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
Played golf the other day with a good friend who brought along a gentleman I had never met. After the usual exchange of pleasant inanities my friend mentioned I wrote about golf and the new guy said without any prompting, “Well, I can’t see all this new equipment. Why they just don’t go back to persimmon drivers and a wound ball like the old Titleist Professional.” 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
We took the Titleist AVX to the course and had golfers try it, giving each two sleeves so they could put it in play for several rounds. They were a mixture of handicaps, female and male, ranging from single digits to low 20s. All were first asked if they had ever tried “soft-feel” golf balls and if they liked them and then, assuming they liked the AVX, if they would be averse to its $48 per dozen price.
The AVX is the first premium category ball from Titleist since the Pro V1x in 2003 and is meant to compliment it and the Pro V1 not pirate sales from the two flagship models.
Next the AVX has a lower compression core to help achieve a softer feel contrasting with the Pro V1 and the firmer Pro V1x. The mantle has lots of flex contributing to both ball speed for distance and to control spin making it the lowest spinning of the three.
The cover is a new as well, a proprietary thermoset cast urethane elastomer of something called GRN42 formulation.
Put altogether the AVX with approximately an 80 compression goes slightly farther with both the driver and irons so even though its trajectory is lower club for club you are often will be hitting a 9-iron where before it might have been an 8-iron or even a seven. Thus, the descent angle is steep enough to mitigate the lower spin of the AVX versus the Pro V1 which has a compression of approximately 90 and certainly the Pro V1x at around 100 compression.
On course results reflected the differences in construction with favorable comments about its playability similar to: “I personally liked the way ball felt when I made solid contact off the tee. It seemed to add 5 yards or more than the Callaway SuperSoft ball I previously used. I also noticed a very soft feel to the ball when putting. Good ball with a good feel even for an 18-hcp type golfer.”
A 14-handicap female said, “Distance is no contest. Longer and will play it.”
Around the green especially the softer feel was evident and a former senior professional with a 2-handicap remarked, “The added distance from the tee is important but what I like more is the way it reacts on scoring shots and chips. It is going to replace the Pro V1x I have been playing.”
There were a few negatives. One 15-handicap male did not see any more distance and another, who plays Bridgestone, saying the AVX was a good ball but he was probably not going to change though he didn’t state a reason.
Overall and from my experience testing and playing soft-feel golf balls since they first came on the market the Titlesit AVX is a strong choice for those wanting a lower trajectory, lower spinning ball that still has a soft feel. Priced the same as the Pro V1 and Pro V1x at $48 per dozen and for those who prefer it, the cover chemistry allows Titleist to make a yellow version.
Television commentators often talk about how far players hit the golf ball and this prompted the thought that by looking the results of PGA Tour players who have the highest driver swing speeds we could gain some insight into the current criticism of ball distance. So, here are the “fast five” as of the Arnold Palmer Invitational–statistics provided by the PGA Tour:
Keith Mitchell 123.97 mph
Rory McIlroy 122.34 mph
Tiger Woods 121.90 mph
Tony Finau 121.90 mph
Gary Woodland 121.84 mph
The “elites,” touring professionals and top caliber amateurs, unquestionably hit the ball farther than in the past however that’s not the issue. We need to know if added distance is a detriment to the game.
By analyzing the results of those with the highest swing speeds we should see a correlation with driving distance, scoring and money won and taking the elite of the elites, average driving distance is:
Keith Mitchell 312.1 yards
Rory McIlroy 314.1 yards
Tiger Woods 304.2 yards
Tony Finau 322.7 yards
Gary Woodland 312.2 yards
But that’s not the whole story. Mitchell is only number 10 in driving distance, McIlroy is 6, Woods 36, Finau first and Woodland 9.
More interesting, in fact very interesting, is how swing speed translates into scoring average: Mitchell is number 143, McIlroy 16, Woods 5, Finau 13 and Woodland 29. To put this in perspective, this year’s scoring average leader is Dustin Johnson at 68.843 strokes per round and in 1999, prior to introduction of the “game-changing” Titleist Pro V1, the leader was Tiger Woods with an average of 68.432.
Statisticians would call that amount of difference over 19 years “noise.”
How about a correlation between swing speed and money won? Mitchell is number 170 in official money after 10 events, McIlroy number 19 and 5 events, Woods 32/5 events, Finau 10/10 events and Woodland 15/11 events. In money won per event played Mitchell is number 215, McIlroy 8, Woods 15, Finau 19 and Woodland 25.
Then there’s an oft voiced concern courses are being turned into “driver-wedge” layouts, but the percentage of greens hit in regulation should tell the story. Mitchell is number 113 hitting 64.93% GIR, McIlroy 182/60.78%, Woods 174/61.42%, Finau 32/69.29% and Woodland 3/72.76%. Again, comparing with 1999, David Duval was first with a 73.57% GIR while today Kevin Streelman the 2018 leader is at 72.83%…more statistical noise.
We could go on, but the conclusion is obvious, though the elites are swinging faster and hitting the ball farther it does not translate into results.
But then you knew that.
The question is why don’t the solons of rules at the USGA and the R&A?
There have been unsupported statements about several topics among them ball distance causing slow play, forcing layouts to add length and of course, the great old shibboleth, traditional classic tracks are unable to host Tour events. All these opinions are nonstarters and their proponents have yet to present facts in support.
We all know slow play has everything to do with the individual players not the distance they hit the ball. The problems and costs of maintaining all golf courses, not just the ones beefed up in the belief longer is better, have been addressed by greens superintendents already much to their credit. Finally, the old classic courses (usually spoken of in mystical terms) is that many don’t have the acreage for parking, corporate hospitality, television production and tens of thousands of fans. Ball distance has nothing to do with it, they just aren’t capable of holding a big-time event.
Those who want to either “roll back the ball” or split the rules into us-and-them, so-called bifurcation, seem bent on convincing themselves tee ball distance needs to be fixed and equally convinced to do so in the face of a mountain of contrary facts. Every the USGA’s own 2017 Driving Distance Report doesn’t make a case for the ball going too far. The PGA Tour and the PGA of America have stated there isn’t any problem as have Acushnet, makers of the Titleist Pro V1, and TaylorMade Golf whose drivers are the most played by professionals worldwide. The PGA Tour clearly understands they are in the entertainment business and knows Hank Haney has it right saying people don’t go a ballgame to see a bunch of bunt singles, they go to see homeruns.
What we are facing is not a problem of the ball going too far but the perception of a problem simply because a few respected industry members have beat the drum long enough that the USGA and R&A finally have said they agree.
That’s no way to decide any issue.
The ball distance discussion isn’t over. Not as long as Tour players are bigger, stronger, better trained elites playing clubs computer-fitted to their swing, hitting low-spin solid core balls onto firm, fast fairways.
The USGA and R&A have said there is a problem evidently so then they can justify imposing a solution and more importantly and more tragically is how they are clearly out of touch with the overwhelming majority of golfers.
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.
Fuzzy thinking, even by well-known and respected people is still fuzzy thinking and when the topic is the distance the golf ball goes, fuzzy thinking easily results in a call to â€œdoing something before the game is ruined.â€
Respected icons of the game such as Jack Nicklaus and Hale Irwin have said more than once the problem with golf is the ball goes too far.
Maybe by taking a look at the facts we can sweep away the fuzziness concerning golf ball distance because if we donâ€™t, sure as heck, the fuzzy thinking will eventually prevail.
First, this controversy over technological advancement is not new. It was essentially the same in the nineteen century and rears its head with every major advancement in balls and clubs. If you have some time, look up the evolution of the feathery ball to the gutta percha and then to the rubber-core ball or the story of the Schenectady center-shafted mallet putter being outlawed after Walter Travis used one to win the British Amateur.
The cry was all the fine old courses would be made obsolete because they were too short and no longer challenging or simply improvements in equipment meant the game was becoming too easy. Sound familiar?
Today the distance the golf ball goes is due to vastly improved launch conditions. This began with the introduction of metalwoods and then the development of graphite shafts allowing an increase in size of driver club heads. When titanium heads were introduced makers were able to almost double driver clubhead size again and driver shafts could be made much longer. All of these plus an immense improvement in ball aerodynamics added significant distance with all clubs.
Professionalsâ€”the ones fuzzy thinkers believe hit the ball too farâ€”have also benefitted from intensive computer-aided instruction, better physical training and the simple fact a large number of them are taller and bigger than in the past.
Improved equipment and better agronomy have resulted in courses, especially on Tour, playing firmer and faster. Plus we must recognize the desire of operators to have the longest, toughest layout so they can boast of the difficulty for professionals rather than the playability for recreational golfers.
The number of golf courses is steadily decreasing so overall use of the land is not an issue. It is true some â€œfine old coursesâ€ may not have the land to be stretched in order to accommodate the modern professionals but thatâ€™s OK. For the average player not every course needs to be like this yearâ€™s US Open venue Erin Hills and have the capability to be played to over 8,000 yards.
However, the fact is in 2017 the average driving distance on the PGA Tour is 291.20 yards, an increase of about one yard in the preceding ten years so thereâ€™s been no â€œdistance explosionâ€ in more than a decade.
For recreational players titanium-headed-graphite-shafted drivers and solid-core-low-spinning urethane cover balls have not produced anywhere near the gains in yardage achieved by professionals. Technology has not caused golf handicaps to plummet and the typical male golfer still isnâ€™t hitting the ball over 200 yards–if that.
The rulers of our game donâ€™t seem to understand the problem in terms of the average golfer who occasionally makes a par and buys a celebratory beer when he makes a birdie. Additionally the USGA continues with the idea the ball goes should be reduced while telling weekend warriors to play from a shorter tee set. Thatâ€™s illogical and a nonstarter.
Of course the culprit most often cited is the Titleist Pro V1 which debuted in the fall 2000 and at once became the most played ball on Tour. Every manufacturer now makes similar balls that are low spinning with urethane covers and solid cores.
The PGA Tour is in the entertainment business and the business model should be what its customers, i.e., golf fans, want. Thereâ€™s no question we want to see birdies and eagles and drivable par-4s not to mention DJ smoking one 340. In 2007 the scoring average on Tour was 71.34 and this season it is 72.00. In fact going back 20 years the average was 71.77 showing courses arenâ€™t getting easier despite what some would like you to believe.
As Frank Thomas former technical director of the USGA and current golf industry consultant has often said, driving distance has gone as far as it can go because the physics involved are maxed out. Or put another way, you canâ€™t argue with Mother Nature.
Finally, part of the fuzzy thinking can be laid at the doorstep of the media because itâ€™s easy to write that a well-known player, ex-player or some administrator is decrying the state of the game. One headline trumpeted â€œGreat Balls of Fire!â€ referring to todayâ€™s low-spin golf balls. This is a cheap shot displaying a lack of knowledge not to mention an abuse of journalistic standards.
The inescapable conclusion thereâ€™s no horrific problem with the distance the golf ball travels. Thatâ€™s just plain old fuzzy thinking.
And the solution is easy. Do nothing.
The crisis in golf technology or golf ball distance is only in the minds of fuzzy thinkers.
Every 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?”
The 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