What’s hot for 2014 – tools for the golfer’s trade
From drivers to accessories – the choice of equipment for golfers, from beginners to professionals, remains key
The battle for the hearts and minds of minds of golfers is most heartily fought when it comes to the driver.
There is something about this club – dating back to the John Daly grip-it-and-rip-it phenomenon – which makes it the one that players reach for on the first tee with a lick of the lips.
The technology has improved immensely, with all the leading club manufacturers pumping huge amounts of resources in research and development.
Ping, as ever, given its custom-fitting reputation, remains a hugely popular club, but TaylorMade – with its “loft-up” campaign, where even tour players are using drivers of up to 12 degrees – and Nike are now very big players in the market.
Nike became the first manufacturer to bring high-speed cavity-back technology to a driver that conformed to the R&A rules and the iconic red driver – used by world number one Tiger Woods – has managed to elbow its way into the popularity stakes.
It brings with it three proprietary technology platforms: high-speed cavity back, FlexLoft adjustability and NexCor face, combining to create control and forgiveness.
“With the VR_S Covert, we have created a game changing piece of technology that has already begun an industry buzz,” says Rob Arluna, Nike Golf’s global business director. “It is visually exciting, feels and sounds amazing and, most importantly, it creates powerful results with a high degree of control.”
TaylorMade’s response to Nike’s emergence as a force in the driver market has been two-pronged, with the SLDR and the Jetspeed finding a large fan base. The large number of tour players – in Europe and on the US Tour – has been an influential factor in the getting their clubs to move out of golf shops.
The irons of choice for the low handicappers remain Mizuno and Titleist, who have been at the cutting edge of things in recent years with Ping, TaylorMade, Callaway and Nike also very much in vogue for the mid- to-high handicappers. Ping, it must be said, remain very much the irons of choice in the women’s market with Cobra also finding their market share.
The big push in recent times in this sector has actually come from one of the oldest manufacturers of them all, with Wilson – which uses Pádraig Harrington as its poster boy – making a renewed pitch into the market.
Wilson is a brand with more Major wins with its irons (61) than any other golf club manufacturer. It claims the M3 range offers greater feel to those using the clubs with the “look, feel and workability of a forged players’ iron, while delivering high levels of forgiveness”.
Among the features of the M3 range of irons are that they are forged from 8620 carbon steel with a matte black PVD finish and progressive cavity design with optimised weight placement within each head, whereby mass is placed only where it will benefit the golfer.
There is something magical about the Scotty Cameron name and, averaging in the region of €289, these putters – the club used most often by any golfer – are well-priced to find a place in the bags of the more discerning player.
The Newport and the Futura ranges remain very popular, with each Scotty Cameron select putter being precision milled and having an “elegantly refined shape with tour validated balance and stability, accented by a Silver mist finish and red-dot cosmetics”, according to the marketing spiel.
In the general market place, Odyssey remains the best seller with a range of putters – from the extremely popular White Hot Pro range to the distinctive black-and- white contrasted headed Versa range – that cater for the complete gambit of players.
This expansive range of putters means it tops the charts year in and year out when it comes to sales.
Titleist, with its tour-proven Pro V1 and Pro V1x balls, remains very much the market leader. Far from sitting on its laurels, Titleist has continued to market itself aggressively in the market and the fact that more tour players use its ball than any other is adequate testimony to getting the job done. The Pro V1 has earned a deserved reputation for exceptional distance and consistent flight, while also having very soft feel.
Nike says the key to its design of the RZN ball is “core technology based on an interlocking design . . . so the compression layer forms a tighter bond and helps promote better energy transfer at impact”. The ball has been developed in conjunction with DuPont industries.
The most intriguing new ball on the market of all, however, is that from Bridgestone’s B-Series, which has a recommended retail price of €57 for a dozen.
Bridgestone has put “a drop of water at the core” of its new range. Hydro Core Technology produces 30 per cent more graduation in the formulation around the inner and outer areas of the core – producing a softer centre, but a firmer outer region. The result is less spin off the driver face for greater distance and accuracy, allied to a golfer’s swing speed and ability to compress the ball’s seamless cover.
While testing countless different compounds for the core of its latest family of B-Series premium balls, Bridgestone engineers discovered that a prototype with a drop of water in its core formulation process delivered exceptional performance attributes.
These were confirmed by Tour stars Brandt Snedeker and Matt Kuchar late last year. “When Kuch and I began hitting these balls during Presidents Cup practice rounds, we noticed immediately how hot they were off the driver,” Snedeker, who now plays the new TOUR B-330 ball, says, while Kuchar favours the TOUR B-330-S model. “Needless to say, we are very excited about having these balls in play on tour in 2014,” he added.
When it comes to accessories and gadgets, the top of everyone’s list these days – it seems – is a rangefinder.
There are a large number of golfers who hold to the age-old theory that your own eyes are the most trustworthy mechanism in gauging what club to use in hitting approach shots to the green. With others perhaps advocating the traditional yardage books, there is no doubt that the rangefinders – developed by Bushnell, Nikon, Sky Caddie and Garmin among others – are creating all the buzz when it comes to buying accessories.
The advancements in recent years have been nothing short of spectacular, with Garmin’s most recent offering, the Approach S4, even allowing for players to receive emails and text alerts to the device during a round.
The R&A’s decision to embrace the GPS devices – in the belief that it will speed up play during championships – has been welcomed by the industry at large. Jacqui Surman, the senior vice-president international sales and marketing of Sky Caddie, said in a statement that the decision “makes great sense” and has acclaimed the announcement as “forward-thinking”.