One Less Slice to the Pie

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The golf equipment industry is evaluating the potential effects of Nike Golf announcing Aug. 3 it would getting out of the club, ball and bag business to concentrate on its golf apparel lines including ones under the Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Michelle Wie brand names. Club manufacturers have spent the last several years trying to find ways to increase sales and now the slice of the pie that belonged to Nike is up for grabs.

The question is what the remaining club companies will do to take over Nike’s share of the market and if the strategy involves reduction in the prices of clubs to attract sales the golf consumer could benefit.

Nike is the smallest of the big four by a significant margin with sales of $706 million this past fiscal year trailing Callaway Golf ($844 million sales in 2015), TaylorMade-adidas Golf ($989 million) and Acushnet ($1.5 billion).

However the scrum for the sales that had been going to Nike will take place in a muddy field.

There is uncertainty surrounding the two largest companies. Acushnet, the parent of Titleist and FootJoy, has registered with the Security and Exchange Commission to make an offering of stock to the public. Adidas has put its TaylorMade Golf division with the Adams Golf and Ashworth brands up for sale though details of any potential deal are unknown.

Smaller companies are also making moves that add to the list of possible outcomes such as Srixon’s Cleveland brand changing focus to wedges and putters while Srixon and their upscale XXIO lines market woods and irons. Tour Edge Golf has increased efforts to further penetrate the market for irons with well received new models.

Undecided for now is the fate of Tour players who endorse the Swoosh clubs and the list starts with Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Michelle Wie but also includes veteran Paul Casey and rising stars Tony Finau and Bruce Koepka. Woods has said he is actively looking for a new relationship with a club company with the mostly likely candidate could be Acushnet-Titleist since longtime rival Phil Mickelson is the chief spokesman for Callaway and the question marks surrounding the sale of TaylorMade.

Jordan Spieth endorses Titleist clubs and golf balls but is contracted with Under Armour for apparel.

Additionally, money paid to endorse a given club line has been put under close scrutiny by every manufacturer as profits have shrunk. The huge sums Nike has paid in the past for marquee stars are most likely not part of the equation. It has been reported Woods earns $50 million annually from Upper Deck, Rolex and Nike endorsements even though he has not played a single event in the past year. Woods’ Nike deal includes both equipment and apparel.

Three years ago McIlroy signed a 10-year deal for between $200 and $250 million according to published stories including apparel as well as equipment.

Titleist NXT Tour & NXT Tour S

NXT_Tour_TourS_ Pkg_640x445Every golfer knows the Pro V1 and Prov1x are flagships for the Titleist brand. Because of their performance they are number one in sales and at the same time the most expensive ball on the market. But, however dominant the Pro V1 franchise is, Titleist does make other models and stablemates NXT Tour and NXT Tour S should not be overlooked.
NXTs are both less expensive and a different construction than Pro V1s but for average golfers their performance certainly makes them worth a look. We conducted trials of both NXTs with four golfers having a range of handicaps playing under a variety of conditions.
First let’s deal with the price. At my local golf shop a dozen Pro V1 or Pro V1xs are $48. NXT Tour or NXT Tour S are $35. That’s a difference of just over a dollar per ball so, keeping in mind there are some inherent performance differences, should the price differential be important to you the decision is easy.
The next reasonable question is, “what’s the difference between the two NXTs and how is it significant?”
NXT_Tour_TourS_cutawayThe NXT Tour is a three-piece construction with a two layer core and Titleist’s Fusablend cover of 302 dimples in a complex tiled octahedral pattern. Fusablend is their propriety formulation and is softer than the Surlyn used for many other non-Tour category ball covers. The NXT Tour S is a two-piece ball with a somewhat softer Fusablend cover compared to the Tour but with the same dimple design.
Based on the construction the NXT Tour should be longer off the driver because of less spin, have a higher trajectory than the NXT Tour S and run out more on the green.
The results from our average players were interesting. They used both the white and yellow colors in the Tour S but only white in the Tour because it doesn’t come in yellow. Each of the four liked the yellow’s increased visibility even to the point of saying not only was it easier to see but in one case commenting the color gave him some added confidence.
Each player thought the Tour was longer than the Tour S though without actual measurements all agreed the difference wasn’t large. The comparative amount of check or roll out was judged by two of the players (15 and 18 handicaps) to be about the same but the five and 12 handicappers both thought there was discernably more spin on short shots with the Tour S. This seems to make sense due to the softer cover of the Tour S and the fact it even felt softer for most every shot.
The 12 handicapper said of the NXT Tour, “For my particular game this ball was long off the tee, great for my second shot and had tremendous feel around the greens. I particularly noticed that it reacted very well with wedge shots around the green.”
Comparing the two the 15 handicap wrote in an email, “Both the NXT Tour and the NXT Tour S Yellow seem to go about the same distance for me. The rest of the performances seem to be equal and I like both, but prefer the yellow Tour S.”
The conclusion is if the NXT Tour and Tour S are a fit for your wallet there is no question they are quality golf balls with performance that will complement most anyone’s game. As a side benefit, the yellow color for the Tour S may even be a visual aid as well.
Images Courtesy of Titleist

Recycled Golf Balls – Less Expensive Performance?

PickedBalls_1500x844We put recycled 2016 model Titleist Pro V1x golf balls from LostGolfBalls.com head to head with those fresh from Acushnet and can confirm what others have previously reported. There was no measurable difference in distance nor trajectory for every club in the bag from driver through wedges.
So why is that significant?
There’s really two reasons. Golfers play used golf balls because after one hole every ball is “used” to some degree and some golfers even play them exclusively. You know, those “previously loved” ones lost by others often in a watery grave.
Secondly, the question of how much the performance is compromised by spending time in a water hazard appears to be answered. If the ball is relatively a recent water resident most of us will find it still plays just fine. Having said that, if you’re getting ready to tee it up in your first professional major or maybe just the club championship no one would dispute spending the money for new ones.
Also, the reason we tested recycled Titleist Pro V1s is obvious. They are the bestselling new ball and according to Gary Kruegar, CEO of LostGolfBalls.com, Pro V1s and Pro V1xs are the ones most requested by his customers, “By far the most popular. There isn’t even a close second.”
Kruegar also told us that though the number of lost balls in the U.S. is immense, “No one is sure [and] 200 to 300 million seems to be an estimated range.
His company recycles—which means washes, inspects and grades–some 43 million golf balls per year and there is also a thriving business in refurbished golf balls, those that have had the cover treated to remove stains and/or repainted.
Recognizing that the island par-3, number 17 at the TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, Fla., is the site of a guesstimated 140,000 lost balls per year where does LostGolfBalls.com get its raw product from? Again Gary Kruegar, “Our largest retrieval operation is in California, with Texas and Florida close behind. Bandon Dunes, Hazeltine, TPC Scottsdale, and PGA West, Champions Golf Club are some big names.”
Bottom line, Kruegar sells first quality—meaning virtually no blemishes, no scuffs–2016 model Titleist Pro V1s and Pro V1xs for $26.99 discounted to $21.59 plus shipping which depending on where you live probably takes the cost per dozen to around $30. Order two dozen and the cost per drops to about $26. The local golf shop is selling new ones for $47.99 per dozen. It’s your decision.

10 Rounds with Callaway Chrome Soft

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Back last year when I first heard of Callaway Golf’s Chrome Soft golf ball it didn’t strike me as anything special but as more information became available my interest grew. It really got my attention when Callaway people explained the technology behind the new ball saying this will be a “game-changer for them.”

We are used to thinking low compression golf balls while having a softer feel didn’t go as far as those with a firmer feel. Ladies and seniors played the lower compression models since they couldn’t get the distance benefits of high compression golf balls due to their slower swing speeds. Since the introduction of multi-layer solid core balls like the Titleist ProV1 the spread of performance has widened but everyone acknowledged it would be nice to add the softer feel of low compression golf balls to the distance gains of solid core construction.

Building a ball with a very soft core meant, especially with longer clubs, though the spin rate was lower the core didn’t react fast enough to produce distance.

According to Callaway that was true until now. Hex_Control_2pk_LID_rev_FRENCH-ENG_v3

The 3-piece Chrome Soft is billed to have a soft feel and still produce the distance, high ball speed and low spin with their aptly named “SoftFast Core” and a urethane cover.

During February and March I took them to the course for an extended trial and as it turned out, though my northern friends were envious, played them in four southern states for a total 16 rounds.

The questions everyone immediately asks are, “How long were they? Did they go as far as a Pro V1?”

The answer is the Chrome Softs were long, certainly comparable to every other golf ball model including the Titleist’s Pro V1 we have reviewed and certainly within the variability inherent in my very average swing. Coincidentally, we received unsolicited samples from another manufacturer of a “distance and feel” ball and took them along with the Callaway’s on a trip to Georgia.

No contest, the “distance and feel” ball didn’t have anywhere near the “distance” of the Chrome Soft and the “feel” around the greens was like a rock while the Chrome Soft showed control properties we really appreciated. The comments from friends to whom I gave sample sleeves (usually two sleeves so they would have an extended opportunity to make their evaluation) were positive and two of them said they liked the Chrome Soft so much in comparison to their usual brand they would be switching.

Negatives. On some downwind shots, particularly with a driver, it seemed as though the Chrome Soft though hit well, fell out of the air very quickly. Admittedly this is a subjective impression but it happened on more than one occasion. Unfortunately in each case when that happened circumstances were such it wasn’t possible to hit additional tee shots so this remains an impression only worth mentioning in passing.

Secondly some may object to the price but at $38 dozen the Chrome Soft are $10 less than market leader ProV1 and $7 less than the Bridgestone B330-RX series.

Recommendation. The Callaway Chrome Soft is really worth trying and I believe you will be happy with the results.