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|Upswing's titanium driver has a classic look and a solid feel. (Courtesy Upswing Golf)|
When you write about golf equipment you get all sorts of clubs from companies you've never heard of. The golf-gear industry is as dangerous for new companies as the African veldt is for baby gazelles; only the strongest (and luckiest) survive. No matter how well a golf club performs or how much it costs compared to the competition, chances are it won't catch on.
So why would anyone in their right mind get into it? Mostly out of a devotion to the game and a firm belief that people will seek out and buy solid, high-performance clubs at a reasonable price. These stalwart start-ups usually bring with them years of experience at the big-name companies and a commitment to the idea that buying a good golf club shouldn't break a golfer's budget.
Upswing Golf is precisely this sort of company. Founded in 2005 by Richard Merk and Bret Larsen, Upswing Golf's motto is "Simply good clubs." After testing all their initial club designs, we have to say that the motto is apt.
So what does Upswing Golf offer that other companies don't?
"We believe very strongly that the technology wars that the industry experienced in the '80s and '90s are far gone," says Merk, who has been in golf equipment since the 1970s. "The rulings imposed on club designs by the governing bodies of golf have placed some significant restrictions on products. In many ways they have leveled the playing field so that companies large and small are able to achieve the imposed limits."
As evidence of this leveling, Merk cites the fact that the average driving distance on the PGA Tour has leveled off over the past three years.
Because most of the technology driving the club market today is public knowledge (e.g., large clubheads, light materials with perimeter weighting) and the materials (e.g., titanium) are becoming less expensive, even little guys like Upswing Golf can, "offer is products that compete with a very large percentage of the existing market but at prices far below their MSRP," Merk says.
Upswing can undercut competitors' prices significantly by selling directly through its Web site, eliminating mark-ups. Clubs can be purchased individually or in packages - driver and hybrids, just hybrids, two- or three-wedge packages. The company also targets tournament and event-planning directors by offering excellent deals for prizes, gifts, giveaways, etc. (A heck of a lot nicer than a cap!)
We tested a number of Upswing Golf clubs, including the 400cc 10.5-degree titanium driver (MSRP $120); the 17- and 21-degree hybrids ($95 each); and the 60-, 56-, and 52-degree wedges ($70 each).
The first thing we noticed was the rather plain-Jane appearance - classic head-shapes, jet-black finish on the driver and hybrids, very standard set-up with the wedges. This look is by design, Merk says.
"Our clubs are very traditional and simple in a 'no-nonsense' approach, just like our tagline says: 'Simply good clubs.' We prefer to let the performance of our clubs speak for [itself]. What is inside the head is truly what counts.
"Our introduction into the golf industry was to start with simple clubs that perform without having to use flash, gimmicks or odd shapes. There will always be people who want to try a bigger headed club or some new twist, but that is not our targeted customer. As we mature and gain brand recognition, we will explore the next evolution of products that perform while at the same time will be affordable for the average golfer."
The Upswing Golf titanium driver, which comes with a standard Aldila graphite shaft, performed admirably for me, both on the range and on the course. Both distance and control were basically on par with big-names clubs I've recently reviewed. What I really enjoyed was the sound at impact: a healthy thwack rather than the usual titanium clink or clank.
Aaron Benjamin, a high-teens handicap from Urbana, Ill., tested the club on the range and liked the performance, but he felt the feedback was muted. Don Hicks, a 20-handicap from Walton, Ind., hit the Upswing Golf model a few times during a round and compared it in both appearance and performance to his favorite (and far more expensive) Vortex driver. TravelGolf.com's own David Theoret reported that he actually put his Cobra driver in the closet in favor of the Upswing Golf club.
The Upswing Golf hybrids have extremely compact heads, perfect for tight lies and for cutting through rough. True to billing, the 17-degree produced a low, boring ball flight. The 21-degree launched the ball higher, just as it should have. Dave Huber, head professional at Lake of the Woods Golf Course in Mahomet, Ill., found the hybrids consistent but not terribly workable.
Benjamin, who had never hit a hybrid before, actually offered to buy them both on the spot.
The Upswing Golf wedges were extremely solid, though they did not stand out from other wedges either big- or small-name. They set up nicely, with a slightly bugling leading edge that, personally, I like. They imparted reasonable spin without chewing up the golf ball. For anyone shopping for new scoring clubs, these are a worth more than a passing look, especially at the price.
Often new companies totter into the brutal savannah of the golf-club game like wobbly legged newborn antelopes, and you just know the poor things are going to be devoured by the industry lions waiting behind the next water hazard. Sometimes, though, the newborns survive, relying on guts, brains, solid club-making and just a bit of luck.
Upswing Golf has the first three in spades. We wish them plenty of the fourth.
May 23, 2006
Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Illinois. Read his golf blog here.
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