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Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Despite the PGA Tour going pretty much all year now, I still think of the golf season as not really kicking off until the Masters rolls around. (A notion not unrelated to the fact that I live in New England; you Southern California, Arizona, Florida folks get to play in January.) So as the 77th edition of the Augusta National Invitation approaches, let’s take a look at this year’s hottest equipment and trends with the help of award-winning travel writer and golf expert Larry Olmsted.

What gear is a must-have for this golf season?

Definitely the Taylor Made R1 driver. It is the most hotly anticipated and then well-received club I can remember in years. It won on the PGA Tour in its debut, the season opener, just a couple of weeks before it went on sale to the public and it was heavily pre-ordered. Taylor Made already dominated the club court on Tour, but this steps it up a notch. They revolutionized drivers a few years back by introducing user-changeable face angle to correct slices and hooks, and this model adds changeable loft, in a wide range, to help each golfer select proper ball flight.

I also think we will continue to see the public move toward “skate shoe” style golf shoes like the Ecco Street Shoe as more and more Tour players embrace them on TV.

Once people wear them and realize how comfortable they are and how well they perform, I think traditional golf shoes will have a hard time. Almost every major manufacturer now makes this style.

Finally, either a dedicated golf GPS or smartphone app. A few years ago these were a rarity for the most anal gofers; now they are commonplace, giving you thousands of course maps, and then when you play, distance from the hole and other useful info.

What’s the must-play course this season?

Streamsong in Florida, between Orlando and Tampa, and by a huge margin. The 36 holes opened in late 2012 and both courses were immediately named 1 & 2 “Best New” by Golf Magazine and have gotten stellar reviews across the board. In California, the true “must play” remains Pebble Beach, because of all the history, despite the difficulty and expense of securing a tee time. For Chicagoans it’s Whistling Straits in nearby Kohler, Wis., one of the few public courses to have hosted a Major, the PGA Championship, twice in recent times.

Who’s going to wear the Green Jacket this year?

I think Tiger but that’s hardly going out on a limb. He holds the tournament record, he’s just won in dominant style two in a row, he’s the world’s number one player, the course suits him and everyone else seems to be collapsing in the wake of his resurgence. My second pick would be Keegan Bradley.

Where’s your absolute favorite place to stay when on a golf vacation?

I am answering this question from the lodging perspective, which is not the same as my favorite place to go on a golf vacation. In the US it is very hard to beat the American Club in Kohler, Wis., for world-class golf resort lodging with world class golf. I also really love The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. In Ireland, The Lodge at Doonbeg, in Doonbeg, and in Scotland the Turnberry Resort, in Turnberry.

Read more from Mr. Olmsted at USA Today, Forbes, and on his website, Larry Golfs the World.