Test drives aren't only for automobiles.
Just ask Tony Jusick, 69, a retired university physics instructor who takes frequent spins with high-tech equipment without ever slipping behind the wheel.
At least twice a month, a FedEx truck pulls up to Jusick's doorstep in Deland, Fla., and unloads a package with the latest advance in the sport he loves. A square-backed driver. A mallet-headed putter. A rescue wood or a deep-grooved wedge.
Jusick makes the arrangements with a few clicks on his computer keyboard. Two to three days later, his golf clubs arrive, and Jusick lights out for the links.
"For a guy like me who's always toying around with new clubs, it's ideal," says Jusick, a 16-handicapper who plays and practices several times a week. "In a way, it's a very American thing. I want choice. And I want it now."
Testing golf equipment wasn't always so easy.
For years, Jusick traveled to golf club "demo days," often held in Orlando, a 45-minute car-ride from his home. A longtime staple of golf club marketing, demo days were dreamed up by manufacturers as a way to spread word about their newest lines.
The idea is simple: Set up shop at a local practice range, and let consumers come to them.
It sounds easy enough. But for tireless tinkerers like Jusick, demo days have several drawbacks. Their schedules and locations are often inconvenient. And the testing format is restricted -- how can you tell if you really like a club after just a few swings on a practice range?
"I'd always go to them," Jusick says, "but I'd ... walk away disappointed. The atmosphere was usually confusing, and the way they were run just wasn't useful for me."
Jusick's approach to club-testing changed a little more than a year ago, when he was surfing the Web and came across a site called
GolfClubDemo.com. A subsidiary of
( EXBV), GolfClubDemo improves on demo days by transporting them to the digital world.
The only online service of its kind, the site has been described as "
for golfers," and in many ways, the services are the same.
Golfers click on a club that interests them and, almost as fast as you can say FedEx, it arrives.
You then get five days to try out the equipment -- on the range, on the course, anywhere. When those five days are up, you can return the club in a prepaid package, or apply the rental fee toward the purchase of the club.
"At this point, testing lots of clubs is something of a hobby for me," Jusick says. "As a golfer, I'm always interested in improving. But as a physics teacher, I'm also interested in the way technology works. This is a way to satisfy both of those interests in an efficient and cost-effective way."
Launched in 2006, GolfClubDemo is the brainchild of Larry Tedesco, a former professional golfer and Atlanta businessman whose own career has shifted from the green grass of the practice range to the digital links of the Internet.
The son of a firefighter, Tedesco grew up playing municipal golf in Connecticut -- a blue-collar kid in a blue-blood sport.
A turning point came when he landed a college golf scholarship at Furman University in South Carolina. His freshman roommate -- and golf teammate -- was Steven Spencer, whose father was head professional at Augusta National, home of the Masters and one of the most esteemed courses in the world.
"It was pretty surreal," Tedesco says. "Like a lot of kids, I'd grown up watching the tournament. And before you know it, I'm out there with the son of the head pro, getting a tour of the course on a cart."
After college, Tedesco played for several years on regional golf tours, but he grew weary of the travel and the skimpy paychecks. While in school, he'd worked at Augusta during Masters week, helping organize the warehouse-size quantities of merchandise on sale during the event. Now, with his competitive drive waning on the course, he returned to Augusta, this time to work as an assistant pro.
It was, in many ways, a dream job: a beautiful setting, summers off (Augusta closes in the hottest season and doesn't reopen until early fall) and playing privileges on a coveted course.
But a few years later, another opportunity knocked. Tedesco signed on as a sales manager with Exchange Boulevard, a company that builds tools for running online auctions.
What he lacked in formal business training Tedesco made up for with his people skills and enthusiasm for closing deals. He rocketed through the company ranks, and in two years, he took over as CEO.
Exchange Boulevard has several golf-focused sites under its umbrella, including
GolfBlueBook.com, which does for golf equipment what the Blue Book does for cars. Two years ago, Tedesco came up with the idea for GolfClubDemo.com. Fittingly, it was his father, the man who taught him the game, who provided inspiration.
"One day he was complaining about how he'd missed the Callaway demo day in his hometown, and now he couldn't find the clubs he wanted to try out," Tedesco says. "And I thought, 'Boy, this is crazy. With all these new clubs, and all the players who want to demo them, there's got to be a better way.'"
While his techies built the site, Tedesco made a deal with GolfGalaxy, the country's largest golf retailer, to supply equipment.
It wasn't long before demo clubs were swinging through the online world.
The site gives users access to top-of-the-line equipment from major manufacturers such as
, TaylorMade and
. Titleist and Ping are the only two big names that have yet to sign on.
The service is currently available in the U.S. and Canada, but Tedesco is eyeing other opportunities overseas.
Tony Jusick, for his part, is always eyeing new clubs online. It costs him $29.99 per trial, a relative bargain, Jusick says, when you consider the time and hassle of traveling to traditional demo days.
In recent months, he's tinkered with two drivers: a flat-headed Callaway FT-5 (verdict: not for him) and a Nike Sasquatch (upshot: he liked it well enough to purchase one), but given how simple testing has become, Jusick has no plans to stop there.
Just like every other golfer, Jusick says, "I'm always looking for the magic cure."
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Josh Sens is a freelance writer living in Oakland, Calif., and a contributing writer to Golf Magazine. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Men's Journal, Golf Digest and other national publications.