STICKS & STONES
Although the 2004 PGA Golf Merchandise Show in Orlando is still ahead, we've identified a few standouts in what should be a very competitive 2004 equipment market.
The big-name (read big-price tag) companies are touting their latest and greatest, which is hardly news. If the day ever comes when Callaway kicks off a new season by simply saying, "Nothing new here. We'll stick with the old models," say your prayers because the apocalypse is nigh.
We look to be safe this season, though. Now that the whole ERC controversy has been settled between the USGA and R&A, Callaway has one-upped itself with the new ERC Fusion driver (MSRP $500-$600). This new monster was created when Callaway's mad scientists, er, engineers took the carbon fiber clubhead from last season's C4, merged it with a VFT titanium face, ordered Igor to flip a switch, and screamed "Let there be life!" If you take this creation to certain small burgs in Scotland, the villagers might just chase you from town with torches and pitchforks. (callawaygolf.com)
Nike's new Ignite driver (MSRP $469) apparently has lured Tiger back to the swoosh side. It's made from a proprietary new titanium alloy called NexTi, and with its post-industrial aesthetic and 460cc head, the Ignite looks like it should be in the Terminator's golf bag. Tiger, Rory Sabbatini and Trevor Immelman already have used their Ignite drivers to win events. (nikegolf.com)
Smaller companies are also bringing out new drivers, and these carry solid pedigrees at somewhat more affordable prices.
Alpha Golf, a division of Kent Sports, introduced the C830.2 driver to the competitive long-drive world in 2003, and is bringing it to the public in 2004. The C830.2 (MSRP $325) was used by the winners of the men's and women's divisions of the 2003 Pinnacle/LDA Pro Long Drive Championship, as well as the junior and senior division winners of the ReMax Long Drive championships. The 460cc head has the highest COR allowed by the USGA. Any stick that'll allow a senior to crush a 381-yard drive is worth a look in our book. (www.alphareactiongolf.com)
KZ Golf (a.k.a. KZG), the little company that could, is introducing the Cobalt driver (MSRP $289, fairway woods $279). KZG calls cobalt the "ideal" metal for use in drivers, pointing out that it is so strong that it's used in the construction of jet engines. If the quality of KZG's other other drivers is any indication, the Cobalt should be a beauty. (kzgolf.com)
Nike has scored a design victory with the Slingshot Irons (MSRP $799 steel; $899 graphite). Ten years in the making, the Slingback technology features a convex bar of steel arching across the back of the club from heel to toe. According to Nike, the progressive positioning of this bar from long to short irons optimizes launch angle and ball spin. And they look really cool, too. (nikegolf.com)
Even Ben Hogan Golf, famous for high-performance forged irons, is getting into the hybrid iron game with the Edge CFT Hybrid "h" iron set (MSRP $120 each steel; $150 each graphite). This classy looking set replaces the low irons (3-4 or 5) with black and silver ironwoods, an arrangement that looks both classic and at the same time innovative. (benhogan.com)
Tour Edge has tuned up their solid Wood-Iron and is introducing an 8-club set of Iron-Woods called the Bazooka JMAX. The first entire Iron-Wood set, the JMAX is humbly called "stunning, thought-provoking, and overwhelmingly easy to hit.the most significant advance in irons since the introduction of the cavity-back" in the company's press release. And if you decide you don't need to replace your 9-iron with a fairway wood-like implement, Tour Edge does offer the new JMAX individually (MSRP $99 graphite, $89 steel) as well. (touredgegolf.com)
Taking playability to a whole new level, Nickent Golf has designed the ultimate in forgiving irons in the Genex 3DX Hybrid irons (MSRP $699 graphite, $599 steel). According to Nickent, it is the first company ever to offer a full set of hybrid irons, from #2 ironwood through to the wedge series. The Genex 3DX is not a combo set, nor an extended ironwood set -- it is a complete all-hybrid iron set, available in two set configurations: irons PW-5, ironwoods 4-2, or irons PW-7, ironwoods 6-2. Although the irons and the ironwoods look different, the weighting concept is the same-fitting together seamlessly like the wound and wire strings on a steel-string guitar. (nickentgolf.com)
Last season saw traditionalist Phil Mickelson abandon his flanged blade for a Scotty Cameron Futura branding iron. What followed was a gaggle of goofy-looking flatsticks, some of which lived up to their flashy designs, some of which did not. We've heard rumors that 2004 will see Lefty drop the Futura. Maybe the pendulum is swinging back to a more classic look for putters. In any case, the putter market seems more subdued this year than last.
The extended line of YAG putters by Photon Golf includes theYAG-3 -- a face balanced semi-mallet with a double-bend shaft; YAG-4 - a heel-toe weighted mid-slant; YAG-5 -- a face-balanced center-shafted model; and YAG-1L -- a left-handed version of the heel/toe weighted tour offset model (all models MSRP $90). Photon uses a proprietary laser-cut Nanogroove technology to create micro-scale surface features on the face of the YAG putters. This technology makes the face feel something like sharkskin, and the roughness creates almost instant forward roll if the ball is struck slightly on the upstroke. (photongolf.com)
Nike's Mojo ball (MSRP $28/dozen) is a marketing masterpiece, replete with New Age karmic references, VW tour buses, and retro-psychedelic packaging. And who knows, maybe the Mojo will provide your game with harmony and peace?
Ben Hogan Golf introduces the new Hawk ball (MSRP $30/dozen), which features an inner cover that serves to perimeter-weight the core, and an ultra-thin, ultra-white outer cover that gives you a better chance at grabbing and holding greens, as well as finding those occasional errant shots.
The technological advances in golf have not been limited to clubs and balls. Even the lowly golf bag has evolved into a high-performance machine designed to protect your considerable equipment investment. No bag manufacturer has worked harder to bring this evolution about than Ogio. At the top of the new 2004 line is the revolutionary Stinger cart bag (MSRP $249). Its patent-pending Rail system allows you to secure your bag at a 45? angle from the back of the cart for easier stand-bag-like access. Additional innovations include a zipperless ball pocket and rain hood. (www.ogio.com)
If the USGA and R&A impose equipment restrictions on golf bags, the revolutionary-minded Ogio will likely be the only company affected. And the equipment wars will rage on a whole new level.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management. The information in this story was accurate at the time of publication. All contact information, directions and prices should be confirmed directly with the golf course or resort before making reservations and/or travel plans.