You'd think golfers would be extremely easy to shop for. No sport has more gadgets, gizmos and gag gifts. But that’s also part of the problem. There are so many items out there that no self-respecting golfer would ever touch. Plus, we are a persnickety bunch. Many times, we want things just so … so as not to mess with our mojo. Shapes, colors, brands, feel—they all matter. And so buying anything for a golfer is venturing into a dangerous territory of full-out rejection. We smile and say thank you, and then toss your offering so far into the back of the closet that it won’t be found for generations.
Be that as it may, there are, of course, plenty of awesome golf gifts out there. When in doubt, get a dozen name-brand balls (we’ll always need more) or if you’re feeling particularly generous, a launch monitor would be thoughtful. Then there are the things that you must absolutely avoid, and so we offer this list. It’s far from complete, but these are some of the biggest "no-nos" we can think of, and if you ignore us, don’t be surprised to see one of these next year at a Secret Santa party.
Themed or personalized golf balls
A manufacturer very thoughtfully sent me a dozen personalized golf balls with my name on them, and my initial reaction was, “Cool!” Then I realized that for every ball I slapped into the woods or dunked into a lake, someone was going to eventually find it, and now my horrible shot had a name attached to it. God forbid more than one being found on the same course (yes, that’s highly possible), further confirming my hackery. As for putting your designated golfer’s face on a ball—don't do it without having filed a missing person’s report. Also, don’t buy colored golf balls for someone unless you know their favorite color is translucent purple, and if you give us pellets with emoji faces, know that they’ll probably end up being fodder for the dog.
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Golf ball "finder" glasses
A buddy showed up with these at the course a few years ago, and I asked if he’d just had his eyes dilated at the optometrist. That’s what they look like. They worked, kind of. But it’s just flat-out embarrassing if you’re in the wilderness so often that you need to invest 30 bucks in such gimmickry.
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I played a round a couple of weeks ago behind an already sloth-like group when I arrived on a hole to see TWO guys with their long-arm retrievers fishing for balls—less than 100 yards from tee box! Brutal. Retrievers are pace-of-play disasters, because how many times have you seen a guy find a ball and then keep casting? We know, it’s addicting, but get a move on! And please don’t enable this kind of behavior.
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Golf BBQ grilling set
A hamburger flipper shaped like a wedge! With golf grip handles! This truly is the gift you give when you’ve run out of absolutely anything else golf-related that you can think of.
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Bad golf tie
It’s kind of redundant, actually. Same for socks. There just aren’t that many that are more fashionable than they are gaudy and embarrassing. Though we must admit that the tie with Homer Simpson golfing while dreaming of pizza is pretty inspired.
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Fake hair visor
These were all the rage a decade ago (blame Phil Mickelson and Freddie Couples) and can still be found on the web. One company advertises it as seemingly a solution for bald guys, with “before” and “after” photos. It all seems fairly plausible until you arrive at the bright orange model.
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These come in various forms, including umpire-like dial counters and beads on strings. Baffling, really, because if you can’t count your strokes to double bogey, then maybe you should be finger-painting in kindergarten. Makes for a nice craft project, though.
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Found three styles of these at my local golf shop (wow), yet I haven’t seen Groucho Marx out on the course in decades.
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Any “golf ball” made by Trick Golfball Company
Ah, these classy Aussies. For years, the gag was simply exploding balls that were reduced to powder at impact. But the technology has, ahem, advanced to the point where we now have unputtable balls, jet-streaming balls and phantom balls that turn into mist instead of dust. The company has a “poo” ball sculpture (orb in the middle of fake dog poop), but must have been distraught to discover that another company, ProActive, answered their potty humor with a farting ball. Honestly, who buys this stuff beyond those heading to a clown convention?
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Even buying something as seemingly benign as tees can be tricky. People like them in all sizes and materials. If you must, we’d stay away from the martini glass tees and Trick Golfball’s Girly Tease (use your imagination).
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Some (but not all) headcovers
There are plenty of classy ones out there that would be a fine choice. And those with sports teams seem like a safe bet (even better for a laugh if you choose the team that the golfer hates). But headcovers are one of those personal choices, like shirts or hats. Avoid animals (unless they’re those eerily exact replicas of pets) and cartoon characters. And don’t waste money on iron headcovers unless they’ve been requested. Probably less than 1 percent of golfers cover their irons, and those guys get eye rolls when they’re not looking.