Equipment

October 21, 2014 - 8:00am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
tj.auclair's picture
Back 9 USA
Back 9 USA
Head covers, socks, hats and sweatshirts are just some of Back 9 USA's offerings.

Believe it or not, there was a time when golf wasn't considered cool.

An old man's game, some may have argued.

These days, however, it couldn't be further from that. Sure, there are personalities to thank for golf's coolness factor -- guys like Tiger Woods, who brought the game to the masses; Rickie Fowler, who has a cult following; Rory McIlroy, the world's No. 1 player and a four-time major champion at the age of just 25; and, of course, Fred Couples -- the King of Cool -- who came before all the aforementioned.

Apparel and accessory companies have also come a long way toward creating that "cool" golf vibe, extending their respective offerings to stuff you can wear off the course, while paying homage to the game you love, essentially making it so your love of golf is an entire lifestyle -- not just restricted to the fairways (OK, the rough, woods and bunkers for many of us).

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One such company in this very space is Back 9 USA. Co-founded by Andy Hydorn, Back 9 USA's Chief Brand Officer, the company that started just outside Boston in 1996 now calls Houston home.

Back 9 USA got itself on the map -- initially -- with its headwear and its logo, which is brilliant in its meaning and simplicity. It's a backwards No. 9, indicative of playing the "back nine" on the golf course.

Over the years, Back 9 USA has expanded into so much more than that neat little company from Boston that makes the cool hats. The brand has morphed into an entire golf lifestyle brand.

It's not just lids for Back 9 USA anymore. Though you can still find those too, Back 9 USA also offers polos, fun t-shirts with witty golf-related phrases, sports socks, golf towels, custom headcovers and more.

Back 9 USA is Hydorn's dream coming to fruition -- he's cracked the code on creating his very own golf lifestyle and bringing it to the masses.

We sat down with Hydorn recently to learn more about his brand.

PGA.com: Back 9 USA started out as a golf headwear company. Over the last several years, you've transformed into so much more. It's not just hats anymore -- it's an entire golf lifestyle. Can you tell us about the transition?

Hydorn: Well, when we first got into the business, we had a great resource at Twins Enterprise in Boston (now 47 Brand). They were and still are, in my opinion, the best casual headwear makers in the country. They taught us a lot about the headwear business by observation alone and because of this relationship, we decided it was a natural that hats would be a great way to promote our new brand.

As time went by, the reaction to our logo and brand was consistently positive and it always begged an inquiry. That’s when we started to see that the correct way to build this company would be around the brand and not around a particular product category. We agreed then and there that if we could make a great product that we could design internally and brand it appropriately, the product category didn’t matter. We also realized that golfers have lives before the first tee and after the 18th green and making products for the lifestyle of the people who play golf as opposed to just “on the course” stuff just made more sense to us. Golfers are people too!

PGA.com: Tell us about your plethora of new offerings.

Hydorn: We like to look at what is going on in the rest of the retail world and not just in golf. It’s pretty easy to see what ‘s relevant if you remove your eyes from the golf course.

T-shirts and socks are great examples of that. The T-shirt has transformed greatly over the last several years into a more fashionable item. The fit is better and the fabrics are better. The tee has transcended into a whole new category. Socks are another great example of product evolution.

If you take a look around, the crew sock has made a huge comeback. Like any other comeback, it has its new wrinkles of color and style. We certainly saw this a year ago and wanted to be out front on a new golf crew sock as well as some colored ankle socks we saw lacking in the market. We’ll continue to look for opportunities this way. Things like golf bags, luggage, and an expanded line of apparel are always being closely looked at.

PGA.com: Let's talk a little about the logo. People love it. It seems like such a simple idea, but you're the only one who thought enough to create it! What made you think of the backwards nine?

Hydorn: Sometimes the most impactful things are right in front of your face the whole time. Iconic logos are tough to come by; we get that. We were lucky enough to take a really golf-centric term and pair it with the very simple process of turning a regular 9 into a backwards 9. The greatest thing about the mark is that it’s ours. It’s not a 9 or another number or a letter even. It’s a mark that was not known before it popped onto a notepad on my nightstand. It’s literal too, which makes it kind of cool. Truth be told, we had some pretty terrible ones on that same notepad but this one was different from the rest. The logo brings questions almost every time we’re in public. That’s a cool thing.

PGA.com: What's it like to see people wearing your gear?

Hydorn: It’s surreal. Knowing that you’ve created something from nothing and seeing it on complete strangers is a feeling that every entrepreneur should experience.

PGA.com: What was it that made you realize there was a need/want for golf lifestyle gear for people to take off the course?

Hydorn: For example, we saw the T-shirt category become a real component of people’s wardrobes, especially people in our target demographic group. As I said before, golfers are people too and we think they would prefer to wear a T-shirt that could tie them to golf as opposed to a guy in Iowa buying a tee from a surf brand.

Until recently though, the only cool T-shirts you could get were mostly from surf or skate brands. Well, not everyone desires or identifies with that culture. We have our own culture.

PGA.com: It seems as though custom golf head covers are sprouting up everywhere these last few years. What separates Back 9's from the others?

Hydorn: We are a design company. We saw a nice opening in the head cover market a few years ago. We felt like people were starting to tire of the manufacturers “give away” covers and wanted to dress their bag up a little more. We saw the emergence of the boutique head cover companies that were out there making really nice product, but manufacturing them one by one and bringing them to market for $50-$60.

First, we made a design upgrade by adding a stretch fabric panel on each side of the cover which made the footprint in the bag a little smaller and allowed us to embroider a completed head cover.

Second, we sourced a great fabric and manufacturing relationship that allowed us to bring the head covers to market for around $30. We also established some domestic production and partnered with the Woolrich Woolen Mill to make some really unique “Made-in-USA” wool slip on covers to go along with our engineered leather slip on covers. We feel like the price and value of our covers is really an advantage for us.

PGA.com: You've been involved in golf for many, many years -- both as a competitive amateur player and in the business. Can you ever remember it having as much of a "coolness" vibe as it has now?

Hydorn: No I can’t really. There are some really cool new brands out there now who are doing some great things and the iconic golf brands still are like royalty in the golf community. Golf is a younger game and I think the new stars are attracting a great new crop of aspiring players. Tiger, Rory, Rickie, and more have certainly done a lot to help our game in that respect. The brands are making cooler products now too; not just for the kids but for the adults also.

PGA.com: What's your favorite Back 9 item?

Hydorn: My favorite is whichever product I am working on now!

PGA.com: One of your more unique offerings is what's available to your customers in "The Lounge" on your website. Can you tell our readers about it?

Hydorn: Ah… “The Lounge.” It’s something I’m very proud of. We saw other industries doing some cool things in regards to personal customization and we thought that head covers would be the perfect product for us to offer this feature.

Today’s consumer is definitely more into personal design and we wanted to make this available to our customers on their head covers. We have a full menu of icons to pick from like the shamrock and skull and bones designs. The customer can then add a monogram or personal message to finish the design.

We also use the Lounge for our collegiate licenses. Some schools have a multitude of logos and we decided to let our customer tell us how they wanted to show their school pride instead of us guessing what they wanted. There are a ton of options and the Lounge just allows our customer to have more things to choose from.

PGA.com: Back 9 provided headcovers for the U.S. and European Solheim Cup teams in the 2011 matches. That had to be a neat experience for you.

Hydorn: That is that “surreal” feeling again. A few years back we had done some head covers for Callaway and Beth Daniel got her hands on one. She was the incoming captain for the 2009 Solheim Cup and we’ve been doing them ever since. It’s truly a sense of satisfaction when you see your head cover being ripped off a driver by Michelle Wie in an international competition.

PGA.com: The golf industry can be tough for small companies. How have you been able to not only stick around so long, but also expand your brand?

Hydorn: That hasn’t been easy by any stretch. I wish we had more resources but I’m sure everyone wishes for the same. We understand the importance of building the awareness of our brand and everything we do is focused on just that. We’re still so small and still relatively unknown to the masses but we do take pride in knowing that the "golf moles" know who we are and like what we do.

That’s the assurance we need to keep our eyes focused on the right things. We also believe that the struggles in the golf industry are real but a bit overstated. We don’t feel as if people “like” golf any less than before but just find it harder to play as much as before. Golf has become more accessible to more people and definitely has that cooler vibe you alluded to, so the desire for the game continues to grow. The lifestyle is vibrant.

To learn more about all Back 9 USA has to offer, you can visit www.back9usa.com. You can also find Back 9 USA on Facebook and on Twitter, @back9usa.

As a special to PGA.com readers, Back 9 USA is offering 10 percent off any purchase through the end of October. Just use coupon code “PGA10” at checkout. 

Back 9 USA: A golf lifestyle brand
Courtesy of Titleist Scotty Cameron
All three new Scotty Cameron Futura putters from Titleist are designed to be extremely stable through the putting stroke.
If you say "trick or treat" to puttermaker Scotty Cameron on Halloween this year, he'll most assuredly reply, "treat."
 
Why? Because Oct. 31 is the launch date for the three latest additions to his Futura family of putters – the X5, X5R and X5 Dual Balance.
 
The new putters join 2013's original Futura X and Futura X Dual Balance to form the most stable line of putters that Cameron offers – Adam Scott won the 2013 Masters with a prototype of the original Futura putter.
 
The X5 model is angled in the back, while the X5R features a more rounded shape. The counterbalanced X5 Dual Balance combines the X5 head style with Cameron's Dual Balance technology to provide maximum stability for golfers who struggle to make a consistent stroke with a conventional length putter. 
 
 
The X5 Dual Balance contains a head weighing in at 400 grams (whereas the X5 and X5R both have standard 350-gram heads) as well as a 50-gram counterweight in the butt of the shaft. Dual Balance putters have a standard length of 38 inches with a 15-inch grip that allows the player to grip down below the counterweight for a more stable stroke.
 
All three models feature a multi-material design with a precision-milled 303 Stainless Steel body and high-grade 6061 aluminum soleplate. A lighter aluminum center section also extends down the wings, and the body features a soft Silver Mist finish contrasted by the anodized black aluminum sole plate and center.
 
By using aluminum, Cameron could hollow out the area under the soleplate and redistribute the weight to the wings to help provide extra stability. It also allowed for a thicker face and topline for better feel and sound. Heel-toe weights directly under the face also contribute to solid feel while increasing forgiveness.
 
 
All three putters come with a new single bend shaft with a higher bend point that Cameron says produces a true face-balanced configuration, and one shaft of offset. The X5 and X5R putters include 10-inch Matador Red Midsize grip that weighs in at 77 grams, while the Dual Balance model features a 15-inch Cameron Dual Balance grip.
 
"The Futura X5 mallet is for someone who likes the stability of a bigger head, the feel of a bigger grip, and likes to look down and see more lines for alignment purposes," said Cameron. "X5 is more of a mechanical shape where the X5R is a softer, rounder shape. 
 
"There’s no right or wrong. Same performance, same weight, same feel," he added. "It all depends on what you like to look at."
 
The X5 and X5R models carry a suggested retail price of $375, while the X5 Dual Balance has a $425 suggested retail price.
 
Here is a video from Titleist introducing the new putters:
 
 
Scotty Cameron adds three models to Futura line of putters
Webb Simpson
USA Today Sports Images
Webb Simpson has used his belly putter since he was in college a decade ago.
Webb Simpson – the defending champion at this week's Shriners Hospitals for Children Open – is one of the last holdouts still using a long putter on the PGA Tour. On Friday, he said that he'll switch to a short putter in 2015, and perhaps even sooner.
 
In fact, the move could come as early as Simpson's appearance in the Dunlop Phoenix tournament in Japan, which begins Nov. 20.
 
"I may switch for Japan in a few weeks," he told PGATour.com, "but I’m still just trying to make sure I'm ready to go and have worked on everything I need to work on before I start."
 
 
Simpson has practiced with a traditional-length putter over the past several years and has been using one in about half his practice at home and during casual rounds, according to the PGATour.com report. He hasn't yet settled on a special type or model of short putter.
 
Simpson began using a belly putter a decade ago in college, and has used the long stick in all four of his PGA Tour victories, including the 2012 U.S. Open. Simpson's Open victory came in a cluster of major wins by players using long putters including Keegan Bradley at the 2011 PGA Championship, Ernie Els at the 2012 British Open and Adam Scott at the 2013 Masters.
 
The U.S. Golf Association and Royal & Ancient Golf Club have banned the use of the anchored stroke commonly used with belly putters and broom-handle putters as of Jan. 1, 2016. Players still will be allowed to use a long putter as long as they don't press it against their body to create a hinge effect.
 
Webb Simpson preparing to switch to short putter
TaylorMade RSi 1 and RSi 2 irons
Courtesy of TaylorMade Golf
The new RSi line of irons from TaylorMade feature vertical slots cut into the heel and toe of the face to help the performance of off-center hits.
As most of us golfers will testify, we tend to hit a lot of shots somewhere other than the center of the clubface. In recent years, some equipment companies have tweaked their designs to expand the sweetspot to help us out.
 
TaylorMade – which studied thousands of clubfittings and found that 76 percent of all iron shots are mis-hit – has come up with its own solution. Its new RSi line of irons feature slots in the face to help improve consistency and distance on off-center hits.
 
"No golfer is perfect, not even the best players in the world hit the center of the club every time," said Tomo Bystedt, TaylorMade's director of product creation for irons, putters and wedges. "So with RSi, we're giving all golfers a technology that can help their mis-hits perform more like pure strikes."
 
The introduction of Face Slot Technology, as TaylorMade calls it, comes two years after the company debuted its "Speed Pockets" – small slots in the soles of woods and irons that improve the performance of shots struck low on the face. 
 
For the RSi irons, TaylorMade cut vertical slots in face on either side of impact zone to help provide more uniform flex across the face and protect ball speed on off-center hits. The slots – cut into the 3- through 8-irons – are 35 to 38 millimeters deep, depending on the club, and are cut all the way through the face and filled with a durable epoxy compound. 
 
Speaking of Speed Pockets, the 3- through 7-irons include them as well. Their ThruSlot technology helps to activate the lower portion of the face by creating higher launch on shots hit below center, and helps to negate the loss of ball speed and spin rate from an off-center hit. The combination of these two features, the company says, give the RSi irons a larger sweetspot with forgiveness near the toe, heel and bottom of the club.
 
The new RSi line includes three models: The RSi 1, RSi 2 and RSi TP.
 
 
The RSi 1 features TaylorMade's Advanced Face Design – which gives the irons the company's thinnest face ever, a deep undercut and Inverted Cone Technology to promote greater ball speed. In addition, a stabilized head structure and multiple dampening systems improve their sound and feel, and a new True Temper Reax 90 steel shaft helps optimize ball flight. 
 
The standout feature of the RSi 2 model is what the company calls Progressive Multi-Material Construction. The 3- through 5-irons are cast from 450 stainless steel with tungsten weighting to promote a lower Center of Gravity and slightly higher flight. The mid irons (6-7) are cast of 450 stainless steel but don't have the tungsten weighting.
 
The short irons (8-, 9- and pitching wedge) incorporate forged faces to promote feel and accuracy, and the wedges are completely forged. All the RSi 2 irons come stock with the all-new KBS Tour 105 shaft. 
 
Finally, the RSi TP irons – which TaylorMade expects will become the most-played model on the PGA Tour – combine Face Slot Technology with advanced two-piece construction that merges a premium 1025 forged carbon steel hosel and face with a 431 stainless steel back in the 3- through 7-irons. This, the company says, provides the precision and feel of a forged iron with the advanced geometry of cast irons.
 
The short irons (8- through pitching wedge) are classic forged heads with a slight muscle cavity. And all the RSi TP irons come stock with the popular KBS Tour Steel Shaft.
 
"The RSi TP irons were developed to deliver launch, consistency and feel to take performance to the next level for our tour professionals," Bystedt explained. "It really is the best combination of performance, look and feel that we've created for the world's best players."
 
Both the RSi 1 ($799 per set with steel shafts, $899 with graphite) and RSi 2 ($999 with steel, $1,199 with graphite) will be available to demo at select TaylorMade retailers now, and sets (3-iron through pitching wedge) can be purchased beginning Nov. 14. Individual gap, sand and lob wedges will be available in the RSi 1, while only gap and sand wedges will be available in the RSi 2. The RSi TP ($1,199 per set) will be at retail on Jan. 15, 2015.
 
Here's a video from TaylorMade introducing the new irons:
 
 
TaylorMade debuts RSi iron family with face slots
October 13, 2014 - 11:19am
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PGA.com
tj.auclair's picture
Vapor Fairway Woods
Nike Golf
Nike engineers reimagine fairway woods design to promote speed and forgiveness for the golf athlete.

BEAVERTON, Ore. -- Nike Golf innovation begins with the golf athlete in mind – always. Nike engineers and designers took the inspiration and insights from Nike athletes to drive the technology of Nike’s new Vapor Speed and Vapor Flex fairway woods, available on January 30, 2015.

“Athlete insights drove significant chassis refinement in the Vapor fairway woods.” said Nate Radcliffe, Director of Engineering for Nike Golf. “Our athletes wanted tighter but forgiving leading edges, fuller profiles and added ball speed. We’ve delivered that with the synergy of our FlyBeam and compression channel technologies.”

The Vapor Speed fairway woods have a 25% larger footprint with a lower and deeper Center of Gravity (CG) than previous Nike models.

“Athletes including Tiger Woods requested larger face profiles in fairway woods, but it was vital that we do that without compromising ball speed or optimal launch conditions,” said Radcliffe. “We successfully modified the chassis by sloping the crown to lower the CG which optimized launch characteristics across the family.”

Like the new Vapor drivers, the Vapor Speed fairway woods feature Nike’s new FlyBeam-reinforced Covert Cavity Back design, a re-engineered Compression Channel and a NexCOR face – all combining to stabilize the chassis, maximize ball speed and promote longer and straighter distance. The low CG provides a high launch with a lower-spin flight.

The Vapor Flex fairway woods highlight the same technologies found in the Vapor Speed on a more compact chassis, except the Vapor Flex has added Nike’s FlexLoft 2 adjustability system, allowing the golf athlete the functionality of five lofts and three face angles within 15 different settings.

The new, improved FlexLoft system is five grams (30%) lighter without compromising function, which leads to a CG that is up to 2mm lower on the Vapor Flex fairways. The redistribution of mass creates more stability, better launch conditions and faster swing speeds. Another benefit of FlexLoft 2 is its forward and backward compatibility. Golfers with previous generations of Covert can use shafts with the original adaptor in the new head or vice versa.

Nike Vapor Speed Fairway Woods:

Availability: January 30, 2015
Specifications: 3W: 15° (RH/LH); 5W: 19° (RH/LH): MRC Fubuki Z 60 shaft: X, S, R, A, W
MSRP: $240.00 Street Price: $199.00

Nike Vapor Flex Fairway Woods:

Availability: January 30, 2015
Specifications: 3W: 13° - 17° (RH/LH); 5W: 17° - 21° (RH/LH): MRC Diamana S+ Blue Board 70 shaft: X, S, R
MSRP: $300.00 Street Price: $249.00

For more information, visit http://www.nike.com/nikegolf

Nike Golf's Vapor Fairway Woods
Callaway Big Bertha Alpha 815 drivers
Courtesy of Callaway Golf
The Callaway Big Bertha 815 (l) blends distance and forgiveness, while the Double Black Diamond is for experts only.

The Big Bertha family of drivers from Callaway Golf is getting so big that it's going to be tough to fit them all around the table at Thanksgiving. The Big Bertha and Big Bertha Alpha, both unveiled late last year, were recently joined by the V Series, and now come two more models – the Big Bertha Alpha 815 and the 815 Double Black Diamond.

The V Series is a lightweight driver for golfers who need help generating their maximum swing speed. The Alpha 815 blends both distance and forgiveness for a wide range of golfers (it's significantly more forgiving than the original BB Alpha), while the Double Black Diamond – as any snow skier knows – is for experts only.

The Alpha 815, Callaway says, represents a brand-new driver category: low spin for extra distance with the forgiveness many golfers need to hit the ball straight. The Double Black Diamond is an extremely low spin model for advanced golfers who don't need a lot of help hitting the ball down the middle of the fairway.

Both these new models feature the Gravity Core that Callaway pioneered in the original Big Bertha Alpha. One end of the core has a heavier weight while the other has a lighter weight; golfers can move the center of gravity up or down depending on which way they insert the Gravity Core to optimize their ball speed locations to wherever they usually hit the ball off the face. 

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The heads, larger on the 815, slightly more compact on the Double Black Diamond, what Callaway calls "RMOTO:" technology that lets the company produce a larger, more forgiving clubhead while maintaining a lighter overall club weight. It also has an ultra-thin face. Like many recent models, these heads are also made of strong, lightweight Forged Composite material.

Both drivers also feature Callaway's OptiFit adjustability. The adjustable hosel lets golfers choose from a combination of eight different loft and lie angle (Draw or Neutral) configurations, while heel and toe weights (1- and 7-gram weights for the 815, and 1- and 5-gram weights for the Double Black Diamond help dial in your shot shape even more.

These new models come with a 53-gram Fujikura Speeder Motore 565 shaft as their primary stock offering, but Callaway offers no-upcharge upgrades to a variety of premium shafts including models from Aldila, Fubuki, Fujikura, Matrix and Mitsubishi.

The Big Bertha Alpha 815 carries a suggested retail price of $449.99, while the Double Black Diamond goes for $499.99. Both will be available on Nov. 14.

Here are a couple of videos from Callaway intoducing the new models:

 
Callaway adds Alpha 815 models to its Big Bertha family of drivers
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