Hi to all
Interesting read. Always something new to enhance the Games we play or so it seems.
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Can't hit like Tiger Woods? Well, a Toronto sports equipment company may have the answer for you ... and it's out of this world
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John Daly eat your heart out!

The moon rockets he's renowned for hitting on the golf course are destined to be consigned to history like the stage coach, leather football helmets and wooden hockey sticks. The new long-drive champion is soon to be a Russian whose golfing experience consists of two lessons from LPGA Hall of Famer Carol Mann.

Element 21 Golf, a Toronto sports equipment company, is preparing to hit a shot round the world. Literally. The company has a patent on a space-age product, once a state secret in the Soviet Union, that could change the way golf is played in the same way aluminium bats changed sandlot baseball.

The company has sent a golf club and ball to the International Space Station, along with astronaut and flight engineer, Mikhail Tyurin. On Nov. 23, during a space walk to be televised on ESPN and ABC he will take one of Element 21's new 5-irons made from a scandium alloy and drive a ball into space.

It has been heralded by the company as a celebration of the 35th anniversary of the time Alan Shepard stepped from Apollo 14 to hit golf balls on the moon. Oh, and they hope you'll buy their new scandium clubs, too.



"When I first got wind of the idea about a year and a half ago I thought it was a bit of a -- I wouldn't use the word gimmick -- but I thought it was a bit odd or bizarre," admits Bill Dey, executive vice-president and general manager of Element 21. But reaction to the scheme has been "incredible," says Dey, since it was announced more than a year ago. "Our brand, is stronger than who we are as a functioning company," Dey said. That's because, while Element 21 is known internationally, listed on stock markets, and is having clubs used by several pros on the PGA Tour, it won't be possible to buy a scandium alloy club over the counter until February.

Get a hook in the world of golf and it usually is a bad thing, but having Tyurin hit his space shot is an exception to that rule. It has tweaked media curiosity in China, Australia, Japan, Korea, Britain, Spain and Germany, Dey said. It has put Element 21 on the Golf Channel, CNN and ESPN did a live feed from the space station with Tyurin. "It has helped us move quickly into the international market and licencing business," Dey said. "That's a good thing."

NASA wasn't sure how good it was -- at first. There was concern the ball floating in space could damage the space station. But safety officers have cleared the stunt since the ball weighs only three grams and will burn up returning into earth atmosphere within three days. Or about as much time as it takes me to finish nine holes.

Element 21 Golf is staking its success on scandium, a mined substance and the fifth-most abundant element on the earth's crust. In its raw form, it's not usable. But the Soviets found a way to mix it with 15 other alloys and used it in space vehicles and the manufacture of MIG fighter jets and missiles.

How good is it? The scandium alloy was licensed to Easton to produce E21 alloy bats. "In 12 months it completely eliminated their titanium bat program and today remains their No. 1 biggest launch of any product," Dey said. "In the last seven years they've done $1.4 billion US dollars in that bat line. That's an amazing statistic. They've never changed the product, even today. Because it's impossible to make it any better."

The secret is in the alloy mix. If it's not done right, it's useless, Dey said. Element 21 has the patent. They've dubbed it "The soup." It's 50% lighter than titanium and 25% stronger by weight -- which means instead of hitting it into the fairway bunker I'll now be able to reach the one in front of the green.

Anyway, the improved strength to weight ratio allowed engineers to move more weight from the face to the perimeter and back of the club, resulting in what company officials call the largest sweet spot of any driver on the market.

The scandium metal alloy shafts are superior in every respect to graphite and stainless steel, according to the company.

"It took a tremendous amount of resources and years of investment ... a whole country's resources to develop (the scandium alloy)," Dey said. "(The Russians) owned it. When the country broke up, that information got into the public domain. We picked up the rights to how the alloys are put together into a finished product."

Sounds a bit like a bunch of James Bond types, except with pocket protectors and physics degrees instead of martini parties and stun guns.

John Cook used the scandium prototype to finish fifth at the Reno Tahoe Open and 18 other pros are currently testing them. In November 100 visitors to www.E21golf.com will be used as a focus group.

"The real product launch where they'll be available at a Nevada Bobs or at pro shops everywhere will be Feb. 15, 2007," Dey said.

"When you build a product you have to be sure the engineering is perfect," Dey said, of the lagtime between the space shot and when you can start blaming a new club for hitting it into the trees. "It's not like going to make scrambled eggs in the morning. You've got to make sure ... it works."

Drivers will be out in April. The technology won't come cheap, though. PGA.com lists the drivers costing $700 Cdn.

But, then they are, afterall, out of this world.

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minir