perfect product for golf coaches in high school or college. It can help them track players’ shots and performance and help determine what needs to be worked on immediately.

Travel and play in 21st century style

If you are one that travels often and have to deal with airport security, getting clubs in and out of a travel bag, broken zippers and busted wheels, not to mention damaged clubs, make sure to check out the GolfPod by Aeroe Limited ( The GolfPod is the world’s first hard-shell golf travel case and golf cart bag combination.

bagIf Captain Kirk had brought golf clubs on the Enterprise, this is exactly what he would have used. Its sleek futuristic patented design allows golfers to carry 14 clubs, shoes, balls, tees, gloves, rain suit, water bottles and more in accessible and visible compartments. Fully loaded it also comes in less than 50 pounds, which is critical when traveling. The locking system is also approved by TSA and its compact size does not require it being checked in the oversize luggage area or baggage return counter.

If you are a traditionalist and like traveling to places that encourage or only allow walking, the GolfPod does fit nicely on a pull cart or trolley. If you have a caddie, most places now provide carry bags for the caddies where they can just take the clubs out and put them in their bag. The point – the GolfPod provides a strong sense of security when traveling, so much so that I am not going to let the few times I might walk when traveling sway me from this product.

The $599 price tag might be a bit steep, but when you figure that is what it costs to purchase a decent golf travel bag and a traditional golf bag, it is well worth it for the security of knowing your clubs are going to be secure and safe when traveling.

Tony Hawk would love this product

cart w bag

One of my favorite products this year has to be the Golf Board ( Laird Hamilton, the surfing legend, helped to develop this concept of bringing the surf or skate boarding style to the golf course, but I was always partial to Tony Hawk and skate boarding as a kid. Either way this is a cool product and something that can make golf cool and attract the younger generation Y demographic to the game.

GolfBoarding, as it is referred to, allows you to play the game and move around on the course on this unique 4-wheel transporter. The tires are specifically made to be used on turf with less pressure and weight than traditional golf carts. The board is also driven by gearboxes and very smooth to operate with its steering throttle or hand-held remote.

The GolfBoard features a front-end bag mount, which can hold up to a tour bag in size. You can ride the board in three ways; the bag-mount and handle, which is the most conservative; the classic carry and handle, which is what I prefer; or for the more experienced boarders – the free ride with no handle or bag using a remote. I am looking forward to playing my first round with the golf board this summer.

And I will also look forward to a 24th consecutive super show next year.