Title:
GOLF BALL SERVER
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A golf ball server having a low profile housing and miniaturized pneumatic components is positionable adjacent a driving surface and is readily connected to pre-existing gravity ball supplies or to a funnel type supply tray. The server is operated by depressing a pad on the housing with the head of a golf club. When actuated, an arm grips a ball from the housing and rotates it for positioning reliably on a tee or directly onto the driving surface. When reset, the arm rotates back into the housing pickup another ball. As the arm rotates from the teeing position to the reset position, another ball is fed into housing and positioned for pickup. A controller times the action of the gripper, arm rotation and ball feed. Alternatively, actuation can be by a photoelectric sensor which senses the absence of a ball on the tee and actuates the server.



Inventors:
Pylvainen, Henry (Calgary, CA)
Application Number:
10/152719
Publication Date:
11/27/2003
Filing Date:
05/23/2002
Assignee:
PYLVAINEN HENRY
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63B57/00; (IPC1-7): A63B69/36
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
WONG, STEVEN B
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Sean W. Goodwin (Calgary, AB, CA)
Claims:

The embodiments of the invention for which an exclusive property or privilege is claimed are defined as follows:



1. A portable golf ball teeing apparatus comprising: a housing for positioning adjacent a driving surface, the housing having an inlet for receiving a ball from a supply of golf balls; a pivoting means pivotally connected at a first end within the housing and rotatable from a pickup position within the housing to a teeing position at the driving surface; a staging means for advancing a ball from the inlet to the pickup position; a gripping means at a second end of the pivoting means and actuable between a gripping position and a released position, so that when actuated to the gripping position, the gripping means grasp the ball at the pickup position and maintains a grip on the ball throughout the rotation of the pivoting means, and when actuated to the release position, the gripping means releases the ball at the teeing position; and control means for actuation of the pivoting means, the staging means and the gripping means between a teeing sequence and a resetting sequence; so as to for the teeing sequence, substantially simultaneously actuate the gripping means to grasp the ball from the pickup position and rotate the pivoting means between the pickup and teeing positions while retracting the staging means to permit entrance of another ball at the inlet; and for the resetting sequence, substantially simultaneously actuate the gripping means to release the ball at the driving surface and then advance the staging means to position the ball at the pickup position while rotating the pivoting means to return to the ball pickup position so as to permit repeating of the teeing and resetting sequences.

2. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein the control means is a pneumatic manifold fluidly connected to pneumatic pivoting means, staging means and gripping means.

3. The apparatus of claim 2 further comprising triggering means for initiating the teeing and resetting sequences.

4. The apparatus of claim 3 wherein the control means further comprises: a poppet valve; and a delay out valve, so that when the poppet valve is actuated by the triggering means, the pivoting means, gripper means and staging means are actuated to their teeing action and when the delay out valve times out, the pivoting means, gripper means and staging means are actuated to their resetting action.

5. The apparatus of claim 4 wherein the manifold further comprises: a first header which is fluidly connected to a first end of the staging means, the gripping means and a first side of the pivoting means for actuating the teeing sequence wherein the gripping means is caused to grip the ball in the ball pickup position; the pivoting means is caused to rotate the gripping means and ball to the ball teeing position; the staging means is caused to retract to permit another ball to enter the inlet; and a second header connected to a second end of the staging means and pivoting means for exhausting the second end of the staging and the second side of the pivoting means.

6. The apparatus of claim 5 wherein, for actuating the resetting sequence, the first header exhausts the gripping means to release the ball at the ball teeing position and exhausts the first end of the staging means and the first side of the pivoting means; and the second header is connected to the second end of the staging means and the second side of the pivoting means wherein the staging means is caused to advance another ball to the ball pickup position; and the pivoting means is caused to rotate the gripping means to the ball pickup position.

7. The apparatus as described in claim 1 wherein the staging means comprises: a linear actuator having a dual acting linear pneumatic cylinder connected to a ram, the ram moveable between a retracted position and an advanced position; and an L-shape plate connected to the ram for advancing a ball in the ball receiving chamber to the ball pickup position and blocking the inlet in the housing, when the ram is in the advanced position.

8. The apparatus as described in claim 1 wherein the pivoting means comprises: a pneumatic rotary actuator; and a rotatable arm connected at a first end to the rotary actuator and rotatable substantially 180 degrees from a ball pickup position within the housing to a ball teeing position outside the housing at a driving surface.

9. The apparatus as described in claim 1 wherein the gripping means is a pair of gripping fingers wherein the fingers are moveable inward toward one another in a gripping position and away from one another in a released position.

10. The apparatus as described in claim 9 wherein the gripping fingers are connected at a second end of the rotatable arm.

11. The apparatus as described in claim 3 wherein the triggering means comprises: a photo-electric sensor; a solenoid valve; and a power supply.

12. The apparatus as described in claim 5 wherein the fluid supplied to the pneumatic manifold is compressed air.

13. The apparatus as described in claim 1 wherein a height of the housing is substantially the height of a golf ball.

14. The apparatus as described in claim 1 further comprising means for limiting rotation of the pivoting means for adjusting rotation to the ball teeing position for the height of the driving surface.

15. The apparatus as described in claim 14 wherein the means for limiting rotation comprises: a stop block connected for rotation with the rotatable arm; and a stop, the stop being moveable into a path of rotation of the stop block or out of the path of rotation of the stop block.

16. The apparatus as described in claim 1 wherein the supply of golf balls is a gravity feed tube supply system.

17. The apparatus as described in claim 1 wherein the supply of golf balls is a gravity feed ball funneling tray connected to the ball feed inlet.

18. The apparatus as described in claim 16 further comprising a back pressure eliminator to block subsequent balls adjacent the ball feed inlet for preventing pressure on a ball in the ball receiving chamber.

19. The apparatus as described in claim 18 wherein the back pressure eliminator comprises a short stroke linear actuator having a piston which is moveable into and out of a hole in the gravity feed tube to alternately block passage of a ball in the tube and permit passage of the ball to the housing inlet.

20. The apparatus as described in claim 1 further comprising means for positioning the housing at an optimum position adjacent the driving surface.

21. The apparatus as described in claim 20 wherein the means for positioning the housing is a locator plate comprising: a linear plate having a projection extending upward from a first end for insertion into a slot in the base of the housing; and a tee positioned adjacent a second end and spaced from the housing at a position optimal for receiving a ball in the ball teeing sequence.

Description:

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

[0001] The invention relates to apparatus for mechanically positioning a golf ball on a driving surface or on a tee and particularly, to a low profile, portable device for use with a golf ball driving surface.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0002] Apparatus for teeing golf balls for use at driving ranges are well known. Typically a golf ball is moved from a ball storage area, either separately constructed or unitary with the device, by some means to rest on a tee, where a golfer can hit the ball with a golf club.

[0003] One such device is taught in U.S. Pat. No. 6,139,441 to Fairchild. A bifurcated arm is forwardly and reversely driven by a motorized shaft to, first resiliently secure a golf ball from a gravity fed ball supply ramp and secondly, reverse 180 degrees, to deposit the ball on a tee. The arms are forced over the ball and the ball is released by a spreading device, which separates the arms, leaving the ball on the tee. The arm rotation is controlled by a sensor, which senses when a ball is on the tee. The device taught by Fairchild requires a hard-wired source of electrical power and thus, presents a hazard in wet weather. Further, the device requires a common supporting surface for the rotating arm, ball supply and tee, which necessitates permanent installation on a driving surface.

[0004] Many other devices require excavation below the driving surface to install at least a portion of the teeing device. One such device is described in U.S. Pat. No. 5,916,033 to Doherty and second in U.S. Pat. No. 5,662,526 to Sutherlin. In both cases, a tee is situated atop either a pneumatic or spring loaded actuator, below the driving surface. Once actuated, a golf ball is released into the conduit and the tee rises from below the ball to be positioned above the driving surface. The tee can be reset to it's lower position after the ball has been driven. In both of these patents, installation is permanent and requires significant excavation.

[0005] A number of devices used for automatically teeing a ball at a driving range are large and present a psychological hazard to the golfer. Typically these devices are placed directly in the line of sight of the golfer and while not directly in the path of the swing, are visible throughout much of the swing. The position of large apparatus is of particular danger to the beginner golfer who may have little control over the ball's direction. Much like the deflector plates normally placed between tee boxes at a driving range, large equipment is at risk to damage from errant balls. One such large device is taught in U.S. Pat. No. 6,328,659B1 to Peterson. The large upright ball storage area presents a visual obstruction for the golfer.

[0006] U.S. Pat. No. 5,645,491 to Brown teaches a driving surface which is raised to accommodate a vacuum manifold and flexible tee apparatus in combination with a ball storage compartment. The player stands on a raised platform and drives the ball from an adjacent raised section of the platform after a tee rotates downward to pick up a ball by vacuum and then positions the tee and ball in an upright orientation.

[0007] Clearly, there is a need for a lightweight, low profile, portable ball teeing apparatus that can be used on any driving surface, that does not intrude or present a hazard physically or psychologically to the golfer and that is adaptable to existing ball supply systems requiring a minimum of set up time. Ideally the device should be easily actuated by the golfer or by some sensor device and should reliably tee the balls at a relatively rapid speed to maximize practice time.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0008] The use of miniaturized components, and preferably pneumatic, results in a low profile apparatus that is portable for positioning adjacent any driving surface. A delay out valve and flow control valves permit sequencing of movement of the components for reliably positioning the ball at the driving surface and particularly on a tee, followed by a resetting sequence to permit successive actuations of the apparatus in relatively rapid sequence.

[0009] Further, the low profile prevents psychological obstructions from interfering with the swing, is not easily damaged as a result of errant golf balls or poor swing, and is easily actuated and permits relatively rapid teeing of balls.

[0010] Therefore, in a broad aspect of the invention, a portable golf ball teeing apparatus is provided comprising:

[0011] a housing for positioning adjacent a driving surface, the housing having an inlet for receiving a ball from a supply of golf balls;

[0012] a pivoting arm connected at a first end within the housing and rotatable from a pickup position within the housing to a teeing position at the driving surface;

[0013] a linear actuator for advancing a ball from the inlet to the pickup position;

[0014] a gripper at a second end of the pivoting means and actuable between a gripping position and a released position, so that

[0015] when actuated to the gripping position, the gripper grasps the ball at the pickup position and maintains a grip on the ball throughout the rotation of the pivoting arm, and

[0016] when actuated to the release position, the gripper releases the ball at the teeing position; and

[0017] a controller for actuation of the pivoting arm, the linear actuator and the gripper between a teeing sequence and a resetting sequence; so as to

[0018] for the teeing sequence, substantially simultaneously actuate the gripper to grasp the ball from the pickup position and rotate the pivoting arm between the pickup and teeing positions while retracting the linear actuator to permit entrance of another ball at the inlet; and

[0019] for the resetting sequence, substantially simultaneously actuate the gripper to release the ball at the driving surface and then advance the linear actuator to position the ball at the pickup position while rotating the pivoting arm to return to the ball pickup position so as to permit repeating of the teeing and resetting sequences.

[0020] In the preferred embodiment of the invention, the teeing and resetting sequence are established through use of a manifold having two headers and a delay out valve responsive to a pilot signal from a poppet valve, when actuated, for switching from a first header to reset the pivoting arm to a second header to actuate the pivoting arm. Further, the use of flow control valves permits actuation of components, in sequence, as each of the headers are actuated to flow air to the pneumatic components.

[0021] More particularly, in the resetting sequence, in order to reliably position a golf ball on the driving surface, the gripper fingers are caused to release the ball before the rotary actuator begins to return the pivoting arm from the ball teeing position to the ball pickup position while the linear actuator advances the next ball to the ball pickup position. This sequence of actuation prevents the ball from being dropped onto the surface or onto a tee rather than being reliably placed thereon.

[0022] Further, the arc of rotation of the arm can be easily adjusted to various tee heights by rotating a knurled knob to position a stop, which acts to limit the rotation of the pivoting arm in the ball teeing sequence.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0023] FIG. 1 is a perspective view of the golf ball teeing apparatus of the present invention positioned adjacent a driving surface;

[0024] FIG. 2 is a schematic plan view of the apparatus according to FIG. 1, having a housing cover removed for illustrating the components within the housing, the linear actuator and arm positioned for actuation;

[0025] FIG. 3 is a schematic plan view of the apparatus of according to FIG. 2, the linear actuator and arm positioned at the completion of the ball teeing sequence;

[0026] FIG. 4 is a cutaway side view of the ball receiving chamber;

[0027] FIG. 5 is a front side view of the apparatus according to FIG. 1 illustrating the arc of rotation of the arm;

[0028] FIG. 6 is a partially cutaway front view of the rotary actuator of FIG. 1 showing the position of the stop when the arm is in the ball pickup position;

[0029] FIG. 7 is a partially cutaway front view of the rotary actuator of FIG. 9 showing the position of the stop when the arm is rotated to the ball teeing position;

[0030] FIG. 8 is a schematic illustrating the fluid connections of the components of FIG. 1 to a manifold with the second header powered and the components positioned prior to the teeing sequence;

[0031] FIG. 9 is a schematic illustrating the fluid connections of the components of FIG. 1 to a manifold with the first header powered and the components positioned at the end of the teeing sequence and just prior to the resetting sequence;

[0032] FIG. 10 is a schematic representing a sequence of actuation of the components of the apparatus of FIG. 1 for the teeing sequence and the resetting sequence;

[0033] FIGS. 11a and 11b are schematic side views of the apparatus of FIG. 1, having an optional photoelectric sensor to replace the actuation means of FIG. 1. More particularly FIG. 11a shows the apparatus in a reset position when the sensor senses a ball positioned on the tee and FIG. 11b shows the apparatus when the sensor senses there is no ball on the tee and actuates the teeing sequence;

[0034] FIG. 12 is a cutaway side view of a gravity feed ball supply tube adapted for connection to the housing inlet of FIG. 1, the tube fitted with a linear actuator having a short stroke piston, shown in an extended position, protruding into the tubing to prevent ball movement in the tube;

[0035] FIG. 13 is a side view of a ball supply tray adapted for connection to the inlet of FIG. 1; and

[0036] FIG. 14 is a plan view of the ball supply tray according to FIG. 12.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENT

[0037] Having reference to FIG. 1, golf ball server I of the present invention is shown. The server 1 comprises a low profile housing 2 which contributes to the portability of the server for teeing golf balls 15 at virtually any existing driving surface 3, such as at a driving range.

[0038] As shown in FIGS. 2-3, the components of the server 1 comprise a rotatable arm 10 pivotally connected at a first end 11 to a pivoting means 12 within the housing 2. A second end 13 of the arm 10 is fitted with gripping means 14 actuable for alternately grasping and releasing a golf ball 15. The arm 10 is rotatable about its first end 11. The second end 13 of the arm 10 is swept in an arc from a ball pickup position 20 within the housing 2 to a second ball teeing position 21 outside the housing 2 to position the ball 15 and release it directly the driving surface 3 or onto a tee 22 on a driving surface 3. A supply of golf balls 15,15 is connected to an inlet 30 in the housing 2. Staging means 31 are provided for permitting balls 15 to enter the housing 2, one at a time, and for sequentially and optimally positioning the balls 15 at the ball pickup position 20 within the housing 2.

[0039] With reference to FIGS. 2-5, the housing 2 is substantially the height of a golf ball 15, and comprises a base 4, two side walls 5,6 and a removable cover 7 (FIGS. 4 and 5). As shown in FIGS. 2 and 3, a first side wall 5 has the ball feed inlet 30 formed therein for receiving golf balls 15 from a golf ball supply (shown later in FIGS. 12 and 13) to the first ball pickup position 20. A ball receiving chamber 32 comprises an inner wall 33, spaced from and parallel to the first side wall 5 and extending between the inlet 30 and the ball pickup position 20. Preferably the staging means 31 comprises a linear actuator 34 for sequentially accepting a ball 15 at the inlet 30, advancing the ball 15 between the inner 33 and first side walls 5 for positioning the ball 15 at the ball pickup position 20.

[0040] The staging means 31, the pivoting means 12 and the gripping means 14 operate in a sequence for positioning a ball 15 for pickup, grasping the ball 15, pivoting the arm 10 and ball 15 to the tee 22, retracting the staging means 31 to accept a new ball 15, releasing the gripper 14 to release the ball 15 onto the tee 22 and pivoting the arm 10 back to obtain another golf ball 15.

[0041] The staging means 31, pivoting means 12 and gripping means 14 are miniaturized actuating means which fit within the low profile housing 2. Preferably the actuating means are pneumatically connected through a manifold 35 which enables control of the staging means 31, pivoting means 12 and gripping means 14.

[0042] More particularly, the staging means 31 comprises a pneumatic linear actuator 34, such as that available from Festo Inc., of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, Part#ADVUL-12-40-PA. The linear actuator 34 is positioned rearward from the inlet 30 and comprises a dual acting linear pneumatic cylinder 36 and ram 37, the ram 37 being moveable from a retracted position rearward of the inlet 30 (FIG. 3) to an extended position forward of the inlet 30 (FIG. 2), adjacent the ball pickup position 20.

[0043] A first end of the ram 38 is fitted with an L-shaped plate 39. The plate 39 comprises a short leg 40 which is perpendicular to the movement of the ram 37 and which extends across the ball receiving chamber 32 from the first side wall 5 to the inner wall 33 for pushing golf balls 15 from the inlet 30 to the ball pickup position 20. A longer leg 41 of the plate 39 trails behind the short leg 40 and lies adjacent and parallel the first side wall 5 for alternately opening and closing the inlet 30. As the ram 37 is advanced to the extended position, the plate's shorter leg 40 acts to advance a ball 15 from the inlet 30 to the ball pickup position 20 at the front of the ball-receiving chamber 32 while the longer leg 41 acts to block the ball feed inlet 30, preventing any others of a plurality of balls 15 in the golf ball supply from entering the inlet 30. When the ram 37 is returned to the retracted position, the plate's longer leg 41 clears the inlet 30 and permits a new golf ball 15 to enter the ball receiving chamber 32.

[0044] Preferably, as shown in FIG. 4, the ball receiving chamber 32 further comprises a ridge 42 formed at a front edge 43 of the ball pickup position 20 to prevent balls 15 from rolling out of the housing 2. Further, the base 4 of the housing at the ball pickup position is fit with a slight depression 44 to further assist in positioning the ball 15 accurately at the ball pickup position 20.

[0045] The pivoting means 12 is a pneumatic rotary actuator 50 having a shaft 55 connected to the first end 11 of the rotatable arm 10. The rotary actuator 50 is positioned adjacent the second and opposing side wall 6 of the housing 2 and spaced from the ball pickup position 20. The arm 10 is rotatable substantially 180 degrees about the shaft 55. The second end 13 of the rotatable arm 10 is fitted with gripping means 14.

[0046] The rotary actuator 50 is spaced so that when the arm 10 is rotated to the ball pickup position 20, the gripping means 14 are positioned for grasping the ball 15.

[0047] Similarly, as shown in FIG. 5, the server 1 is placed adjacent the driving surface 3 and spaced therefrom so that when the arm 10 is rotated substantially 180 degrees from the ball pickup position 20 to the ball teeing position 21, the ball 15 is positioned optimally on the surface 3, or on top of a tee 22, extending from the surface 3.

[0048] Preferably, the rotary actuator 50 is a dual acting pneumatic actuator capable of rotation of at least 180 degrees such as Festo Part #DSM-10-180-P-FW. More preferably, the degrees of rotation of the actuator 50 can be adjusted to permit optimal placement of the ball 15 on the driving surface 3 or on the tee 22, the height of which may vary from driving surface 3 to driving surface 3. In the preferred embodiment, as shown in FIGS. 6,7, a stop block 51 is connected to the actuator 50 to limit the degrees of rotation. The stop block 51 is connected to rotate with the arm 10. A knurled knob 52 is connected to a first stop or screw 53 which acts to advance and retract the screw 53. Rotation of the knurled knob 52 to advance the screw 53 moves the screw 53 into the path of rotation of the stop block 51 (FIG. 7) so as to interfere with the rotation of the rotary actuator 50 and connected arm 10 and thus limit the degrees of rotation. As shown in FIG. 5, the knurled knob 52 is situated adjacent the second side 6 of the housing 2 and protrudes through a slit 8 in the removable cover 7 to permit rapid adjustment of rotation of the arm 10 to suit the height of individual driving surfaces 3 and tees 22. Similarly, a second stop or screw 54 is fit within the path of rotation of the arm 10 to limit the rotation, in the resetting sequence, to slightly less than its full rotation, or 180 degrees, to prevent wear on the rotary actuator 50. The position of the screw 54 is adjustable to permit alignment of the gripping means 14 with a center of the golf ball 15.

[0049] Referring again to FIGS. 2 and 5, preferably the gripping means 14 is a pair of pneumatically actuable gripping fingers 60, such as Festo part #HGWM-08E0-G7. The fingers 60 are actuable between a powered gripping position wherein the fingers 60 are moved inward towards each other for gripping or grasping the golf ball 15 and a released position wherein the fingers 60 are biased open or moved away from one another for releasing the ball 15 at the driving surface 3 or tee 22.

[0050] With reference to FIGS. 8 and 9, the dual acting linear pneumatic cylinder 36 and ram 37, rotary actuator 50 and gripping fingers 60 are fluidly interconnected through pneumatic circuits. The pneumatic circuits are connected to an external source of pneumatic fluid, such as an air vessel or compressor (not shown), which feeds compressed air to a manifold 35. The manifold 35 comprises a first header 70 and a second header 71.

[0051] As shown in FIG. 8, when the second header 71 is charged with pressurized air (powered), the server 1 is actuated to return and remain waiting at the reset position prior to teeing a ball. FIG. 8 illustrates the end of the resetting sequence. Residual air in the first header 70 has already been exhausted to atmosphere.

[0052] As shown in FIG. 9, when the first header 70 is charged with pressurized air (powered), the server 1 is actuated to tee the ball and await the expiry of a time delay prior to resetting. FIG. 9 illustrates the end of the teeing sequence. Residual air in the second header 71 has already been exhausted to atmosphere.

[0053] More particularly, the first header 70 is fluidly connected to a first end 73 of the linear actuator 34, to a first side 74 of the rotary actuator 50, and to the gripping fingers 60. When the first header 70 is powered (FIG. 9), the second header is exhausted. Air flows from the first header 70 through one way flow control valves 73a,74a such as Festo part #GRLZ-M5-B, to cause: controlled retraction of the ram 37 and controlled rotation of the arm 10 to the ball teeing position 21. Air flows directly to the fingers 60 to grip the ball 15.

[0054] The second header 71 is fluidly connected to a second end 75 of the linear actuator 34; and to a second side 76 of the rotary actuator 50. When the second header 71 is powered (FIG. 8), the first header is exhausted and air flows from the second header 71 through one way flow control valves 75a, 76a to cause controlled extension of the ram 37 and to cause controlled rotation of the arm 10 to the ball pickup position 20.

[0055] Typically, one or the other of the headers 70, 71 remain charged with air at any given time; preferably the second header 71 remains charged so as remain reset and poised to tee a ball on command.

[0056] With reference again to FIGS. 2,3 and 8,9, triggering means 90 cooperate with a ball actuator 91 (such as through a cam on the triggering means 90 for actuating the ball actuator—not detailed). The ball actuator 91, such as Clippard part #MBA-1 is connected to a poppet valve 92, such as Clippard part #MAV-3P which is fluidly connected within the manifold 35. The triggering means 90 acts to signal the poppet valve 92 to switch the flow of air between first 70 and second 71 headers. A 5-port 4-way delay out valve 80, such as Clippard part #R443 from Clippard Instrument Laboratory Inc., Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, is connected to the manifold 35 to aid in control of the actuation and de-actuation sequences, as illustrated in FIG. 10, which result in coordinated movement of the individual components of the server 1 to effect sequential teeing of balls 15.

[0057] Turning to FIGS. 10, 8 and 9, the golfer actuates the poppet valve which actuates the first header 70 and the teeing of the ball 15. After a time delay controlled by delay out valve 80, the arm 10 is reset for teeing of subsequent balls 15.

[0058] Teeing Sequence

[0059] With reference to FIG. 9, when the triggering means 90 is actuated the poppet valve 92 sends a pilot signal to the delay out valve 80, which switches the flow of air from the second header 71 to the first header 70. From a previous sequence, shown in FIG. 8, the second end 13 of the arm 10 is initially positioned at the ball pickup position 20 and the gripper fingers 60 are initially positioned about a ball 15 already located in the ball pickup position 20.

[0060] The first header 70 directs air to the gripper fingers 60 which are instantly actuated to the gripping position to grip the ball 15. Simultaneously, the first header 70 directs air for actuation of the first side 74 of the rotary actuator 50 for rotating the arm 10 to the ball teeing position 21. The flow control valve 74a connected to the first side 74 is calibrated to delay rotation of the arm 10 so as to first permit gripping of the ball 15 slightly in advance of the arm rotation. Ram 37 is simultaneously retracted to permit another ball 15 to enter the ball receiving chamber 32.

[0061] Reset Sequence

[0062] The delay out valve 80 remains actuated until the preset pilot signal has decayed or expired through delay control 81, at which time valve 80 switches to return the flow of air to the second header 71 at B (FIG. 10). Air is bled out of the first header 70 and when the air pressure is no longer sufficient to overcome internal spring biasing (not shown) in the gripper fingers 60. The gripper fingers 60, which are not controlled by a flow control valve, are first caused to move away from one another to the released position, leaving the golf ball 15 on the driving surface 3 or tee 22. Simultaneously, the linear actuator 34 and plate 39 are controllably advanced to move a new golf ball 15 from the inlet 30 to the ball pickup position 20. As a result of calibration of the flow control valve 76a governing air flow to the second side 76 of the rotary actuator 50, the rotary actuator 50 is then caused to rotate the arm 10 to the ball pickup position 20. The immediate release of the gripping fingers 60 prior to any movement of the arm 10 as it begins to rotate to the ball pickup position 20, permits the ball 15 to be reliably positioned on the driving surface 3 and, particularly onto a tee 22 embedded into the driving surface 3.

[0063] The teeing and reset sequences are repeated upon further actuation of the triggering means 90.

[0064] As shown in FIG. 1, preferably, the triggering means 90 is an actuator button or pad 93 connected to the ball actuator 91 for actuation of the teeing sequence. The golfer depresses the pad 93 with the head of a golf club temporarily displacing the ball actuator 91 and actuating the poppet valve 92.

[0065] In an alternate, fully automated embodiment of the invention shown in FIGS. 11a and 11b, the actuator pad 93, ball actuator 91 and poppet valve 92 are replaced by a photoelectric sensor 95 and electrically operated solenoid valve (not shown). A battery or remote supply of 12-24V DC power is provided to power the solenoid valve. The sensor 95 is positioned on the cover 7 of the housing 2 and directed towards the driving surface 3. As shown in FIG. 11b, after each golf ball 15 is driven from the driving surface 3 by the golfer, the sensor 95 no longer senses a ball 15 and actuates the solenoid valve which sends a pilot signal to the delay out valve to begin the teeing sequence as previously described. As shown In FIG. 11a, when the sensor 95 detects a ball 15 positioned on the driving surface 3 or tee 22, the solenoid valve is closed to actuate and maintain the reset sequence.

[0066] Simply, for setup, the server 1 can be actuated and adjusted so that the arm places the ball on a set tee position. Optionally, as shown in FIG. 5 and in any embodiment of the invention, a locator plate 100 may be provided to assist in initially positioning the server 1 at an optimum distance from the driving surface 3. The locator plate 100 is a linear member or plate having a projection 101 extending upward from a first end 102. The projection 101 is fit within a corresponding slot 103 formed in the base 4 of the housing 2 adjacent the second wall 6. A tee 22 is attached adjacent a second end 104 of the locator plate 100 and is spaced from the first end 102 so as to be positioned at the optimum ball teeing position 21. Typically, the driving surface 3 is a mat 105 having a hole 106 through which a removable tee (not shown) protrudes. In order to position the server 1, the mat 105 is lifted, the existing tee (not shown) is removed and the locator plate 100 is positioned so that the attached tee 22 protrudes through the hole. This positioning of the locator plate 100 and tee 22 establishes the distance at which the housing 2 must be placed in order to fit the projection 101 in the slot 103.

[0067] Alternatively, a mat 105 can be provided with the server 1 for use at locations which do not provide driving mats 105.

[0068] Optionally, as shown in FIG. 12 for use when connected to a central ball supply system, having a gravity feed tube 111, a back pressure eliminator 110 may be provided to restrict any pressure placed on the ball 15 positioned in the ball receiving chamber 32 or entering the housing inlet 30 by subsequent balls in the gravity feed tube 111, before the inlet 30 is blocked. The back pressure eliminator 110 comprises a solenoid or piston 112, actuated by a short stroke linear actuator 113 connected to the pneumatic circuit, which alternately extends partially into and out of a hole 114 in the gravity feed tube 11 upstream of the inlet 30 to the housing 2 as a result of a pneumatic signal coincident with the signal to advance the linear actuator 34 of the ball-receiving chamber 32. The piston 112 acts to prevent passage of subsequent balls in the feed tube 111 to the inlet 30 until the next retraction of the linear actuator 34 in the ball-receiving chamber 32. The piston 112 is then retracted from the feed tube 111 to permit passage of another ball to be positioned adjacent the inlet 30 once the inlet is blocked.

[0069] While operational with many pre-existing ball feed systems, in yet another embodiment of the invention, as shown in FIGS. 12 and 13, a gravity feed ball funneling system 120 is provided for use when a pre-existing gravity feed tube system is not available. The funneling system 120 comprises a tray 121 having an end wall 122 at a first end 123 and an outlet 124 at a second end 125, the outlet 124 being substantially the same width as the housing inlet 30 or feed tube 111, and side walls 126,127 tapered inwards from the end wall 122 to the outlet 124. Further, the tray 121 is inclined having the first end 122 higher than the outlet end 124 so as to feed balls (note shown), manually placed in the tray 121, by gravity to the outlet 124.