As a new golf equipment year, is upon us, consumers will hear the same refrains in regard to technology and innovation. Those are, that new versions of drivers, fairway metals, hybrids and irons — many of them to be shown off, struck and marketed at the annual PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando Jan. 22-25 — are lighter because more weight has been removed; have improved construction and aesthetics thanks to exotic composites; and are more forgiving because of new clubface technologies. Here’s a sneak peak at golf gear 2019.
Callaway, for example, has it “Jailbreak’’ technology that helped propel the Rogue line of drivers and metal woods into one of the more successful in company history. TaylorMade Golf’s new P760 irons (3-7) features “SpeedFoam’’ technology that the company says serves the dual purpose of generating ball speed while dampening vibrations to create optimal sound and feel.
Cobra’s new King Forged CB/MB irons undergo a five-step forging process the company says delivers precise shaping, a more refined grain structure, and better feel.
This year’s new Titleist TS line of drivers (TS2 and TS3) each feature what parent Acushnet Company calls “Speed Chasis’’ technology — the result of a two-year mission to deconstruct the driver and then design greater speed into every detail.
The Acushnet Company also this year is introducing its next-generation Pro V1 golf ball line. The Pro V1 golf ball — probably the most successful ball golf history — is closing in its 20th anniversary and remains the flagship of Acushnet’s $500 million-plus golf ball empire. The Pro V1 sparked a technology boom in the ball industry as its moved to multi-component constructions and urethane elastomer covers, as well as other components and designs.
Callaway’s Chrome Soft ball, for example, features Graphene in its outer core. Graphene, according to Callaway, is the same foundational carbon material that is the building block in diamond and graphite, similar to that found in lead pencils.
Without getting too deep into physics, Callaway says the Graphene improves the ability of Chrome Soft’s dual core to withstand high velocity club impact. In other words, it helps with the “high launch, low spin” mantra that has been prevalent in the industry the past several years.
Let’s say all the marketing hype around innovation and technology is true. Then let’s ask these questions: How much weight can an equipment company continue to remove? How many more combinations of exotic metals and composites can be designed into a golf club, be it a driver or iron? And gives the U.S. Golf Association restraints on everything from club head size to coefficient of restitution, why don’t equipment companies just go to those boundaries and be done with it?
Tom Olsavsky, vice president of research and development at Cobra Golf and one of the equipment industry’s top club engineers, smiled at the thought.
“All that takes a lot of work,” said Olsavsky, who designed drivers and irons for TaylorMade before joining Cobra in 2013. “We don’t hold anything back and say ‘Let’s do two grams and two grams next year,’ because we can’t. We have to figure out how to get over that first two-gram hurdle. Sometimes that leads us to new things. We just continue to work hard on how to get that next two-to-three grams out of the club.
“When you talk to real (club) engineers, they will say you can get two-to-three yards longer every year pretty consistently. But that two-to-three yards is hard work.’’
Whether it’s removing weight, re-shaping club heads to make them for aerodynamic or combining exotic metals, it’s all part of the process that annually plays out for most major equipment companies preaching extra distance and more forgiveness.
One thing companies don’t like to talk about is price. For example, drivers from most major equipment companies have retail prices between $399 and $599. Their challenge is to get consumers to pay those prices annually for what can be perceived as minimal distance gained. Gone (thankfully) are the days when companies touted up to 20 yards in distance versus last year’s driver.
Tour Edge Golf’s new Exotics EXS driver, with its $299 retail price, could put a big dent into the marketplace. The EXS driver feature what the company calls a Flight Tuning System that includes nine-gram and three-gram interchangeable weights, an adjustable hosel that allows for plus two or minus two degrees in loft, RollFace Technology for an expanded sweet spot, Dual Carbon Fiber placement for better weight distribution and a SlipStream Sole for faster club head speed.
John Claffey, vice president of marketing for Tour Edge, refer to the EXS driver as a “$600 driver’’ but without the marketing hype.
“It’s a new way of thinking for Exotics,” Claffey said. “We studied the market for almost one year on where price points are with bigger manufacturers and how consumer behavior goes along with it. We basically found out there are a lot of golfers just waiting for the right price point.’’
Technology and innovation, of course, aren’t exclusive to clubs and balls. That should be more apparent this year when Golf Pride opens its product development and consumer experience in Pinehurst, North Carolina. The new facility, which will include an R&D lab and consumer grip fitting studio, is expected to open this spring.
“It’s going to help us as far as having more access to consumer and Tour professionals,’’ said Bruce Miller, retail product manager for Golf Pride. “Clearly getting their feedback is important. The faster we can get it, the faster we can turn those ideas around and crystallize into real-life product.’’
It’s all part of the process.
Editor’s Note: Watch for Golf Tips’ daily updates from the 2019 PGA Merchandise Show