The Golf Tee & Dentistry: Now it can be told

Some golfers look at things the way they are and ask “Why?” Dr. Venanzio Cardarelli dreams of things that never were and asks, “Could you open a little wider please?”

Cardarelli, a practicing dentist who holds some 20 different U.S. patents, is the D.M.D. behind the Aero-Tee, a three-pronged, polycarbonate, cuspid-shaped ball platform that he hopes will revolutionize the golf tee genre. It’s a pretty neat little gizmo and a real step forward, if all the independent testing is on the level (see results at www.aero-tee.com). The Aero-Tee’s tri-fluted, helical support structure is designed to reduce resistance by all but eliminating surface-area contact with the golf ball. According to Cardarelli, 55, this scheme also increases the amount of air accelerating all around the ball — including beneath it.

While the new Aero-Tee departs quite radically from traditional golf tee designs, its designer does not. In fact Cardarelli continues a long, distinguished and quite curious tradition of dentist-assisted golf tee innovation. To wit, the wooden golf tee was invented by a Boston dentist, Dr. George Franklin Grant, in 1899, and the golf tee design most commonly utilized today was patented in 1924, by Dr. William Lowell — a New Jersey-based dentist.

Forget for a moment that Cardarelli’s Aero-Tee, if viewed upside down, bears vague resemblance to a mighty fang, roots and all.

What is it about the practice of dental arts that spurs an interest, much less sustained design innovation, in golf tees?

The Aero-Tee: shaped like a giant, inverted, tri-cuspid fang.

“Maybe Grant and Lowell were talking to me from the grave,” laughs Cardarelli, who lives in Plymouth, Mass., and practices four days a week in nearby Braintree. “Honestly, I didn’t even know these guys existed until after I came up with the Aero-Tee. I was just addressing the shortcomings of conventional tees in my basement and came up with this model. Why dentists and golf tees? That’s a tough question. I was just trying to fill a need.”

No pun intended?

“That’s right!”

Cardarelli’s enthusiasm for the Aero-Tee is evident the moment he launches into his rapid-fire, heart-felt spiels on the quest for acceptable tee stability and, of course, polycarbonates strong enough to avoid undue breakage. Yet he appears not to have considered why dentists have historically formed the leading edge of golf tee technology. “It’s a very interesting question,” muses the good doctor, slowing down to ponder the matter. “Maybe we look at things with a finer tooth comb than most people. We do deal with very small increments of measurement all day long, fractions of millimeters. We need to visualize and restore at these levels of fineness and quality — golf tees are created on this sort of scale.”

The morning after we spoke on the phone, Dr. Cardarelli, whose friends call him Vinnie, sent me an email. Evidently our conversation had stuck in his craw. “I am still thinking about your question, about the relationship of dentists and golf tees. Maybe the answer will come from the grave,” he wrote, before adding something he’d neglected to mention the day before: the vice president of Aero-Tee is Dr. Joseph Santelli, a close friend and fellow dentist (D.D.S., actually).

Cardarelli is optimistic about the Aero-Tee’s business prospects, though his product has been on the market a relatively short time [it debuted in early 2004] and there is significant competition. PrideSports of Burnham, Maine (www.ptsgolftees.com ) produces some 85 percent of the world’s wooden tees, and golfers aren’t exactly massing in the streets and turning over cars to protest the state of the art. Most golfers believe low-tech wooden tees, despite their “resistance”, do a creditable job — and most golf courses give them away in pro shops.

That said, Pride has ventured into the high-tech, alternative tee market with its PTS Off-Set model whose design recalls a waitress holding a tray over her head. One of its three prongs is shorter than the others. According to the web literature, “for best results, aim short prong at target”.

The Tomahawx model claims to reduce resistance by...

Tomahawx (www.tomahawx.com) markets what claims to be a resistance-free model by concentrating on the other end of the tee — the pointed end that goes sub terra. This knife-shaped point allows the tee to pivot forward, thus reducing resistance upon driver impact.

... tipping over upon impact — without breaking.

Then there’s the Brush-T (www.brusht.com), another alternative tee product whose flat, bristle-brush platform also claims to reduce resistance and accelerate air flow beneath the golf ball. Sort of ironic that after all those years in the basement — after all those years cajoling his patients — Dr. Cardarelli never saw the golf application of brushes. “I’ve told my wife: I’m shocked that I didn’t come up with that as an alternate design,” he says somewhat ruefully. “I guess what’s really amazing is the person who invented it wasn’t a dentist.”

Indeed, the Brush-T was conceived by Jason Crouse, a South African industrial product engineer. In other words, not a dentist. However, the president of Brush-T North America, Paul Krok, while not a dentist, just happens to be president of another company, Oralgiene USA, Inc., which distributes electric toothbrushes for children. Perhaps for this reason, Cardarelli is gracious in discussing his competitor.

Or perhaps he’s just wary of being pegged as the only dentist on earth against brushing.

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