Golf hasn’t gotten many breaks lately. The headline grab has been rounds played are down over a year ago, regardless of what year is in question it seems any more. While its likely a case of closing the barn door after the horse has already left, not everything is what it seems and there are some reasons to be cautiously optimistic.
Where Callaway is certain to raise a few eyebrows is with the introduction of its Big Bertha Alpha, which the company is heralding as its most innovative driver ever. Considering its rich history and commercial success in the category the statement is bold and has significant standards to exceed. The Alpha is the first driver, according to Callaway, to enable independent adjustments of four performance characteristics: loft, lie, CG (draw) bias and where it backs up its claim of innovation is through the ability to adjust the CG height.
The goal of driver design was to individualize performance optimization for every golfer, therefore giving everyone the best chance to optimize driving distance. Where the Alpha stands out from any other driver on the market is its tungsten tip weighing. It lives in carbon fiber sleeve connecting the crown and sole of the head.
It has a tungsten end, weighing 10.5 grams, and a glass fiber reinforced body, weighing just 1.5 grams. The gravity core can be inserted into the club head in two different ways, which allows players to change the vertical center of gravity and alter the spin rates based on how it is positioned. When the tungsten end is closest to the sole, it will create a lower center of gravity and lower backspin, Callaway said. When the tungsten end is inserted first and therefore closer to the crown, it creates more of a mid-CG position.
Generally, players with above average head speeds or those who are trying to prevent excessive spin will benefit from the lower center of gravity, which a creates a flatter, more penetrating trajectory accompanied by more roll out. For those looking for a more controlled and workable ball flight and less roll out, the mid CG position is recommended Callaway said. Player testing has shown as much as a 600-rpm spin differential between the two Gravity Core settings without a change in loft, Callaway Golf stated. As a rule of thumb, the Gravity Core in Low CG setting is considered for more advanced players who already get too much spin. The Gravity core in High CG setting expands the usage appeal to broader range of players since the club has good stability or MOI.
The Alpha has eight materials in its head construction that allow for weight savings and structural design to enable the combination of the forms of adjustability. Screw weights in the heel and toe can adjust total headweight of the driver. It comes standard with 7 &1 gram, and Callaway will also offer 5&3-gram options. By using a variety of combinations, players can adjust the total swingweight from D0 all the way up to D5, which is preferred by stronger players. The Big Bertha Alpha also carries a Mitsubishi Fubuki Zeta Tour shaft (a $300 aftermarket product), an evolution of the Fubuki Alpha, which has been popular on tour.
The Big Bertha Alpha Driver will be available in loft offerings of 9-degrees, 10.5-degrees. It also features a hosel loft adjustment of +2degrees or -1degrees for a total of 4 degrees variance. The Alpha will debut at retail on February 14, 2014 and carry a suggested retail price of (US) $499.
As 2013 draws to a close, the driver segment just got a little more interesting. It should carry over into 2014 as the concept of low spinning drivers looks to be the engineering focal point to begin the New Year. The Big Bertha Alpha’s Gravity Core lets golfers adjust spin independently of launch angle and breaks the fixed relationship between launch angle and backspin for the first time, providing a major asset in the fitting process to find greater distance for a wide range of players’ abilities. It should be interesting to see how the competition reacts to this as well as golfers themselves once they have the opportunity to test the Big Bertha Alpha.
When Chip Brewer became Callaway Golf’s CEO in March of 2012, he said he was going to count on the Research and Department to spark the company’s turnaround. In the equipment business, after all, product is everything. Safe to say with only a month left in 2013, Dr. Alan Hocknell and company have more than earned their pay as the company has seen its metalwoods business on a significant upswing, despite difficult market conditions. It’s a critical category since it (typically) represents healthy profit margins for an equipment company as well as for retailers. Metalwoods are also what put Callaway Golf on the map in the first place and some might say its part of the company’s DNA. Now it looks like the R&D department has saved its best for last as Callaway announced not one but two new drivers are headed to retail.
Big Bertha is instantly recognizable with any golfer that has been playing the game for more than a few years. Callaway and Big Bertha go hand in hand as it was once a product that made the game more enjoyable for those that struggled with their tee shots. Callaway announced it is bringing Big Bertha back and she’s made a few “adjustments” since we last saw her. As is the case over the past several years, adjustability has become the battleground with drivers as a means to attract attention with consumers. In what is fast becoming a two horse race, Callaway’s newest Big Bertha driver will go head to head with TaylorMade’s SLDR.
Big Bertha, originally launched in 1991 and named after the famous German Big Bertha howitzer, features a sliding weight on the perimeter of the club. Golfers will be able to adjust 8 grams of weight on an approximately 5-inch track as a means to dial in their tee shots. The newest Big Bertha also enables players to independently adjust loft and lie angle in order to help improve ball speed. Golfers can chose from four different lofts (from -1 to +2) to optimize launch angle and backspin and two different lies, denoted by 'D' for Draw and 'N' for Neutral, to optimize the directional bias.
According to Callaway’s test data, a significant number of golfers with a handicap of 10 or higher don’t use the center of the face very often with their drivers. Therefore ball speed and performance suffers. In the new Big Bertha, Callaway has incorporated a new Hyperspeed Face that it said is lighter and larger than faces it’s had in this category before. It promises to deliver improved ball speed for players who do and don't hit center of face.
The 8-gram perimeter weighting also assists the Moment of Inertia (MOI) or stability in the new Big Bertha driver. Traditional, if it can be classified as such, weight screws found in the heel and toe featured in today’s drivers are stationary or binary. The sliding weight theoretically represents an infinite number of positions to put it for the sake of tuning ball flight but it also maintains the stability of the club high since its on the perimeter of the club. It offers a dual purpose as it helps players improve shot shape but also ball speed for on and off center strikes. Big Bertha (US $399) will arrive at retail on February 14, 2014.
Callaway also has Big Bertha fairway metals to complement the driver. According to the company, the new Big Bertha fairways have the highest MOI of any of its fairway products this year. The fairway metals have an adjustable hosel that can change the loft by four degrees. In fact players can actually achieve the same lofts via multiple heads; for example, both the 3-metal and 5-metal heads can get to 17 degrees. Similarly, the 5-metal and the 7-metal can both get to 20 degrees. Through adjustability, golfers can play the role of do-it-yourself or by professionally getting fitted they can configure the long part of the golf bag to manage distance gaps. Golfers worldwide are hopelessly addicted to distance and Callaway stated its new Big Bertha Fairways are it’s longest due to the ability to configure to individual needs.
The new product introductions keep rolling in. As winter storm Boreas threatens the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, it would seem golf can't wait for 2014 to arrive. Perhaps it will bring with it better days or just more of the same, which blends on the theme of some equipment introductions.
There is a dirty little secret in golf. It is obsessed with its image. After all how many times has the word perfect been used to describe a shot on network television? Innovation is another over used noun intended as an adjective. Marketing mavens enjoy manipulating words to make people believe one thing or another. Often time's perception and reality have a bipolar relationship.
Case in point comes with Nike Golf, which carries a pretty healthy image and swagger. In most instances the company's reputation precedes itself. Nike Inc. helped to define cool in the mainstream world and its golf division has been able to draft off of that. In other words, "Perfect."
The company communicated "Innovation Unleashed" recently via its media partners. It was a coming out party for the products it has been working on behind the scenes for 2014. A year ago November, Nike first announced its then new Covert driver, which in turn made its debut at retail in February. A year later, its time for VRS Covert 2.0! The first iteration may be best remembered for Rory McIlroy's proficiency with it. Granted he had an off year upon joining the Nike family. On the other hand, Tiger Woods rebounded in 2013 and returned to the #1 ranking. He won 5 times on the PGA TOUR, but only one of his victories came with an assist from the Covert driver. In his first four conquests in 2013, Woods successfully navigated with a Nike VR Tour driver. He was partial to a VR_S Covert 5-wood, which replaced Nike SQ II 5-wood that he had in his bag back in San Diego for his season opening win. Yet it wasn't until late summer when Woods went to the Covert model, which he won with at the WGC Bridgestone event, his last win on the PGA TOUR in 2013. Nevertheless, he did earn Player of the Year honors for his performance.
The second-generation version looks to pick up where the original left one. According to Nike Golf, it is bigger, faster and longer than last year's industry "game-changing" VRS Covert drivers. "The new VRS Covert 2.0 driver features a redesigned cavity with Fly-Brace technology that ties the sole to the crown. By stiffening the rear portion of the club, more energy is transferred to the face at impact. The end result is even greater ball speed and up to six yards of distance gain over last year's model," said Nate Radcliffe, Nike Golf Director of Engineering. In order to pick up, "up to six yards," in distance it equates to finding approximately an increase in ball speed of 3 mph IF launch angle and spin rate are optimal! Could be money well spent for some and others maybe not.
Nike said the 2.0 features two additional proprietary technologies: A larger, re-engineered NexCOR face for increased ball speed and distance and FlexLoft adjustability, which allows easily customized loft and face angle positions. NexCOR face technology was heralded by the company as a new Nike innovation when it was introduced in its VR Pro Limited Edition Forged model. That was back in September of 2011! For further reference one of its athletes, it noted at the time, that was counting on NexCOR taking his game to the next level was Anthony Kim. Nike Golf proudly stated Kim and Paul Casey were two of the early adopters to the product. According to Nike, it has inflated its NexCOR face by 15-percent in the 2.0 Tour model ($399) and seven percent in the version for the everyday player ($299) compared to the first iteration Covert, which is now available at retail for $199
"For us, innovation and design is at the epicenter of everything we do," Cindy Davis, President of Nike Golf stated in a company press release. "We obsess every detail. Is it fast enough? Is it light enough? Does it feel right? Sound right? Does it meet the eye? Does it move with the body? We challenge everything. We think something nobody else thinks. We build something nobody else builds. We improve something that no one else thinks needs improving. If it's good enough, then we must make it better."
Nike believes it has upped its game with the new product introductions slated for 2014. With its help it wants to up yours!
Feherty’s Troops First Foundation, a nonprofit organization co-founded by David Feherty, will launch its inaugural Operation Warrior Call event on Sunday, November 24th. This nationwide effort has been established to encourage service members to reach out to fellow “battle buddies” in order to reconnect and check in on each other’s well being.
Research shows suicide is high among military veterans. The Veterans Administration estimates 22 veterans kill themselves each day. Often military families choose to suffer these tragedies quietly as many warriors return from the battlefield facing a host of serious challenges. The wounds of war, both visible and invisible, sustained by the force through multiple deployments have been well documented. Once home, the possibility of service members becoming disconnected from their fellow warriors can be acerbated simply by the challenges and demands of everyday life. Moving forward, the health of the military community can be strengthened by warriors staying connected to warriors.
Feherty’s Troops First Foundation is asking service members to participate in the Operation Warrior Call event by following these steps on Sunday, November 24th:
1. Make the Call: The best advocate for a warrior is another warrior and lessons learned are valuable assets.
2. Answer the Call: This is the best way to continue looking out for the warriors on your left and right.
3. Be Honest: Situational awareness can lead to a positive course of action.
“These three simple steps are easy to do and can go a long way to help facilitate a service member’s successful reintegration,” explained SGT Omar Avila, US Army (Retired), Warrior Liaison for Feherty’s Troops First Foundation. “For many, the stress of being deployed is not over when we arrive home. We need our nation’s Armed Forces to have access to our most valuable resource – each other. We are asking you to become an advocate for our nation’s warriors by assisting the foundation with this important initiative.”
Continuing communications between “battle buddies” on the home front may be essential to transition out of the stress endured from serving in a warzone. The comfort of knowing that a trusted friend who has also been “outside the wire” is a phone call away could mean the difference between a good decision and a bad decision on any given day, but the call needs to be made and the phone needs to be answered.
It’s hard to believe that any member of the PGA or European Tour needs a second line of work or income. After all, Henrik Stenson earned more than $16 million on the PGA TOUR in 2013. He also won the Race to Dubai, just to pad his bank account by an even further $5.538 million. Ian Poulter earned $1.7 million in 16 events on the PGA TOUR, not including his season ending bonus from the FedExCup. Just in case that wasn’t going to make due, he supplemented his income with approximately $4.25 million from the Euro Tour. Good work if you can get it as they say. Completely performance base pay, so no telling what next year brings. Yet, its doubtful anyone will be passing the hat around for either of these gentlemen as Poulter has career earnings form the Euro Tour of more than $28 million and Stenson nearly $21 million. Keep in mind both of these guys have pension plans too!
Neither will look a gift horse in the mouth as SiriusXM announced Stenson and Poulter have joined SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio (channel 93 on XM, channel 208 on Sirius Premier). Each will host an exclusive series airing in 2014. Both players will give listeners an insider’s perspective as they prepare for tournaments, and will discuss equipment, courses around the world, their competitors in the field and the headline news happening in the world of golf. An announcement with more details, including both shows’ launch dates and airtimes, will be made in the coming weeks.
Turkey, of all places, was recently the center of the golf world. It even welcomed the world #1 amongst its ranks as the country hosted the European Tour’s Final Series event in the Race to Dubai. No disrespect intended to the Republic of Turkey, where soccer is the most popular sport, its just not considered a haven for golfers. But there are those that are trying to change that.
“It's great to be back in Turkey. Obviously beautiful weather, perfect conditions for golf. I think in general, great golfing destination,” noted Justin Rose, world #5. “Turkey wasn't on my radar as a golfing destination in terms of holiday golf and people trying to escape a harsh winter in Europe,” he added. His first visit the year before completely changed his perception. “It kind of reminds me about Spain and Portugal quite a lot,” Henrik Stenson chimed in. Lee Westwood agreed, “Yeah, reminds me a bit of that (Spain and Portugal). I'm sure they are trying to get into that holiday market and winter golf. Fantastic facilities down here, lots of golf courses and the hotels are great. So it's worth looking into I think if you're coming from Britain. I played in an eight-man event here last year, and I enjoyed it.”