News & Opinion

Trend could be music to golfers’ ears

One in a weekly series of stories about golf gear to run each Wednesday.

By Gary Van Sickle

Golf and music are not an obvious combination. Especially since the phrase most commonly identified with golf is, “Shhhhhh!”

There are traditionalists who still think that the game should be played in utter silence, may even resent birds chirping during their backswings and will hate everything about this story.

The game has evolved, for better or worse, and music – OK, rock music – is seen as an ingredient that adds to an entertainment experience that golf is expected to provide. Millennials have been able to carry their favorite tunes in an iPod or on a cellphone for their entire lives and never have been separated from their music. They see tunes as an essential element of golf. When they tee it up, they want to rock on, rock on.

I am on music’s side in this debate. Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., has piped classic rock outdoors around its clubhouse and onto the range for as long as I can remember, back into the early 1990s.

I don’t know who merged golf and rock tunes first, but for me, it was Matt McKay, a longtime Dallas newspaper sportswriter who now hosts The Elevated Tee, a weekly golf-talk radio show in Idyllwild, Calif.

McKay, 57, started bringing a boom box to the course in the late 1980s to help combat the egregious slow play at a course that he frequented in Flower Mound, Texas.

“We’d drink, play a hand of gin and listen to sports or music,” McKay said. “Later in the day, and four beers into a six-pack, everyone sang better and had better rhythm. I decided this was a good idea and continued to bring the radio specifically for the music.”

Any time I teed it up with Matty, as he was known, I wasn’t bothered by the background noise. In fact, I looked forward to 18 holes of classic rock from the back of his golf cart. 

You may have had your own trailblazing Matty McKay, Golf DJ, but he gets my vote as the Godfather of Golf Rock.

The tradition continues with Henry Adams, a Denver real estate broker. He has a new product, Sound Caddy ($129, www.SoundCaddyGolf.com), which brings music to your game. 

The Sound Caddy looks like a driver. It’s got a shaft and an oversized head with grooves on the face, and it fits into a golf bag like a regular club.

But it’s not a golf club. The head is a high-quality speaker. There’s a stake hidden in the shaft (for anchoring in the ground, say, on the range, and insert the detachable speaker head on it). Or the driver head can be dropped into a tee-holder slot on a golf cart’s tray, to turn up the volume. The shaft breaks down for storage or travel.

The Sound Caddy features a built-in microphone, Bluetooth connectivity and a dual USB charger capable of charging two cellphones. It makes Matty’s old boombox seem like caveman gear.

Adams always has been hooked on golf and rock. He learned the game while frequently sneaking onto Denver’s Wellshire Golf Course late in the day. 

“I am a golfer. I respect the game, and I love it,” said Adams, 32. “I also think it’s enhanced by music. People think of Rodney Dangerfield at Bushwood in ‘Caddyshack,’ but we don’t want that. If listening to Bob Marley at a moderate level helps you get into rhythm, why not? Steph Curry and other NBA players wear headphones while warming up. Who doesn’t love music?”

While in high school, Adams and his friends would bring a small speaker or use a cellphone in a holder to provide tunes. “The phone would die or we’d forget the speaker,” Adams said. “We lost a lot of money leaving Bose speakers behind in the cart. And when your phone dies, your girlfriend or your wife gets mad. I wanted something that was convenient and could charge your phone and play music.”

Adams drew a crude design on a bar napkin in what he calls a J.K. Rowling Harry Potter moment and took it to a friend who had mad engineering and DJ skills. The result was a 460cc head speaker that is the same length as a driver and not too heavy to be added to a golf bag. 

The illusion of the 15th club is shattered when the music source – supplied by you, the golfer – fires up. The big question, of course, is, How does the fake driver head sound? “It’s phenomenal,” Adams said. “The quality of the sound surprises people.”

I’m no audiophile, nor did I spend last night in a Holiday Inn, but I can vouch that Sound Caddy’s sound quality is impressive.

The battery has a playback life of 10 hours or more, depending on whether the user also is charging two phones. Adams has gotten as many as four golf rounds out of one charge.

If you’re wondering what the built-in microphone is for, it's so that the user can leave his phone on the bag and if a call comes in, he can answer it without fumbling through his bag and promise to return the call … after the next hole.

Sure, that’s just the kind of thing that might bug the old guy on the adjacent fairway, but golf is contracting, like it or not, and this may be a case of the customer always being right. 

“Golf courses are very receptive to whatever they can do to attract younger golfers,” Adams said.

The marketplace ultimately will decide whether Sound Caddy is in the right place at the right time with the right product.

Meanwhile, leave it to the Godfather of Golf Rock to put Sound Caddy into perspective. 

“Ask yourself this question,” McKay said. “If you're trying to make golf more fun, and listening to music is fun, why wouldn't you want to listen to music while you play golf?”

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: gvansick@aol.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle