GOLF TAB -- Golf meets rocket science in new device

By Tod Leonard

Copley News Service

There are 24 global positioning system satellites circling Earth at this moment. Twelve on the light side. Twelve on the dark side.

The Department of Defense began launching them in 1978. It was the Cold War, and if a crisis occurred on land, the military wanted to be able to track ships and planes.

That's still a concern today, but now we track cars and luxury boats and even hikers with GPS.


And we track golfers.

The GPS system, made available for civilian use after a navigational error led to the shooting down by the Soviet Union of Korean Airlines Flight 007, has been used in golf for about six years. The applications of it get more sophisticated all the time. There are color monitors now, on which you can actually see your cart move along the fairway as you drive.

The primary purpose, of course, is to take the guesswork and mystery out of figuring yardage to the hole and hazards. Pro golfers have had caddies to do that for them. Everyday golfers have had to rely on yardage markers that are sometimes sparse, nonexistent or just plain inaccurate.

The problem has been that using a GPS required renting a cart, and there are plenty of golfers out there who believe walking is part of the game. And even if you like carts, what if your favorite course didn't have a GPS system?

The solution: a hand-held GPS device newly available that is the result of an engineer's time, money and tears.

Steve Seidensticker saw his first GPS system on carts while playing a few years ago, and it stirred the inventor's spirit in him. Already an engineer for sophisticated flight simulator systems, Seidensticker wondered if it would be possible to develop a hand-held GPS system for golf.

Two of the passions in Seidensticker's life collided head-on.

"I started asking around, and I couldn't get any of the existing (GPS) companies interested in the idea," Seidensticker, 61, said. "So one day I said, 'If I ever want to use one of these things, if I ever want to own one, I'm going to have to do it myself.'"


More than two years later, after spending much of his savings to endure hundreds of technological hiccups, Seidensticker's fledgling company, Golf Ranger Systems, debuted the hand-held GPS-Caddy in February.

Attached to a Palm III or IV computer, the $349 GPS-Caddy provides yardage from the tee to bunkers, hazards and landing areas. In the fairway, it relates the distance to and over obstacles, as well as yardage to front, center and back of the greens. It can measure the distance of shots. It has course descriptions more insightful than the inane, "hit it straight" advice that plagued some previous GPS systems.

It cannot order your lunch.

GPS-Caddy currently has 50 courses. With a little effort, owners can input the information for their own course if it doesn't already exist.

"People love it when I show it to them," Seidensticker said. "My wife takes it out when she plays and people are always asking, 'What's that thing?'"

The device is a technological marvel. Using software that required room-sized computers not too long ago, GPS-Caddy sends a beam 12,000 miles into the sky to some of those 24 GPS satellites. While traveling in unison at 7,000 mph, the satellites calculate a golfer's location on Earth to within 3 yards of perfect accuracy.

"I am absolutely amazed at GPS," Seidensticker said. "It is one of the technological wonders that exists today. You have these satellites on low power transmitting to little receivers, with a huge amount of electrical background noise. It's like sitting in Qualcomm Stadium, with two people on opposites sides, and whispering to each other."

For that reason, Seidensticker had plenty of headaches developing the system. Essentially, the GPS "brings the Palm processor to its knees," Seidensticker said, because the Palm was designed to keep people's appointment books, not track satellites. Its battery also wasn't made to last the six hours a round of golf might take.


It took more than a year to create the software and another year to stamp out the bugs. Seidensticker figures there have been about a dozen prototypes in all.

"Sometimes I wonder," Seidensticker said with a smile, "how did I ever get into this?"

And the computer work was easy compared with raising money to market GPS-Caddy once it was ready to be sold. Seidensticker has hired three people to help him, filmed a slick television commercial and taken out ads in the newspaper. The result, he said, has been the sale of about 50 devices.

"We're like any start-up company," Seidensticker said. "We need funding and we don't have it."

Even with a limited market right now -- after all, buyers need to own a Palm, have the money to add the GPS and care enough about their game to do so -- Seidensticker said he believes the company has set reasonable goals. He wants to have 400 courses in 20 cities integrated by the end of the year, and wants to sell 100,000 of the units over the next three years.

For Seidensticker, it has become a personal quest.

"I've been involved in a lot of things and have come close to some major successes," he said. "This time it's going to be something I can do myself. I don't have to worry about my boss screwing it up."

"You always see the mountain up there," he added. "And one of those days you might get to the top. That's what motivates me."


For information on GPS Caddy, call (619) 284-3006. The Web Site is

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