TaylorMade Golf has long been a leader when it comes to golf club innovation.
Most famously, the company took the golf world by storm with its introduction of the white-headed R11 driver in 2011.
It was a risk, but -- as it turns out -- a wildly popular one.
The latest innovation by TaylorMade has the golf world buzzing yet again.
This summer, the company introduced the SLDR driver -- built to help a player hit longer/straighter drives by promoting a high launch angle, lower spin-rate and faster ball speed. That, the company says, is what makes SLDR its longest driver ever.
In addition to the driver, TaylorMade recently announced the SLDR fairway woods and rescue clubs, which will be available at retail on Nov. 15.
SLDR fairways woods and rescue clubs combine two of TaylorMade's most recent innovations: Speed Pocket technology and an exceptionally low-and-forward center of gravity (CG) location.
The company says smaller is better; so the new Speed Pocket is smaller (introduced in the RocketBallz fairways and Rescues), which actually makes it more efficient at increasing how fast the face flexes at impact, promoting faster initial ball speed across a wider portion of the face, helping a player get consistently long distance on every swing.
Of course, the most distinguishable feature of the new SLDR driver, is the blue, sliding weight on the sole.
"The SLDR weight slides on the track and never comes loose from the clubhead," TaylorMade says. "To slide the weight to any of the 21 positions on the track, simply loosen the screw, slide the weight, then tighten the screw. It takes as little as 10 seconds. And the sole is marked with the words 'fade' at the toe-end of the track and 'draw' at the heel-end of the track to make it clear where you should position the weight to promote the shot-shape you want."
I had a chance to test out samplings of the SLDR family this week, including a driver, 19-degree 5-wood and a 19-degree 3-rescue.
"We learned with the SLDR driver that a low-forward CG location allows many players to increase their loft to achieve the right combination of high-launch/low-spin that promotes maximum distance," TaylorMade says. "The same thing goes for SLDR fairway and Rescues, which is where our Loft Sleeve technology serves such an important purpose, by allowing you to adjust the loft 1.5 degrees up or down to dial in their optimal launch conditions."
The first thing you feel with the SLDR offerings, is that difference in the center of gravity. The head itself feels slightly heavier than others. And, speaking of the clubhead, it's one of the prettiest you'll ever lay eyes on at address.
The shocking white was fantastic in previous models, but the SLDR family is more of a classic look -- a pretty charcoal-gray crown with traditional shaping. With its dark crown color and silver-colored clubface, the SLDR family is easy to align accurately at address.
Like most amateurs, it took a few swings to get used to the driver. The natural reaction of holding a beautiful new driver that's advertised as TaylorMade's, "longest yet," led me to swing out of my shoes for those first few range balls.
Once you settle in and realize you can let the club do the work, the results are incredible. At impact, the SLDR is as solid as any driver I've tried previously. You can truly feel that low-and-forward center of gravity the company describes.
At least for my game -- about a 10 handicap -- I typically find the fairway woods and hybrids to be the most difficult clubs in my bag to hit. This becomes particularly frustrating for me when all I ever read about is how easy a hybrid is to hit.
Well, if this SLDR test is any indication, my issues with fairway woods and rescue/hybrid clubs are a thing of the past. The ball absolutely flew off the clubface with ease from a variety of lies. Like the driver, slight misses with both the fairway wood and rescue club were extremely forgiving. Most importantly, the misses stayed in play.
I don't consider myself a big tinkerer. The standard settings on all three clubs worked for me. However, it is nice to know that there are products available out there today (not just from TaylorMade) where -- if you're a little off -- rather than go spend hundreds of dollars on new equipment, you can use a special tool to make an adjustment.
The SLDR driver retails for $399.99. There's also a Tour-Preferred (TP) model (with more customizable options) that sells for $499.99. The SLDR fairway woods (available for shipping Nov. 15) go for $249.99 and the TP version retails for $349.99. The rescue clubs -- also available for shipping Nov. 15 -- are $219.99 for the regular SLDR version and $289.99 for the TP version.
THE VERDICT: TaylorMade isn't kidding with its "longest driver we've made yet" billing -- the SLDR driver is the longest I've ever hit, flying roughly 15-20 yards past where my usual driver lands.
The look you get at address on the entire SLDR family -- at least for me -- just feels right. I don't feel like I'm swinging a frying pan at the ball. These clubs are as forgiving as they are pretty.
For me, longer isn't always better. But, when the misses stay in play, I'm all for a few extra yards with the longest clubs in my bag.
Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.