By Tony Leodora
For years golfers have been crying out in anguish – from the desolate stretches of the waste areas, from the swamp-like muck of the wetlands, from the dark recesses of the woods and the opposite side of the OB stakes.
They battle the frustrations of the world’s most difficult sport. They try all of the new swing techniques. They listen to all of the mumbo-jumbo from the mental gurus. They try to buy a game at the golf shop.
Occasionally – very occasionally – there comes a light at the end of the tunnel. The invention of the metal wood was one of them. The average golfer quickly embraced that new bit of technology. The introduction and quick proliferation of the hybrid was another.
These inventions all started new trends on the equipment side of the golf industry.
Often, these new trends make their debut at the annual PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. This year’s 65th PGA Merchandise Show was no exception. More than 1,000 exhibitors greeted visitors from all 50 states and from 90 countries around the world. While the show is put on by the professional golfers who make up the PGA of America, the latest trend seemed to be increased attention on the average golfer – the ones who make up the overwhelming majority of the world’s 60 million golfers.
A number of the products that caught the eye of our roving research team serve the specific purpose of making the very difficult game of golf a bit easier for the average player. And easier is a good thing.
Of special note this year was the Busiest Booth at the Show designation, which went to Cleveland/Srixon. The biggest crowds seemed to be around the new Cleveland CBX wedge.
Cleveland’s John Rey explained, “Our new CBX wedge is really the first wedge designed for game improvement golfers, who are buying game improvement irons. In the past they were forced to buy either a blade wedge, which didn’t match the weight and feel of his irons or a set-matching wedge, which was basically a 10-, 11- or 12-iron.
“Now, with our CBX wedge, golfers can get all of the spin performance of a tour caliber wedge, due to our Rotex face and dual V-sole design, but they also can get the feel and forgiveness of game improvement irons due to the cavity back shape and some of the weighting features we put into it.”
Other noteworthy products merely attracted attention because of their amazing style. Even if your score on the golf course is not good … at least you can look good.
Antigua Anchorage Pullover
One of the great success stories from the world of golf apparel in recent years is Antigua. The Phoenix area-based company has been around for 36 years but the last 10 years has seen a quantum leap across the board – especially in women’s golf apparel.
While function has always been a keystone of the company – manufacturing clothing that is meant to be worn while playing the game – a bit more fashion can be seen in the line this year.
Most notably, the new line of Anchorage men’s pullovers, is an item that looks equally appealing on the golf course or for an evening on the town.
This 100 percent polyester double knit solid ottoman texture pullover has a rich look, while maintaining a bit of give in the fabric to aid performance. It is accented with dyed-to-match double knit large ottoman quilt pattern sleeve insets. It has a quarter-zip stand up collar and open bottom.
“The Anchorage pullover is receiving a lot of attention because, not only is it designed for golf, but it is a lifestyle piece,” says John Anderson, Antigua’s national sales manager for the golf division. “This is our best-selling fashion outerwear piece. It comes in five great colors and is already the hit of the new golf season.”
Despite the rich look, Anchorage pullovers are reasonably priced at $84.95.
Sometimes, in order to find the best discoveries during PGA Merchandise Show week, it is necessary to move out of the huge Orange County Convention Center. In this case, the move was just a few blocks down International Drive to the Orlando site of the Club Champion fitting center.
Club Champion — with 26 locations across America and soon to be 36 – is the fastest-growing premium club fitter in the country. With all of the high-tech equipment on display at the PGA Show, it was necessary to find someone who could provide a roadmap to success for serious golfers who were looking to take advantage of the advances.
“What makes us unique is we’re a brand diagnostic fitter,” says Nick Sherburne, founder and master fitter for Club Champion. “What that means is, you’re going to come in, we’re going to see how your existing clubs perform on the Trackman launch monitors and you will be working with a full-time certified fitter who is one of the best in the industry.
“We have 200 different shafts for woods, 200 different shafts for irons and all the different heads on the market, from all the major manufacturers. We have a connector that allows every shaft and every head to go together. What our fitters are going to do is see where the leaks are in your bag, see where they can make you better, and they are going to tackle it using the technology – and not just a brand name — to improve your game.”
High tech equipment requires high tech club fitting. That’s where Club Champion excels.
Copper Tech Plus Golf Glove
When the Copper Tech golf glove first hit the market, it was immediately seen by many as the best overall glove on the market. Not only was it infused with copper, to help circulation, but it was a great everyday glove that was durable and provided excellent feel.
Standing pat might have seemed to some like a good strategy, but the research team immediately went to work on improving the product.
“The glove initially attracted attention because it works,” said Copper Tech Founder Lloyd Cohn. “If you have muscle pain, joint pain, arthritis pain, the Copper Tech glove has been an excellent choice.
“Now, the Copper Tech Plus has twice the copper, it’s got better trim and it’s even got a stronger magnet. People are finding that they get better relief.”
Copper Tech Plus comes in one-size-fits-all and is available in either white or black. It is quickly making its way into national stores such as PGA Tour Superstore and Walmart, or it can be purchased on the website for less than $20.
High Heat 257+
The High Heat driver, fairway woods and hybrids have been a hot item at the PGA Show the last few years. Designed by Dean Knuth, the man who devised the USGA’s slope and rating system, the clubs are another example of a product marketed to the average golfer. They have won awards for their ingenuity and versatility.
Now the new 257+ technology has been added to the face of the entire line.
The number – 257 – refers to the USGA’s maximum allowable measurement for trampoline effect. It refers only to the sweet spot on the face of the club. Now, there is an increased number allowable for the heel and toe of all clubs … and High Heat is taking dead aim at that number.
“Players actually will be able to get increased distance from heel and toe hits,” explains Knuth, who has made this line of golf clubs his passion. “This greatly impacts and helps amateur golfers, who don’t hit it on the center of the clubface all of the time.
“Almost all major manufacturers are at or near the 257 limit on the sweet spot,” Knuth continues. “However, they all drop off significantly outside of the sweet spot. We actually increase the trampoline effect outside of the sweet spot. This is the only club where golfers can actually gain distance on off-center hits.”
The new 257+ clubs also come with a re-designed top face that aids in alignment.
Nexbelt’s Rowland Thomas Luxury Belt
Ever since taking the PGA Merchandise Show by storm in its debut year of 2013, the Nexbelt story has gotten better and better. Known as “the belt with no holes,” the belt that first became famous for its ratchet fit system has become a leader in style.
Colors, different buckles and different textures have been introduced each year, leading to a huge assortment of options.
The Rowland Thomas Luxury Belt is the newest item from Nexbelt and it is an unrivaled piece of high fashion. Now there’s a Nexbelt model that can be worn confidently along with the most expensive imported suit … or the flashiest golf course combination.
“These belts use calfskin leather, imported from Italy, and are hand-made in America,” explains Nexbelt CEO Eddie Rowland. “They come in five different models, including the serpent belt, which looks like a reptile, even though all of the styles are made from calfskin. These are the first luxury ratchet belts in the U.S. and we just felt there was a calling for something really elegant.”
The retail price for this new line of luxury belts is between $180 and $230, a big jump from the reasonably priced line of Nexbelt products – but well below other imported and hand-made luxury belts from designers such as Gucci, Armani and Luis Vuitton.
Equipment scouts at the PGA Show had to venture to the New Product Section to find the new Pyramid Putters.
The debut/fail rate for putters is always very high. But this new putter has a very good chance to stick around.
The Pyramid Putters feature Pyramid© grooves on the leading edge that help center the ball on the sweet spot of the putter face. The grooves that make up the pyramid create a visual tracking line directly to the target. When the ball is struck in the sweet spot of the putter face, the horizontal-milled grooves provide the ball with top spin, preventing the ball from skidding or bouncing off the line, and tracking toward the target.
The Precision Grooved Face© of the Pyramid Putter consists of the horizontal sweet spot milling described above. The tow and heel are diagonally milled so the same result is achieved on off-center hits.
"Pyramid Putters give you the tools to sink more putts, plain and simple. We took a holistic approach to improve scoring on the greens," explains Colin Callahan, Creative Director of Pyramid Putters. "The Pyramid Putter features a unique milled face that reduces skid when hit off the sweet spot and provides a gear effect to keep your ball on line for putts that are hit off the toe or heel. The putter features a superb alignment triangle on the leading edge that helps the player imagine a tracking line to their target.
“In addition, the flange features a target line, that when aligned with the leading-edge pyramid, lets the golfer know that their lie angle is correct. Pyramid Putters also come standard with a parallel width grip to keep the wrist action to a minimum. The current Aztec series has the option of blade or mallet."
The putters are available in a blade or mallet style and are priced at $279.95.
Srixon Q-Star Tour
Paying $50 a dozen for a premium golf ball is a tough pill to swallow for some golfers. But many are willingly pay the price … hoping for the same excellent performance that the world’s best golfers get from their golf ball.
However, what happens when the majority of golfers discover, through ball-fitting and the detailed statistics now provided by launch monitors, that the high-priced ball is not helping them? In many cases, it is hurting them.
Golfers with swing speeds in the 80s and 90s cannot benefit from the design of most top-line golf balls. That’s why Srixon produced the Q-Star Tour golf ball.
It has all of the technological developments and high-quality components of the best tour golf balls – but with engineering designed to make the ball respond well to slower clubhead speeds.
“The Q-Star Tour takes all of the technology of our multi-piece golf balls for tour players but we use a lower compression so that average swing speed golfers are able to compress it,” explains Jeff Brunski, Srixon’s director of research and development. “They will get better launch conditions for their game, but still get the tour caliber greenside control. It’s all about getting a golf ball that is designed for your game.”
Now, not only are the majority of golfers able to play a ball that will help their game, they can play a ball that will help their bank account. The Q-Star Tour golf ball sells for around $29. It is currently available only in white, but optic yellow is said to be on the way.
Training aids are the residue of over-imaginative inventors. They lie awake at night dreaming of new gimmicks that will turn Joe Shankchop into the next coming of Jordan Spieth.
Basements, garages and closets are full of these devices. Some are too complicated. Others too time consuming. And others just don’t work.
Now there is one that is simple, easy and makes so much sense. It works for everyone from the beginner to the touring pro.
Super Speed Golf is a system of three weighted “clubs” that train the golfer to attain a higher club speed. They are not actually clubs, used to hit a golf ball. The grips and shafts are the same … but at the end of the shaft is a small weight. Two of the training clubs weigh less than a normal golf club, and one weighs slightly more.
Going back many years, golfers would swing two golf clubs, or a heavy weight … trying to hit the ball farther. While the weighted instrument might build strength, it actually teaches the golfer to swing slower. Counter-productive.
This new system of swinging a much lighter club, then a slightly lighter club, before advancing to a slightly heavier club, has been proven to increase clubhead speed in a very short time.
“If you just swing a heavy club by itself, your body is going to rotate slower and the club is going to move slower,” explains SuperSpeed president Mike Napoleon. “Neurologically, this actually creates a slower reaction speed when you stand up on the tee and pull the trigger with the driver. The way you actually train for speed is to move faster. With SuperSpeed’s lighter clubs, you move faster first and this creates a re-set of how fast your body is able to respond, when you pull the trigger.”
SuperSpeed is now used by more than 350 touring professional golfers. The set sells for $199.95 and comes with a series of training videos.
Survivor Tour Golf Tee
When performance golf tees first hit the market, they were perceived as a novelty. But, then again, isn’t every new golf product considered a novelty until it becomes proven?
The Philadelphia-based Greenkeepers company, led by brothers Frank and Jim Carroll, has been manufacturing injection-molded plastic golf accessories for more than 20 years. They have successfully introduced – and improved – a number of products over the years. The performance golf tee is a prime example.
First there was the Four Yards More Tee, with a flexible cushion atop a solid plastic tee. Then there was the Survivor Tee, a one-piece tee with a height indicator on the shaft.
Now, there is the Survivor Tour Tee.
“Performance, durability and the fact that the professionals in the game are using performance tees are the keys to success,” explains Frank Carroll. “All of our tees give the golf less ball spin. You have less golf-ball-to-tee-surface contact, which provides longer distance and less ballooning in heavy wind. Performance tees are becoming an instrument of the game. They are no longer just a piece of wood that you pick up for free in the pro shop and put in your pocket. It’s actually something that enhances your ability to play the game.”
Tour Edge CBX Fairway Woods and Hybrids
Why do most Tour professionals play a particular brand of club? Because they get paid to do so.
Why do most of the Tour professionals playing Tour Edge Exotics clubs play the clubs – especially fairway woods and hybrids? Because they perform so well.
After making performance-based decisions, professionals on the Champions Tour chose Tour Edge Exotics in alarming numbers. The Exotics CBX fairway woods and hybrids ranked in the top eight models in play in both the hybrid and fairway wood model counts over the last four events of the 2017 season.
Tour Edge had the fifth-most metalwoods in play among active manufacturers over the last month of 2017 on tour, according to the Darrell Survey. Even when the stakes were highest at the end of the season, five new players that had never played a Tour Edge club in a professional event changed to the new Exotics CBX over the last four weeks of the Champions Tour.
Exotics CBX clubs earned three Top 5 finishes, four Top 10’s and five Top 20 finishes in the 2017 Champions Tour despite only being introduced to players at five total events during the season. And the results continued at the start of 2018, with the winner and runnerup at the Chubb Classic using Exotics CBX clubs.
The Exotics CBX features a higher Center of Gravity, located slightly forward in the club head through the use of a carbon fiber in the sole, which is significantly lighter than stainless steel. This helps to increase ball speed and reduce spin, which makes for less dispersion. Tour Edge’s extremely thin Beta-titanium cup-face enlarges the ideal hitting area on the clubs. It is brazed to stainless steel behind the hitting area which allows the face to flex more at impact.
This has led to independent robot tests that have shown the Exotics CBX to average more than 16 yards longer in distance than several of the best-selling fairway woods on the market. The Speed Ramp sole design on the Exotics CBX products provide reduced turf interaction so the club can maintain its speed through the hitting area.
“It’s really exciting because the success is a product of breakthrough technology,” says Tour Edge founder Dave Glod. “It’s not because of hype or because we pay players to use our product.”