Callaway Golf’s announcement of the Epic Flash driver and fairway woods was accompanied by the introduction of new hybrids and irons under the Apex 19 name. Though most of the media attention will be aimed at the Flash driver those savvy in the sometimes-complicated world of golf gear are paying lots of attention to Apex 19 family members. Continue reading
Callaway Golf (NYSE: ELY) is the largest seller of golf clubs with a dominant position in drivers going back to the Great Big Bertha Epic in 2017 and extended with the Rogue model of last year. Golfers demand distance from a driver and to accomplish that designers need to make one that provides lots of ball speed with low backspin and minimum side spin.
Since Callaway Golf came out with the first Big Bertha irons back in the mid-90s the name has been resurrected several times including in 2014 with irons having the very well thought of 360 Face Cup construction. These Big Berthas helped push Callaway into the top spot in iron sales and made Big Bertha the bestselling iron model.
The 360 Face Cup provides flex to the face at impact and helps energy transfer to the ball so there is more ball speed and distance. Continue reading
Some observers forget there’s a danger in reading too much into the financial results of a company over the short term especially a publicly traded company whose management is very aware they are being judged on interim results. Add to that if the company is in a stagnant or slow grow industry such as golf equipment, growth only comes from “eating the other guy’s lunch.” In other words, in today’s equipment market you can figure increases in sales often come from a corresponding decrease in sales by another company. Continue reading
Titleist is the number one ball company and will remain in the top spot for the foreseeable future. The company says sales of the new softer AVX ball are “off to a fast start” and iron sales have been a bright spot as well, making up a large part of the almost 25% increase in club sales through the second quarter of 2018. The new 718 AP3 players-distance irons leapt to the best-selling slot in the 718 family complimenting the game-improvement 718 AP1s and players model 718 AP2s. Continue reading
For the 2017 season Callaway Golf hit the market with the Great Big Bertha Epic featuring the unique Jailbreak technology and it quickly took over the number one spot in sales. Building on that success in 2018 Callaway’s new Rogue model shares—Callaway says improves—Epic’s technical breakthrough.
For the first time in Epic a driver was constructed with rods linking the sole and crown. Called Jailbreak technology, the rods reduce flexing of the crown when the club meets the ball and the energy usually lost is redirected to the face to produce more ball speed and more distance.
The Rogue driver ($500) has Jailbreak rods but now they are hourglass shaped, thinner and lighter saving weight which was relocated to decrease shot dispersion. Callaway points out there’s also more distance potential with increased forgiveness and the Rogue has their variable thickness face design called X-Face. Completing the package is a lightweight carbon fiber crown with the Speed Step configuration developed in conjunction with Boeing to reduce aerodynamic drag on the downswing for more clubhead speed.
The adjustable-hosel Rogue driver comes in three variations: Standard, Draw and Sub Zero. The Draw model has weight moved closer to the heel to compensate for the typical outside-to-in swing shape of those who slice and the Sub Zero is targeted for players needing a driver delivering lower spin…as much as 300 rpm lower than the Standard.
Rogue fairway woods ($300) are similar in construction and significantly Jailbreak rods have been added with the cup face construction Callaway has used in the past and as a side note, Callaway also figured out how to put the rods into Rogue hybrids. The fairway woods make use of a carbon fiber crown with a Speed Step to improve air flow. In addition to the standard Rogue fairway wood there’s also a Sub Zero model which has a 5-gram weight screw that moves the center of gravity forward to produce a more penetrating ball flight.
The purpose of taking the Rogue Sub Zero driver and Rogue Sub Zero fairway woods to the course was to find how they did with the variety of conditions encountered over ten rounds on different courses, certainly a different approach than simply standing on the range and banging out ball after ball.
On the course it was easy to see why both have been so quickly accepted by touring professionals and recreational players alike. Over the ten rounds playing the Callaway Chrome Soft X ball plus, at times, two other premium category balls there was no question the Rogue Sub Zero driver distance was longer compared with last year’s GBB Epic but what was also apparent was the lower amount of dispersion. My “good” swings produce a medium trajectory draw that can become a pull-hook or a block to the right if I’m not paying attention. The ball flight of the Rogue Sub-Zero was just where I like it, but the amount of right to left movement was less and the ball often went straight, both shots being very playable.
However, the Rogue Sub Zero fairway wood (15-degrees loft) unquestionably produced more yardage than my two-year old 3-wood from another manufacturer as measured both by a GPS app on my smartphone and by judging locations from previous times playing the course. My approximation was the Rogue Sub Zero easily produced 10 yards of additional carry…and maybe even more than that, with about the same amount curvature but a higher launch.
During the year many of the new drivers and fairway woods will be reviewed with some becoming part of this series “Ten Rounds With…” There is no question any player ready for a new driver or fairway wood should put the Rogues from Callaway on their short list for testing with a professional fitter. They are that good.
PGA TOUR Superstore hasn’t bought into all the doom and gloom used by some to describe the golf equipment industry. For them the glass isn’t half empty and in fact the Atlanta-based chain has been following a controlled plan of expansion to manage growth for the long term.
The opportunity for additional insight to this golf retailing success story came in an interview with Randy Peitsch, PGA TOUR Superstore’s Senior Vice President of Operations. Peitsch has been in the top spot guiding day-to-day operations for the past two years after a five-year stint as vice president in charge of hard goods prior to which he was in divisional management at Sports Authority.
We questioned Peitsch about how PGATSS can accomplish growth in an unfavorable golf retail environment.
“It begins with hiring really good people, training them and then backing them,” Peitsch responded. “We can then focus on the consumer experience. We are not in the transaction business. We are in the relationship business.”
Well said but it should be pointed out that for the past several years the golf equipment business has euphemistically been called a “difficult market” with several events adversely affecting both the makers and sellers of equipment.
Golf retailers of all sizes have closed including the 463-store Sports Authority plus Golfsmith shuttered most of their locations after being purchased by Dick’s Sporting Goods. Dick’s, the sports retailing behemoth with over 700 locations, has reduced store floor space allocated to golf though recent statements by top management indicate they may be encouraged with the prospects for increases in golf equipment and accessories, particularly their private brands such as Top-Flite.
Manufacturers too have struggled with the largest, Acushnet Holding Corp (NYSE: GOLF), making a tepidly received public stock offering in late 2016. The former Fila Korea subsidiary, maker of several of golf’s top brands including Titleist and FootJoy, reported flat sales in 2017 but an increase in net income of $47 million.
In May 2017 TaylorMade Golf, the third largest equipment maker, was sold by Adidas (OTCMKTS: ADDY) for a bargain-basement price to an investment company and in third quarter 2016 Nike closed its golf equipment division. Niche manufacturer Ben Hogan Golf filed for bankruptcy and during its recovery has opted for a consumer-direct strategy.
On the positive side the second largest equipment manufacturer Callaway Golf (NYSE: ELY) finished 2017 with 20% higher sales than the previous year mostly on the strength of its Great Big Bertha Epic line of metalwoods. Midsize manufacturers such as Tour Edge Golf, Bridgestone Golf and Cobra Golf also have said they did appreciably better last year and are looking forward to even more gains in 2018.
Many are saying we are seeing the first signs of some stability in golf retailing and certainly PGA TOUR Superstore is well positioned to take advantage. The company opened three new locations in 2017 for a total of 31 and number 32 opened in February with number 33 set for the Houston, Texas market.
Same store sales last year had a healthy increase of 15 percent plus overall sales increased 23 percent. Digging a little deeper there are even more signs of their expanding market presence:
-Black Friday 2017 same store sales up 20 percent and for the three-day Thanksgiving weekend up 15 percent
-Online sales for Cyber Monday increased an eye-popping 62 percent
-Customer club fittings topped 110,000 in 2017 and lessons hit almost 50,000
-Instore practice bays saw 100,000 participants during the year
Impressive, in fact very impressive, for a year when the number of U.S. golfers continued to decline. Golfer consumers are responding to PGATSS’s extensive inventory, competitive pricing and perhaps even more to the service they receive whether online or in-store.
A trip to PGATSS has been compared with a visit to Home Depot and it should be since the private-held PGATSS is part of the AMB Group one of the Blank family endeavors along with the Atlanta Falcons (NFL), Atlanta United (MLS) and Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Family head Arthur Blank was one of the founders of Home Depot, retiring in 2001 as co-chairman.
Blank said of the success his stores have had in an uncertain retail environment, “At PGA TOUR Superstore we’re using the same philosophy that drove the Home Depot’s success and revolutionized the home improvement industry. We offer a variety of products at value prices, incredible services and employ the best associates to provide a level of customer service that keeps visitors coming back because they love the experience.”
Most consumers acknowledge a visit to a PGATSS has a different feeling from the usual big box retailer. Employees invariably greet you and then thank you when you leave, an everyday example of customer relationship building.
Peitsch pointed out, “We focus on the consumer experience. If we do everything the right way, we win out over the competitors.”
True certainly but beating the other guy also takes the proper pricing, inventory and profit margins.
According to Peitsch, “Margins have to be in the first sentence of any discussion and the partnerships with manufacturers are very important.” Then as if anticipating my next question, “The trend in our margins has continued upwards.”
Funds to pay for expansion must come from either borrowing or consistent profitability. Without the proper margins profits soon are nonexistent and discussing the entire business of PGATSS Peitsch made a critical observation, “Pay attention to the process and the results will come.”
Questioned about expansion plans Peitsch then said, “The cost of retail space drives the selection of new locations.” So, in addition to golfer demographics, brick and mortar economics dictate whether a site is viable or if even an entire market is suitable.
Peitsch commented that though they may be “under penetrated in the market we are the fastest growing and expect to open a store every other month, so we will have 50 by 2020.” That would be a 50 percent increase in just three years and average store size at the end of 2017 was 40,000 square feet making them the largest off-course retailer in golf in terms of average space.
It’s plain there is no “secret” to PGATSS success or maybe their secret is the relentless application of good business principles matched to an understanding of their customers.
Refreshing to say the least.
One of the pleasures that least in part compensates for having to tread the miles of aisles at each year’s PGA Merchandise Show is the opportunity to gain some insight to pass along to reader about all the new products. This year was no exception.
The people at Callaway Golf had an important announcement the week before the Show concerning the Rogue family of clubs—metalwoods, hybrids and irons—and Show week unveiled their new Chrome Soft and Chrome Soft X golf balls.
They revealed some interesting technology that you should know about.
The original Chrome Soft released in 2015 had a three-piece construction and very low compression which turned off better players with higher swing speeds; Callaway’s answer was the firmer Chrome Soft X. For 2018 they have redone both in a 4-piece construction and added something called graphene into the core.
For maximum distance in a ball such as the Chrome Soft with inner and outer cores, the inner should be larger than the outer which puts the outer under high stress when the ball is hit with a driver. If the outer isn’t strong enough it will crack which makes it worthless and that’s where graphene comes in. Graphene, long thought to be too expensive for golf balls, is an ultra-strong lattice of nanocarbon atoms 200 times stronger than steel but it stretches so when added to the outer core the potential cracking problem is solved.
This meant inner core could be made softer and the outer core stronger. As Callaway’s Dr. Alan Hocknell, Senior Vice President of Research and Development described it, a “crash helmet for the inner core.”
Hocknell also said, “If you think of this inner core as the engine of the golf ball, the inner of the new Chrome Soft is now bigger and softer because it is protected by the stronger outer core, which allows us to pump up the speed, pump up the spin-reducing characteristic of the soft core, and still retain the soft-feel benefits. The outer core is a firmer blend of polybutadiene rubber compared to the inner core and it is made much stronger as the nano-particles of graphene get in-between the long polymer chains and make them significantly stronger.”
Callaway describes the result as having kept the overall soft feel but changed it slightly. Players will hear a crisper sound from shots around the green and see added ball speed off the driver with “significantly” better distance from mid-irons and approach shots. Compared to the original Chrome Soft, driver spin is less without lowering the launch angle, so distance is increased.
Those with higher swing speeds, above 105 mph with the driver, should like the firmer Chrome Soft X while taking advantage of the softer feel of both the Chrome Soft and Chrome Soft X. The increased firmness will result in a better conversion of driver speed to ball speed in the X than it will in the standard Chrome Soft.
The greatest advantage of playing a soft ball though might the “forgiveness,” a term usually associate with clubs, but which can be applied to golf balls as well. The softer the ball the greater the ball will compress with preservation of more ball speed when impact is not in the center of the clubface. Put simply a Chrome Soft ball goes farther compared with a harder ball even though the hit was not very good.
Finally, the urethane covers of both models have been made softer with the goal being increase spin on shots around the green. According to Hocknell even though it is softer it is actually more durable, a characteristic of urethane not true of Surlyn which is often used on so-called distance balls.
In a nutshell, players will be interested in the 2018 Chrome Soft if they want a softer feel with more forgiveness and less side-to-side curvature and the Chrome Soft X if looking for more workability. Both will be at retail on February 16 at a cost of $44.99 per dozen.
Callaway Golf had a banner season last year with the Epic club family, especially the driver, and hopes to do the same this year with the new Rogue driver and fairway woods. Like the Epic, Rogue has titanium bars (named Jailbreak technology) connecting the crown and the sole that are now hourglass shaped saving about 25% of the weight compared with those used in Epic. According to Callaway’s research the bars or rods have the effect of stiffening the club body, so energy is more efficiently transferred producing added ball speed. The second feature not to be overlooked is Rogue’s new X Face VFT variable face thickness profile which combined with the Jailbreak rods helps to preserve ball speed if impact is off center. This design also allowed mass to be moved altering the center of gravity for a better launch and added to the head’s resistance to twisting.
Compared to the Great Big Bertha, Epic and XR model drivers the face of the Rogue can be made thinner because of the improved Jailbreak rods and after doing an impact probability distribution a pattern for the thinner and thicker portions of the face was developed.
Boeing Aerospace was consulted on the crown’s Speed Step first seen on the XR driver and for the Rogue they were brought back to modify the geometry of the leading edge and head curvature for 0.6 to 0.7 mph increase in speed. The carbon composite crown is similar to the Epic driver but larger, in fact the largest Callaway has ever been able to produce. Measuring total MOI, i.e., both vertically and horizontally, the XR 16 driver had an MOI of 7,400, the Epic of last year tested at 8,000 and the Rogue a significant advancement to 8,600. Any driver over 7,000 is considered a “forgiving.” Company testing also shows the Rogue gave a 16% tighter shot dispersion.
While most of the attention, as it was last year with the Epic driver, will probably be focused on the titanium rods inside the head the Rogue’s face design is worth a bit more explanation. This X-Face with VFT has raised ridges in the shape of a large X in the middle of the inner side of the face with the thickness varying in strategic areas. The result is in addition to producing a minimum thickness overall it helps ball launch parameters and allows the areas of the crown and sole flange near the face to be thinner while still lowering energy loss from vibration.
Callaway says “X-Face with VFT technology expands the area of the clubface that delivers fast ball speed to promote more distance on off-center hits, and more consistently fast ball speed and distance overall.”
There are three Rogue models. In addition to the standard configuration there is a draw model which has weight moved towards the heel…an anti-slice configuration to reduce side spin without a closed face angle, a more upright lie or lots of offset between the head and the shaft. Compared with the standard Rogue it has about 17 yards less slice and compared with the Epic driver with weights moved close to the heel, about 7 yards less. The Rogue Sub Zero for better players is a low spin model but still has a high MOI and has two weights in the sole, a 14-gram and a 2-gram to adjust the trajectory and spin. The Epic Sub Zero had 12-gram and 2-gram weights.
Each Rogue driver model is priced at $500 and will be available February 9. The Rogue fairway woods have the Jailbreak rods (made of steel not titanium as they are in the Rogue driver) with Callaway’s well-regarded face cup design. There are two models, the standard and the Sub-Zero. Both are priced at $300.
Callaway Golf Coronado: Callaway has a great line of golf shoes and we like the Coronado priced at $129.95. The microfiber upper is lightweight and waterproof and the midsole is their Opti-soft EVA giving natural ground feel and lots of comfort. The sock liner is especially constructed for heat management and breathability while the TPU Fusion-Lite outsole uses low profile Champ Slim-Lok spikes.
TecTecTec: Don’t purchase the VPRO500 laser rangefinder for $149.99 as a gift just because it is less expensive than many competing distance measuring devices although that’s a good reason. TecTecTec has packed it with lots of features such as it is waterproof, has an ultra-clear 6X magnification lens and is accurate out to 540 yards. It easily captures the flag, a tree next to a layup area or the top of a greenside bunker. The VPRO500 weighs under 7 ounces and fits nicely in the hand plus it has a shock resistance case. There’s even a slope model for $179.99 at tectectec.com.
Chase54 Shakespeare Jacket: For on or off the course wear, this full-zip 100% polyester tech fleece jacket looks good and provides water repellant warmth to extend the golf season. Priced at $143 more details may be found at Chase54.com.
Bridgestone Tour B – The new Tour B golf balls from Bridgestone has something for everyone. The Tour B X and XS are for low handicappers and the RX and RXS are for mid-to-low handicappers. The price is $45 per dozen and they may be found at most every golf retailer.
Without dusting off my crystal ball—it’s got a big crack in it anyway—I see two trends worth noting in the golf club business. Both involve the development of clubs with limited appeal and at this point neither can be described as having can’t-miss prospects.
First is the appearance of ultra-high-end price clubs as exemplified by PXG custom-only models starting with the driver which carries a tag of $700 followed by fairway woods at $500 and irons at $300 or more. And since a bag full of PXGs wouldn’t be complete without the addition of one of their putter models plan on spending another $400 to $600. Add that all together and the total comes to well over $5,000…without the cost of the bag.
Of course for many years there have been custom-made clubs at prices much higher than normal but none in just two years have made as much of an impression on the overall market as PXG.
PXG founder and CEO Bob Parsons said in an interview with Golfweek he expects $100 million in sales this year and more significantly, to be profitable. Repeat that to yourself. In two years from nothing to profitability…in the golf business.
Realistically $100 million in club sales is not a very big ripple on the pond compared with Callaway who expects around $980 million in sales this year and well behind Acushnet who has forecast in the neighborhood of $1.6 billion. The importance is that major makers have even decided to enter at the ultra-high-end price point. Titleist, for example, has the C16 driver selling for $1,125 and Callaway’s new Great Big Bertha Epic Star is $700.
The story is the same with irons and illustrating with the same two companies, an eight iron set of Titleist C16 irons are $3,000 while Callaway Epic irons start at $2,000 with new Epic Star irons at $2,400.
The question of course is how big can this ultra-high-end price market be? The fact is though at least three companies (and you can add Honma, XXIO, Bettinardi plus a couple of others) are working to take advantage of what growth may be there.
The bottom line is performance has to justify the price otherwise the only players paying double or triple of what are considered “usual prices” are those whose egos make the decision.
The second trend is the increase in the number superlight clubs made specifically for those with relatively slow swing speeds, often identified as seniors and ladies. These superlights are made to answer the quest for added distance based on the idea if the club weighs less it can be swung faster and thereby generate more yardage.
A couple of examples starting with Cobra Golf’s F-Max family with the F-Max driver headlining the offering. Cobra’s approach is to use extremely light shaft with a head shaved of extra grams while the center of gravity has been positioned both to fight a slice and hit the ball on a higher trajectory. Interestingly the $300 F-Max driver is also at the bottom of the price spectrum as is the pricing of other F-Max family clubs.
Callaway has gone the other way with the Great Big Bertha Epic Star driver which follows the extremely successful Epic of last season and with all the features that made the Epic such a hit but much, much lighter. The Epic Star comes in at 286 grams versus the Epic at around 310 grams. The Epic Star ($700 as mentioned above) is for players having trouble generating even a moderate clubhead speed and a relatively modest swing speed increase of five mph can produce an additional 15 yards. The cardinal rule is more speed equals more distance.
Lightweight, even superlight, clubs especially drivers have been around since titanium heads and graphite shafts became the norm and even after clubhead sizes reached 460cc Cleveland had a 260-gram driver. As always performance will decide if these latest examples are cost effective plus of course whether a $300 driver can outsell a $700 model. In any event it would seem the market for superlight clubs is much larger than that for ultra-high-end priced clubs.
It’s going to be interesting to see how these two trends develop.
With Father’s Day coming the gift of golf shoes is not only appropriate but will be greatly appreciated. Here are three models from as many makers that we like and meet our criteria of performance, style and price.
In the Callaway footwear collection the LA JOLLA is among the most popular and features classically stylish looks and colors. Resistance to water penetration comes from the Opti-repel microfiber leather upper in conjunction with the Opti-soft EVA midsole and 8MM molded EVA sock liner. Callaway uses their Opti-vent mesh liner for breathability and to pull heat away from the foot. The outsole has low-profile Champ Slim-Lok spikes with seven PiviX cleats and each pair has a two-year waterproof warranty. Color choices are the traditional black or white plus a white and brown saddle. Pricing is $99.95 so check them out at callawayappatel.com.
Featuring their new SYPDR-GRIP outsole, the Cage Pro targets the foot’s pivot points to give better traction and are available with the BOA closure for easy adjustment during the round. This model is designed for both stability and flexibility with a one piece PU cage that wraps around the heel, through the midsole and across the toes. The PU structure is bonded to ECCO’s light weight and breathable HYDROMAX treated textile upper. Suggested retail price is $210 for the conventionally laced model offering four color combination choices and $230 for the BOA model which has a choice of two color combinations. Additional information may be found on eccousa.com.
High performance and lightweight (just 11.6 ounces) are descriptors of this stylish shoe which makes use of an exoskeleton TPU outsole that moves naturally with the foot. The upper is a water-resistant microfiber leather with their FantomFit technology giving great support while keeping moisture from penetrating. The midsole has added cushioning while giving a sharp looking low profile. The NBG2004 uses the low-profile SLIM-Lok Zarma Tour2 cleat system. Priced at $99.95 the NBG2004 comes in a choice of colors white/red, black/green or grey/blue. Get all the details at newbalance.com
Fifteen years ago I had a set of Steelhead X-14 irons from Callaway Golf. They were actually released in 2000 and though at the time they were cutting edge design Callaway’s new Steelhead XRs would blow them away in a side by side comparison—that is if I still had the X-14s.
Besides the name the newest model has a similar head shape, particularly at address with a somewhat more rounded toe, the X-14s longer looking blade length and a revamped bore-through hosel. But don’t make the mistake of thinking the XRs are merely an updating of some model pushing its 20th anniversary. They are also more than an update of the XR model from 2015 though both fall into the category of iron most of us should be playing…namely game-improvement.
Steelhead XRs are a modern game-improvement iron suitable for even low handicappers looking for an easy-to-hit forgiving club.
After extensive on-course time the benefits of Callaway’s 360 face cup construction were very evident and never more so than on off center impacts. The distance produced when hit in the center of the face is impressive but to me more significant is how far the ball when the impact wasn’t in the exact center.
Steelhead XRs’ bore-through hosel allows weight from the heel area to be shifted closer to the impact area so the center of gravity is dead in the center of the face. As Dr. Alan Hocknell, Callaway’s senior vice president of R&D, points out not all irons are able to do that. “We’ve used the lightness of this hosel to get that weight distribution and put the CG right there.”
Game-improvement irons don’t have progressive center of gravity placement but the Steelhead XR long irons have it low and back in the head while the mid-irons have the CG mid-back and the short irons have a low mid placement to help the ball flighting and spin control. So decide for yourself but that sounds very close to being progressive as the loft increases.
Of particular note, living in Florida where the wind blows almost all day every day, the ability of an iron to produce different trajectory shots is a must. The Steelhead XRs did that very well. As an example during a morning round one of the par-3s, which plays slightly downhill, had a light breeze helping left to right. The shot called for a 6-iron which I hit into the middle of the green.
Late that afternoon, having gone back out and playing the same hole, the wind had strengthened and switched to directly into us. I felt a 6-iron was still the club but hit the shot about half the height of the morning, again to the middle of the green.
It’s helpful to be playing clubs that not only will do that but more importantly after some experience with them gave me the confidence to even attempt those totally different shots.
Negatives: The basic trajectory of the Steelhead XRs is higher than some will like if they already are high ball hitters. Though they should be attractive to low handicap players since the amount of offset is minimal and the forgiveness is evident with every swing, some may want a more of a “players’ iron” look at address.
Recommendation: Callaway is on a roll with the entire iron line and if your to-do list this summer has a line item for the purchase of new game-improvement category irons the Steelhead XRs are a great choice. A set of 5-iron through pitching wedge is $600.
Images courtesy of Callaway Golf
The Great Big Bertha Epic driver from Callaway Golf caused a flurry of comment on the Internet and in club rooms around the country for a simple reason…its construction is unique.
When I received the advanced information and specifications for the Epic prior to the official announcement, I wasn’t an enthusiast for the name. Nor am I now however, there no denying the construction is unlike any other on the market so I think we can allow Callaway some license to call it what they want. Actually I’m told Epic was the code name used during development and it stuck.
But enough about the nonessentials. For the first time a manufacturer has been able to place bars of titanium inside the clubhead connecting the crown and sole to reduce the amount of deflection at impact. This transfers energy to the clubface and Callaway says it creates maximum face flex and more ball speed even though the clubhead speed remains the same. The name for this breakthrough is another I’m not thrilled with but of course my opinion doesn’t matter. They call it “Jailbreak Technology.”
The club body is a titanium skeleton or “Exo-Cage” with the areas between the “ribs” filled by carbon fiber. Included are the crown plus three sections of the sole so the Epic clubhead’s surface area works out to 46% carbon fiber. This says Dr. Alan Hocknell, senior vice president of research and development, creates a light yet stiff structure leaving lots of weight which can be redistributed to alter the curvature bias of the ball. To provide for a draw or a fade shot tendency Epic has a 17-gram sliding weight at the rear of the sole which according to Hocknell can adjust the ball curvature up to 21 yards. That of course goes a long way in straightening out most any slice.
To maximize performance Callaway also recognizes the importance of the correct shaft so with the Epic they offer a choice four stock shafts in four different weight categories. A very nice feature that can mean having a driver that “works” or not and may be a significant cost savings over buying a non-stock shaft.
The Epic comes with a choice of basic lofts–9 degrees, 10.5 degrees and a HT model of 13.5 degrees. Settings on the hosel can adjust that loft from two degrees more to one degree less and there’s also a setting for a draw or neutral lie angle.
The GBB Epic tested was a 10.5 degree model with a Project X HZDRUS T800 shaft the standard 45.5 inch length and from the very first swings on the range it was apparent Callaway has a winner. Though the shaft was one inch longer than my current driver, contact was solid and trajectory (after adjusting the loft to 11 degrees) was exactly what my swing should produce.
Distance was as good as any driver we have tested but the most important fact is that on my usual towards-the-toe miss the ball still went almost the same yardage, though of course exhibiting a fairly pronounced right to left hook. As the Epic became more familiar the forgiveness exhibited swing after swing makes it an unqualified winner.
Negatives: Epic’s price of $500 mandates a club fitting by a qualified fitter. This makes good sense even though there may be an additional cost.
The stock shafts may be too long for some, especially slower swing speed players, and those with pronounced slices so it might be a good idea to consider trimming the standard length.
With the lie angle setting at neutral, some who tried the Epic thought the face looked like it was slightly open. This was not actually true, only what it looked like, but this may be a concern for some potential purchasers.
Everyone commented on the impact sound though truthfully after a couple of rounds it didn’t bother me. It is a harder or perhaps sharper sound and certainly distinctive from any other driver.
Recommendation: Put the Great Big Bertha Epic on your short list. It’s a premium driver that stands out in comparison with others in its class for both its construction and most importantly forgiveness. There’s a low spin version without the sliding weight but with two interchangeable sole weights called the Epic Sub Zero also priced at $500.
Images courtesy of Callaway Golf
There’s a lot of talk about drivers and there’s no doubt the club taking up the number one slot in the bag is important but it’s also true the clubs in the other end of the bag, the wedges, are important as well. It’s wonderful to hit a booming drive but if you can’t wedge it close going low will be tough.
The secret about wedge play is there is no secret. It just takes a basic knowledge and the selection of the proper wedges for you, plus of course maybe a lesson from a PGA Professional.
To maximize results make sure the lofts are correctly gapped so the distance each wedge goes with a normal swing is about 10 to 15 yards different than the next more lofted wedge. This is often, but not always, four degrees of loft.
An example would be the wedges in my bag starting with the pitching wedge which has a loft of 45 degrees and using a “normal” swing flies 120-125 yards. Next is a 50 degree “gap wedge” good for 105 to 110 yards, then one with 54-degrees of loft used for 90 to 100 yards and finally a 58 degree wedge at 80 yards.
So, four wedges effectively covering a range of 40 plus yards.
It’s important to note—and this is another “secret” that’s not really a secret—ideally you would carry the wedges that give you as many full swings as possible in a round realizing though, no matter what loft your wedges you will always be faced with in-between yardage shots.
There is no magic formula and gapping to a certain extent is a matter of personal preference. It comes down to getting it right so you hit the ball closer with more confidence. A discussion about bounce, that other vital aspect of wedge selection, will be covered in another article.
Here are three of this year’s wedges that caught our eye and we have tested extensively:
Callaway Golf Sure Out: The name was used by the original Ben Hogan brand and since Callaway owns the name they were able to bring it back for a super game improvement wedge designed with input from instructor Hank Haney. Callaway’s team made the Sure Out with lots of sole camber, i.e., curvature from heel to toe. Additionally there is lots of bounce to help it through sand and long grass and 17 grooves that go all the way across the face. These features plus a nice wide sole mean sand shots, greenside pitches and even flop shots can be hit without opening the face or cutting across the ball, techniques that “scare” many average golfers. Priced at $120, Sure Out wedges are available with either lightweight steel or graphite shafts in 58 or 64-degrees of loft.
Cleveland Golf RTX-3: Compared to Cleveland’s previous RTX-2 model, nine grams of weight has been moved from the hosel to the clubhead so the center of gravity is closer to the impact area making a noticeable improvement in feel. For more consistent contact there are three different V-grind soles to match your swing profile and Cleveland’s third generation micro-milled face in between the grooves provides more spin and thus control. Choices include finishes of black satin, Tour satin and Tour raw plus there’s a cavity back version. The available lofts range from 46 to 64 degrees and each is priced at $130.
Ping Glide 2.0: The updates of the original Glide wedges involved making grooves sharper-edged and slightly decreasing the spin between to increase friction to produce more spin. Impressively Ping lab testing reports the Glide 2.0 generate up to 400 rpm higher spin which is important to aid in getting the distance and trajectory just right on every shot. We especially like this wedge’s finish which the company has tagged “hydropearl.” It not only looks good but sheds moisture to reduce the chance of flyers. Ping offers four sole grinds to match your attack angle and the turf conditions at the course you most often play. With steel shafts they are priced at $140 per club.
Images courtesy of manufacturers