By TONY LEODORA
For years the golf industry has talked about innovation … and how change has been a driving force in the business.
But much of that unique innovation has been followed by imitation.
Introduce a new material to clubmaking – such as titanium – and, soon, everybody is using titanium.
Increase the size of the head on drivers and, soon, everybody is making bigger drivers.
In many cases, that imitation is not a bad thing. For example, despite an initial wave of resistance, soft plastic cleats on golf shoes soon became the standard for the industry and they were being manufactured by a number of companies. The net result is that putting surfaces have benefitted from the change.
Often, the new trends make their debut at the annual PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. This year’s 64th 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. Other noteworthy products merely attracted attention because of their style or unique nature. In any case, there is a sense of optimism about the upcoming golf season.
Riding that wave of optimism – for the 15th straight year – “Tony’s Top Ten” brings reviews that provide information about these products – the newest and best from PGA Merchandise Show week.
Four Yards More Tee
In the iconic movie, “The Graduate”, actor Dustin Hoffman played the part of Benjamin Braddock. Upon graduation from college, he was given the stark single word of career-path advice, “plastics.”
Carroll, whose Philadelphia-based business is mainly devoted to manufacturing injection-molded plastic parts for industry, has crafted a world of plastics for the golf industry through his Greenkeeper line of accessories.
His initial entry into the golf world was making plastic cleats for golf shoes. Then there was the Line-M-Up Pro, a device for marking golf balls with a directional line. He followed with the 4 Yards More tee, the first and only tee proven in two tests to improve distance. It was followed by the Survivor Tee, another performance tee but one made in a single piece so that it could be inserted in the ground like a wooden tee. Then came the PosiSet for putters, a counter-balancing device added to the grip.
Every year since 1996 the Greenkeeper research team continues to come up with new products. Then they develop new outgrowths of those new products.
“It’s been a rather amazing ride,” admits Carroll, who was busy hosting visitors from around the world to his booth at the PGA Show. “We had a successful business that was started by my father. Then my brother and I found a way to apply the science of that industry to the golf world. Our products have been accepted by amateur players and the best professionals.”
The 4 Yards More tee has moved to the front of the line in recent years, as it is now the best-selling performance tee in America.
Antigua Quilted Designs
There has been no secret about the rise of Antigua to the upper echelons of the golf apparel business. The Phoenix-based company has discovered the key combination of form and function.
In particular, Antigua’s new quilted designs – in both the men’s and women’s lines – were the hottest thing at the PGA Merchandise Show.
“Our men’s piece is called the Arctic Pullover. Our women’s piece is called the Gossamer,” explained Antigua president Ron McPherson. “We do them in a number of different beautiful colors. Quite frankly, it’s been on every order that we’ve seen for our spring booking.”
The quilted design gives a rich texture to the outerwear pieces … so rich that they might even be more appropriate for off the golf course.
“The pullover certainly can be worn to play golf,” continued McPherson. “But I’m wearing it currently with a tie and I know a lot of people look at it as a quarter-zip they are going to wear when they go out to dinner. It has a lot of functionality to it.”
The women’s style comes in a full-zip jacket, sizes small through XL. The men’s style comes in a longsleeve quarter-zip pullover, sizes small through XXL. Each are available in six colors.
Cleveland RTX-3 Wedges
Cleveland Golf has had a longtime status as king of the wedge world. So, how can they possibly go up from there?
They can attempt to make an even better wedge … and that’s exactly what John Rae, vice president of research and development for Cleveland Golf, has been charged with doing.
“I like to simplify wedges down to three things,” Rae explains. “All wedges are about shape, feel and spin. For 30 years at Cleveland we have been making the best looking, the best feeling and best spinning wedges out there.”
“What separates the new line is that for the first time we have three different technologies,” Rae continues. “There is a shape technology, a feel technology and a spin technology that are all specifically catered to get the ball closer to the hole.”
The goal of getting the ball closer to the hole is achieved by shifting the center of gravity closer to the center of the wedge face – the impact zone – to decrease vibration and maximize head stability at impact.
“There’s a difference between some companies that are putting out new products all of the time and at Cleveland, where we take a lot of time to develop a new product,” stresses Rae. “These new wedges, we started working on them in 2013.”
The wedges are available in four finishes – black satin, tour satin, tour raw (a copper color) and CB tour satin. The wedges also are available in lofts from 46-degree all the way up to 64-degree.
Copper Tech Golf Glove
The late, great Ben Hogan loved to hit golf balls. Even long after his competitive days were over, he still spent hours on the range hitting balls. And he always did it bare-handed, i.e. without wearing a golf glove.
The Copper Tech glove, infused with copper, provides near-miraculous relief from hand pain – whether from arthritis, tendinitis or muscle fatigue.
The secret is the copper that is infused into the glove. It supports improved blood circulation, which provides oxygenation of working muscles. It also helps prevent strain and fatigue by keeping muscles warm. After golf, it reduces the recovery time of muscles.
“Copper moves blood,” says company president Lloyd Cohn. “It aids circulation, but rather than listen to me talk about it, listen to what our customers are saying. Go to our website and read the testimonials. We have people telling us that they work like magic.”
The best part about the “magic” of the Copper Tech glove is that it can be felt almost immediately. The compression fit starts the blood moving and the copper-infused silicon palm weave technology provides a catalyst for circulation.
In addition, the new Spider Tacky Grip glove provides better grip and less slippage than other one-size-fits-most golf gloves. The Copper Tech glove is available in both left-hand and right-hand models and sells at a retail price of $19.95.
1st Tee Bar/10th Tee Bar
There is no secret that golfers need the proper fuel to perform at peak efficiency and think their way around the golf course. The 1st Tee Bar and 10th Tee Bar from SCNS Sports Foods has been addressing that issue for 15 years.
The new line of energy and nutrition bars no longer uses high fructose corn syrup or any artificial additives. They are the healthiest line of meal replacement bars and snack bars designed specifically for golfers.
In addition, the newest addition to the line of bars features a number of gluten free options.
“We wanted to have the best bars on the market, so we listened to what people said and took out all of the unwanted ingredients,” says Bill Stewart, COO of SCNS Sports Foods. “We’re getting great feedback, not only from having a cleaner bar, but on the flavor and texture of these new bars.”
The 1st Tee and 10th Tee bars are available at many golf shops across the country, or directly from the manufacturer online.
High Heat Fairway Woods and Hybrids
There’s an old saying: “If at first you don’t succeed – try, try again.”
And that’s exactly what the people at High Heat have been doing for three years.
Dean Knuth, the mastermind behind that High Heat driver that took the golf world by storm in 2015, keeps expanding the line of clubs. Last year he debuted a 3-wood and a 3-hybrid.
Employing the same philosophy that fueled success in his driver, he continued to use the highest technology and most expensive materials … but he used them to build clubs for the amateur player, not tour pros.
This year he expanded his fairway wood line by adding a 5-wood and 7-wood. And he expanded the hybrid line by adding a 4, 5, 6 and 7-hybrid.
“We’re the only company making titanium-faced fairway woods and hybrids,” explains Knuth, who gained his initial fame working for the United States Golf Association. “They are just much hotter than the steel that you are going to see out on the market. Second, the center of gravity is deeper and lower, which is what amateurs need.”
The bottom line is that High Heat boasts a line of fairway woods and hybrids that has amateurs raving. On Demo Day at the PGA Merchandise Show people were lined up all day to hit the newest offerings from High Heat. The comments were consistent throughout the day as players of all handicap ranges claimed that both the fairway woods and hybrids were “effortless” and “incredibly easy to hit.”
When ordering, mention GolfTalk Live for special prices.
Nexbelt Pebble Grain Series
The Nexbelt story is one of the most intriguing stories in the golf apparel business. In 2011 the original “belt with no holes” debuted on a very small scale. A few years later it made its debut at the PGA Merchandise show and it was an immediate hit – nationally and internationally. It began as a golf belt but now is considered a belt for all occasions.
As part of Nexbelt’s Premiere Line of belts, the Pebble Grain Series uses the highest quality leather. The belts come in five different colors and are accented by a number of different contrasting colors that are used in the stitching and edges of the belts. For example, a black pebble grain belt can be accented by cobalt blue stitching and trim. Or, for a bright change of pace, an aqua pebble grain belt can be accented by lime stitching and trim.
“The major attraction to this new belt is it’s a premium belt with a very supple finish,” explains Nexbelt President Tom Hunsucker. “It’s soft but at the same time very durable. The different color variations really add to the wardrobe, without overpowering it.”
As a result of the success of the line, Nexbelt had to move to a larger booth at the PGA Show this year … and it still proved to be one of the busiest booths, per square foot, at the golf industry’s largest business event.
The Pebble Grain Series belts are currently available in eight different color combinations and carry a retail price of $89.99.
In keeping with the trend of high quality products being designed for the masses, the new Snell golf ball proved to be exactly what the majority of golfers have been demanding for years. The highest quality golf ball at an affordable price.
Dean Snell spent many years working for two of the biggest companies in golf – Titleist and TaylorMade. At Titleist he was part of the team that designed the Pro V1 golf ball. At TaylorMade, he helped the company when they launched their line of golf balls and gained market share.
Now, Snell is out on his own – shouting a well-received mantra.
“We started out about a year-and-a-half ago on a mission to take what I’ve done in 26 years with the tour players and bring that to the consumers,” says Snell. “We’ve taken the best materials, the best processes, created the best performance – but I don’t have the big overhead, the big marketing, the big tour contracts. I took all that savings and created a high-end, top-level, cast urethane tour ball and passed that savings back on to the consumer.”
Remarks about the performance of the new ball have been amazing. What is even more amazing is the price. Snell golf balls are available only online and the My Tour Ball is priced at $31.99 per dozen or $157.99 for a six-dozen pack.
For those who prefer a two-piece ball, Snell Golf offers the Get Sum ball, which is priced at $20.99 per dozen or $85 for the six-dozen pack. The Get Sum ball is available in white or optic yellow.
Srixon Golf Balls
Srixon has made a name for itself in the world of golf balls, but nobody is resting on the company’s reputation. They continue to fine-tune their product line.
The new Z-Star and Z-Star XV golf balls are the fifth generation of a product that has won many global professional golf tournaments and draws the praise of some of the best players in the world.
“We’ve put a lot more technology into these — from a new dimple pattern, new spin skin and fine-tuning of the core,” explains Jeff Brunski, director of research and development for Srixon. “It’s going to give you distance and more control around the greens.”
But the big news – news in keeping with market trends – is the development of the new Q-Star Tour golf ball. It is a tour golf ball – just like the Z-Star – but it is tuned to the swing speeds of the average golfer. It’s got a soft urethane cover and promises to provide tour-like control around the green. The combination of lower compression and “a softer energetic gradient growth core” is going to produce shots that launch higher and spin less off the driver and irons.
“That combination, for most players, allows them to hit the ball straighter and farther,” concludes Brunski. “For the majority of golfers in the world, this is the best golf ball anyone ever has produced.”
The Z-Star and Z-Star XV golf balls retail for $39.99. The Q-Star Tour, which will be available in the spring, retails for $29.99.
Tour Edge XJ1 Driver
It would be crazy to put an Indy Formula race car in the hands of most people who are driving down on the way to work. They would crash before they ever got there.
That’s exactly what clubmaker Dave Glod, founder of Tour Edge Golf, has done with his new XJ1 driver. Or, for a better analogy, he has given a rocket-powered piece of artillery to the world of pea-shooters.
“We have a new titanium that’s called 911,” said Glod, with a genuine sense of excitement in his voice. “It’s so special, we call it the super metal. An average player can actually compress this titanium better than normal titanium. So the average player gains distance much more easily than any other driver out there today.”
While most players can benefit from this driver, when it comes time to purchase the new XJ1 driver, many will shy away. Retail price is $699 and it only can be purchased online or in limited locations.
Glod defends the value of his latest creation.
“Most of the companies make tour drivers first and then they kind of dummy-down the shafts for everyone else,” explained Glod. “We started with the head itself and designed it for the amateur player. There is a lower center of gravity, a faster face and a whole new titanium body, which reacts at slower swing speeds.”