GOLF EQUIPMENT

What's Hot in the Equipment World: Plenty to Choose from as the Holidays Approach

By Shane Sharp,
Contributing Writer

CHARLOTTE (Sept. 30, 2002) -- Winter equals Christmas, which equals golf gifts. It's a simple equation, but one that holds true every season for the avid (read: obsessed) golfer. Balls, clubs, shoes, instructional aids; when the days get shorter and the weather gets cooler, the daydreams about new golf gear grow longer and more lucid.

Yet is there anything more intimidating to the non-golfer, the one who in all likelihood will shopping for you, oh avid golfer, than the perplexing world of golf equipment? The technology, the lexicon, the persuasive ads promising more distance, straighter shots, and lower scores. What's your shopper to do this holiday season? Perhaps if you subtly set the homepage of your browser to this page, everything will work itself out.

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What's Hot in Golf Clubs

If you had told anyone in the equipment business two years ago that wedges would be all the rage in 2002, they would have looked at you the way Tiger Woods stares down one of those pesky photographers who click-clicks in his backswing. But the short game is back, ushering to the forefront of the equipment market by top-notch offerings from Taylor Made, McGregor and Dave Pelz. Sure, Cleveland still dominates the wedge market and continues to keep pace with its new competitors. But other manufacturers are no longer willing to rollover and play dead.

MacGregor is making a big splash in the wedge market with its new VIP series. The VIP wedges utilize the company's patented V-Foil technology -- vectored force of impact localization, in scientific terms. For you, this means that the mass of the iron is directed towards the point of impact with the golf ball, thus creating more direct force behind the ball for increased power, forgiveness and overall control. Suggested retail for the classically designed VIP's is $99 per club.

Inspired by the success that Titleist and McGregor have had with their Vokey and VIP wedge lines, Taylor Made has also decided to enter the wedge war. The venerable clubmaker spent considerable R and D to come up with its RAC technology, producing a line of wedges predicated on the concept that not all pitch and chip shots spin with a consistent RPM. In other words, even virtually identical swings can produce as much as 3000 RPM difference due to inconsistencies in groove size and depth. To remedy this, Taylor Made has developed a "CNC" (computer numerically controlled) surface designed to provide a consistent ball strike throughout the clubface.

The aforementioned Pelz, a former NASA scientist turned short game guru, has long had chipping and pitching down to a science. Perhaps it was only a question of time until the Indiana University alumnus developed his own line of wedges. Pelz's revolutionary clubs combine his patent pending "Progressive Groove Geometry", DuraSteel and ten years of research and development. The wedges are being marketed in sets for four, ranging from the 49 degree pitching to the 64 degree X-Wedge. Pelz's rationale for the four wedges is much the same as it has been for years: 60 percent of all golf strokes occur from 100 yards and in, as do 80 percent of strokes lost to par. Pelz wedges retail for $130 per club; the whole-set price is $520

That is not to say that the driver is dead. Niche manufacturer Tour Edge recently introduced its new Bazooka 400J model, promising more distance and forgiveness via its four-piece forged, beta titanium head that looks something like a toaster oven on a stick. The forged titanium increases the strength of the face and allows it to be made thinner than ever before for a super-high "coefficient of restitution" across the entire face. The new Bazooka retails for a reasonable $249 and shaft options include a proprietary Graffalloy Hyper Ultra-Light, UST Pro Force Gold and ATR Series.

Bags, Shoes, Gloves, etc.

All signs point to Etonic no longer being content to play second fiddle to Foot Joy in the golf shoe and glove business. Evidenced by the release of the AC (Air-Cooling) Golf Glove line and the Dry-Lite AC 500 golf shoe line, this Spalding owned golf division appears ready stake its claim to a competitive market share and assert itself as an industry leader in nuts and bolts golf accessories.

Just three years ago, Etonic was 13th in the golf glove market and barely a blip on the hand-wear radar. Enter the Etonic Difference Glove line, and the division vaulted up to an impressive third. At the 2002 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Spalding announced that Etonic would introduce the AC Golf Glove, including the AC Tour, AC Grip and AC Feel models. Etonic also spent a good part of 2001 crafting the Dri-Lite AC 500 shoe line, which is designed to mirror the AC Golf Glove's goal of providing golfers with a cooler, more comfortable apparel option. Etonic's expanded Dri-Lite shoe line also includes the 400, 300, 200, 100, and Ladies Expression models. Suggested retail for the shoes ranges from $150 for the AC 500 to $75 for the affordable, sporty Expression and Men's 200.

Also from the shoe department … The evolution of golf shoes has moved from metal spikes to soft spikes and now, no spikes at all. At least, that is the direction Grip Golf Shoe Company President Jeff Sink hopes the industry is taking. Sink's Menlo, California-based company started manufacturing spikeless golf shoes four years ago and has developed quite a following on the West Coast.

"We have a great following out here," Sink said, "but we are pretty much unknown on the East Coast."

Too bad, because it sure seems like golfers from the Triad to the Triangle would relish the prospect of not having to pick mud and grass from their soft spikes. Grip Golf Shoes go toe to toe (pun intended) with any of the major brand names as far as comfort. The shoes come with molded footbed inserts and a "single plane" outsole that eliminates the void between the heel and forefoot found in dress heel designs. The Grip Golf Shoe is available in eight different men's models ranging in price from $71.95 to $89.95, and four women's models priced at $80.95.

If you like to take your golf standing up - walking the course that is - then Sun Mountain is probably a familiar name in golf bags. The Montana-based company is one of the few companies outside of Ping that truly caters to the hoofing duffer, and has been doing so for close to 20 years. Sun Mountain's Superlite, Glacier, Avalanche and Peak stand bags were all the rage at the 2002 PGA Merchandise Expo in Orlando, Fla., and the 2003 encore is the much-anticipated "Cirque" bag.

Cirque has 11 smartly conceived pockets, including a "Dry Pocket" with waterproof zipper offering a great place to stash some good cigars or an expensive wireless device you shouldn't be using on the golf course anyway. Additional pockets include new and used ball pockets, a velour lined valuables pocket, full-length clothing pocket and a see-through mesh pocket. The bag also includes a woods separator that protects against nicks and scrapes on shafts, and a deluxe lumbar pad for those given to traversing 36 holes a day. Cirque is available in seven color combinations with a suggested retail $170.

Chip Shots: Mizuno Launches New Putter, Iron lines, Nike Tailors Equipment to Junior Golfers

Mizuno recently launched new forged products, the T.P Mills Workshop putters (suggested retail $249) and the MP30 irons ($1099 for 3-PW). The Georgia based company has also expanded its MP Series Wedge line with the introduction of the RAW Black Ox wedges, featuring a smooth black oxide finish … Nike Golf has introduced the "Nike Golf Learning" system, an equipment line aimed at providing junior golfers with equipment that fits their swings and statures. The Par Red (for kids less than 50-inches tall), Birdie Blue (51 to 58-inches tall) and the Eagle Silver (59 to 66-inches tall) golf club sizing levels were derived from an Algebraic formula that Earl Woods applied when developing the sizing for a young Tiger. The system is based upon the length of clubs ideal for a 5-foot-8 inch man, and suggested retail for driver, midiron and putter are $59.99, $49.99 and $49.99 respectively.

Sure to be Hot for the Holidays

According to local storeowners … The Great Big Bertha II from Callaway and the R500 metal woods from Taylor … Nike's forged cavity back irons coming out and the Mizuno MP30's will be high on the low handicappers list. On the golf ball front, Maxifli is nuking the A-10 and will replace it with the Taylor Made M3 Tour and M3 Tour LT (Low Trajectory) and the A3, which is supposed to rival the Titleist NXT. Maxfli will continue to produce and market its popular Noodle ball. Callaway's new wedges designed by none other than Roger Cleveland, should take the wedge world by storm. Shane Sharp covers equipment for WorldGolf.com. Reach him at sharp@travelgolf.com or comment on his story on our reader response board.

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