Equipment

January 15, 2013 - 12:38pm
Posted by:
John Holmes
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Bomb patches on Callaway golf bags
Courtesy of Callaway Golf
The "X" patch (upper right) is for a drive that measures 325 yards or more, while the "4 bills" patch is reserved for drives of 400 yards or more. Tommy Gainey's bag (right) already is sporting the proof of some tremendous tee shots.

College football season might be over, but its spirit lives on at Callaway Golf.

The folks at Callaway were inspired by the helmet stickers that some teams award players who make big plays – the most famous have to be those buckeyes that seem to overwhelm the headgear of every Ohio State player from the star quarterback down to the third-string left guard. So they've adapted the idea for golf – and have created special "bomb" patches that they’re adding to the bags of their staff players.

To promote their new X Hot and RAZR Fit Xtreme drivers, Callaway will award the patches to players who hit drives 325 yards or more with those drivers, explained Callaway Senior Vice President of Marketing Harry Arnett. There's also a special "mega-bomb" patch for players who launch drives 400 yards or more.

The idea for the patches came about as a way to recognize the driving distance achievements of their staff players, a collection of some of the game’s biggest bombers. Among the Callaway crew are crushers ranging from Nicolas Colsaerts (who registered a 403-yard drive with his very first official swing with an X Hot driver last week at the Volvo Golf Champions in South Africa) to Luke List, Gary Woodland, Tommy "Two Gloves" Gainey and Phil Mickelson.

In fact, Callaway said, Gainey already has earned a plethora of patches, including eight at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and several more last week at the Sony Open. That’s his bag on the right side of the image above.

Gainey is playing the Humana Challenge this week, as are List, Mickelson and Woodland. Something tells me the "patchers" are gonna be busy.

January 10, 2013 - 1:49am
Posted by:
John Holmes
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Ryo Ishikawa
Courtesy of Callaway Golf
New Callaway staff professional Ryo Ishikawa was the youngest player ever to break into the top 100, and then the youngest to break into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

The signings have been coming fast and furious since the calendar flipped to 2013, and Callaway has made the latest splash.

Late Wednesday night, Callaway announced the signing of Ryo Ishikawa. The 21-year-old sensation remains overwhelmingly popular in his native Japan and across Asia, and is a fast-rising star in the United States, where he will play a full PGA Tour schedule this year.

Ishikawa, who has won 10 times on the Japan Golf Tour, will play Callaway equipment – including the company's new RAZR Fit Xtreme Driver and the Odyssey putters he has used for nine of his victories, the company said. He also will wear Callaway-branded apparel, caps, gloves and footwear.

Ishikawa played several events on the PGA Tour in 2009, and caught the broader public's interest at the 2010 U.S. Open with his pink attire and low scores. He tied for 20th in the 2011 Masters – about a month after he announced that he would donate his 2011 tour earnings plus an additional 100,000 yen for every birdie he made to the Japan earthquake relief efforts.

In May of 2007, Ishikawa became the youngest golfer to win a Japan Golf Tour event, capturing the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup at 15 years and eight months of age. He turned professional in 2008 and, by the end of that season, became the youngest player to break into the top 100 of the Official World Golf Rankings.

He went on to dominate the 2009 season in Japan with four wins to become the leading money winner and be named the circuit's MVP. Also that year, he became the youngest golfer to ever reach the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings.

He officially became a member of the PGA Tour last March, and had two top-10s in 18 starts while amassing $727,051 in official earnings. He will make his debut as a Callaway staff professional at the Humana Challenge next week in La Quinta, Calif.

 

January 9, 2013 - 11:22am
Posted by:
John Holmes
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True Temper shafts
Courtesy of True Temper
Shaftmaker True Temper CEO Scott Hennessy says people tend to buy more drivers and putters because they're always looking for "some magic in their hands."

If you really want to know what's going on in the car business, you can ask the carmakers – or you can get a broader perspective by asking companies that supply them with parts and pieces.  The same goes in golf.

In that spirit, Terry McAndrew over at GolfBiz.net got a very interesting outlook on 2013 from Scott Hennessy, the CEO of True Temper, which holds a dominant position in the golf shaft business. As such, True Temper has benefited in recent years, first from the USGA's groove ruling prompting more sales of wedges in 2010 and, more recently, the sudden popularity of long putters juicing the sales of flat sticks.

"We don't anticipate that [kind of a boost generated by a specific club type] happening again in 2013," Hennessy told McAndrew. Even so, he doesn't expect the putter business to dip much this year.

"I don't think the category will be adversely affected even if the market softens," he predicted. "The two clubs out of the 14 in players' bags that have the most turnover are drivers and putters. Everyone is looking for some magic in their hands. Due to the price point and offerings in putters coming, I don't think the overall unit volume will change."

All in all, golf is "no longer a high-growth industry" and is "in a low churn towards upward growth," Hennessy said, adding that he's optimistic that the golf industry has seen the worst of its drop in course closures, equipment sales and rounds. Equipment makers must innovate to grow in this economic climate, he stressed, and offered some thoughts on what we'll see up ahead.

"I think you will see in 2013 and 2014 that no new product will be heavier. The move continues to be towards lighter as golf caters to aging baby boomers," he told McAndrew. "You will also see iron set make-ups evolve. The days of 3-PW [pitching wedge] are long gone, replaced by hybrids. … you will also see the number of wedges players carry increase."

McAndrew is one of the consistently best in his coverage of the golf industry. For more from him, visit www.GolfBiz.net.

January 8, 2013 - 4:35pm
Posted by:
John Holmes
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Nike Golf silhouettes
Courtesy of Nike Golf
Since Nike Golf tweeted this teaser on Dec. 31, Nike Golf has announced the signings of Kyle Stanley (far left), Nick Watney (second left), Seung-yul Noh (second from right) and Thorbjorn Olesen (far right). The middle spot likely belongs to Rory McIlroy.

The Jumeirah Group isn't renewing its five-year sponsorship with top-ranked Rory McIlroy, the luxury hotel chain has announced, which seemingly paves the way for the world's top-ranked golfer to finalize his much-rumored endorsement deal with Nike Golf.

Jumeirah was McIlroy's first corporate sponsor upon turning pro, and has had its logo on his cap for the past five seasons. McIlroy previously cut ties with Oakley, which has had its logo on his shirt, and with Titleist, whose clubs he has played.

These moves appear to clear the path for a “clean” Nike deal in which the Swoosh would be the only logo visible on McIlroy's clothing. Rumors abound that a Nike arrangement in which he wears Nike apparel and plays Nike gear, would be worth as much as $20 million a year. Such an agreement would give Nike both of golf's two biggest stars in McIlroy and Tiger Woods, who has been with the company since he turned pro in 1996.

McIlroy's deal, which likely will be announced next week as he begins his 2013 season at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, would be the climax of an active signing season for Nike Golf. In recent days, the company has announced new endorsement deals with 2011 FedExCup champion Nick Watney as well as rising stars Kyle Stanley of the United States, Seung-yul Noh of South Korea and Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark.

On Dec. 31, Nike tweeted out a mock-up of an ad showing five silhouettes. With Watney, Stanley, Noh and Olesen in place, that fifth and final spot – right there in the middle – likely will belong to McIlroy.

January 7, 2013 - 10:49pm
Posted by:
John Holmes
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Odyssey Versa putters
Courtesy of Odyssey Golf
Thick black and white stripes run laterally down the heads of the new Odyssey Versa putters to make alignment easier.

Plenty of putters come with alignment aids. The new Versa putters from Odyssey Golf are alignment aids.

Specifically, the heads on these new flat sticks are covered in bold black and white stripes that run perpendicular to the putting line to accentuate the face angle at address, through the stroke and at impact. This contrast, says Odyssey, prompts golfers to better align their putts, which is critical since a mis-aim of just one degree can cause a golfer to miss a 12-foot putt.

"We set out to design a distinctive and highly effective alignment system for a blade putter," said Odyssey Golf Principal Designer Austie Rollinson. "The human visual system is both sensitive to contrast and very good at complex tasks such as edge detection. We utilized both of these skills to create a very effective alignment aid that helps golfers putt more consistently, and sink more putts, too."

The new Versa models contain an improved White Hot insert, which has been meticulously engineered for more dependable feel and performance across the striking surface. A new laser milling cutting process allows Odyssey to better match its insert shapes to the various head shapes, resulting in more consistency, as each insert is designed and cut specifically for a specific putter model.

The Versa line comes in a variety of Tour-proven head shapes, from Odyssey’s progressive style and mallet putters to conventional blade styles. The #1, #2, #7 and #9 models are available in black/white/black and white/black/white combinations, while the #7 90 models are also available in both color options with a front-to-back alignment visual. The 2-Ball model, Odyssey’s best-selling putter, is available only in white/black/white, and all models come with a 33-, 34- or 35-inch shaft as well as a host of custom options.

The Versa putters will be available at retail on Jan. 18 at an introduction price starting at $169.99.

For more information on Odyssey putters, visit www.odysseygolf.com.

January 7, 2013 - 12:11am
Posted by:
John Holmes
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Golf bags at the Players Championship
Getty Images
The golf bags at pro tour events are stocked with a wide variety of golf club brands.

As the 2013 golf season struggles to get off the ground out in Hawaii, I thought this would be a good time to check out the state of golf equipment usage on the world's biggest tours. Thanks to Sports Marketing Surveys – SMS is the company that tracks the gear that each player uses in European Tour events – we have a pretty good snapshot of the clubs that many of the game's best players are favoring these days.

Here are some of SMS's observations from the whole of the 2012 European Tour season:

--Drivers: Players used 22 different driver brands and a total of 111 different driver models. On average, each player used 1.46 different drivers over the course of the season, but one player used six different driver models.

--Fairway woods: Players used 27 different fairway wood brands and a total of 140 different fairway wood models.

--Utility clubs: Players used 27 different utility club brands and 120 different utility club models.

--Irons: Players used 31 different brands of 3- through 9-irons and 139 different models of 3- through 9-iron. A total of 42 percent of players didn't have a 3-iron in their bag.

--Wedges: Players used 33 different wedge brands and 181 different wedge models.

--Putters: Players used 40 different putter brands and 454 different putter models. On average, each player used 1.76 different putters during the 2012 season, but two players used 11 different putter models. And for the year, 14 percent of the players carried a long or belly putter.

I don't have a lot of perspective on some of these numbers – for example, is the use of 22 different driver brands high or low? It seems fairly high to me – and just for comparison, if you go to Golfsmith.com, they carry 18 different driver brands. I'd love to see a list of all those 22 different models.

I also found it interesting that there were more different fairway models used (140) than utility clubs used (120), simply because it seems like there are more companies marketing hybrids than fairway woods. And it's also interesting that 42 percent of players didn't use 3-irons. I wonder if that number will continue to rise – and at what point will there be more players without 3-irons than with them?

And finally, whether the number of different club brands has risen or fallen in recent years, I'm a little pleased to see the numbers so high. Golf these days is dominated by a handful of companies, all of which make fantastic equipment -- but I have a soft spot for the smaller companies fighting for their sliver of the golf gear pie. Some of life's greatest inventions come from the most unlikely sources, and I hope there's always a place in the golf equipment universe for little guys with a dream.

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