Book Review: Grand Slam: Bobby Jones, America and the Story of Golf by Mark Frost

Book Review: Grand Slam: Bobby Jones, America and the Story of Golf by Mark Frost

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New Driver, Same Old Story – Callaway Announces Big Bertha V-Series

New Driver, Same Old Story – Callaway Announces Big Bertha V-Series

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Written By: Tony Covey

In case you missed it, yesterday Callaway made their new Big Bertha V-Series driver (and fairway wood) official. Thus far, the interwebs aren’t impressed (don’t read too much into that. Early reaction to most releases from TaylorMade and Callaway is almost always negative), but this time around, it’s hard to blame them..or it…or whatever is the proper way to refer to the interwebs as whole.

I’m not sure Callaway can warm up this crowd.

This particular release feels (Opti) forced.

Newer is Better (and brings in higher margins).

We could probably go digging around for some well-manufactured quotes from Callaway’s R&D team to explain why this year’s version of Lighter, Faster, Longer is better than last’s, but the simple reality is that FT Optiforce is an entire year old, everything else in the Callaway driver lineup has been discounted (in part to make room for the V-Series and whatever is to come next Spring), and well, it’s not going to hurt Callaway any to have a new full-retail-price/full-margin product on the shelves.

Such is the reality of the golf industry. Things are changing, but we’re not there yet, and so the prices of the old have been slashed, and here comes the new. Let the buying frenzy begin.

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About Big Bertha V-Series

As you’d expect from the successor to the most excellent FT Optiforce, Callaway’s V-Series (the V is for velocity) is packed full of Speed Enhancing Technology designed to promote distance through weight reduction and aerodynamics.

We’ve covered this design principle before, but for the sake of mind-numbing redundancy… if you can make the club travel faster (through aerodynamic improvements, weight reduction, or both), you increase ball speed, and the ball goes farther. Hence the whole lighter, faster, longer thing.

Understand? Good.

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Callaway also mentions that the V-Series driver offers what it calls high MOI. Most R&D guys will tell you that there’s a direct correlation between head weight and MOI (heavier heads are more stable), so while V-Series might be higher MOI than something else, it’s almost certainly lower MOI than the same design would be with a more conventional head weight.

Like nearly every other club design decision, there’s a tradeoff that comes with going light. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it is something you should be aware of.

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Stop Me if You’ve Heard This Before

Big Bertha V-Series, is lightweight, it’s aerodynamic, and it’s got a hotter Hyper Speed Face.

Let me say it another way…Lighter, Faster, Longer. Just like Optiforce.

In fact, exactly, basically word for word, just like Optiforce. And really, at the risk of fixating on Callaway’s over-reliance on this particular bit of jargon, I’ll remind you that all the way back in 2010, the Diablo Octane (not exactly one of the company’s most-revered designs) was billed as Lighter, Faster, Stronger.

Somebody get Kanye West on the phone, I think there’s a hit song in this.

It would appear that I was right. The golf industry really has run out of words. Is this really the best Callaway can do?

Of course not. There’s more.

What would a driver release be without a yardage claim?

And so here goes…

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The Big Bertha V-Series driver is up to 7 yards longer than the company’s Big Bertha. Times like this I wish the blink tag hadn’t been deprecated. And we’re not talking about the original Big Bertha either.

The new driver is up to 7 yards longer than the 2014 Big Bertha you paid $400 for 3 months ago (the same one you can buy for $350 today).

Sorry guys. Time for an upgrade. Your almost new Big Bertha simply can’t hunt with the new big dog.

It’s All About Differentiation

Now the Callaway guys would certainly point out that Big Bertha isn’t the same as Big Bertha Alpha, and neither one is remotely the same as Big Bertha V-Series. Given the obvious similarities in the names, I can understand your confusion, so I bet you’re wondering:

Who is Big Bertha V-Series for?

Well…according to Callaway’s own “Who’s it for” video (that was convenient), the V-Series driver is for “anyone who wants to hit their driver farther“.

If you don’t want to hit the ball farther, then the Big Bertha V-Series is not for you. How’s that for differentiation?

Really guys?

For the next 6 months or so Big Bertha V-Series is also for guys who are willing to pay full price for a driver while Big Bertha, Big Bertha Alpha, and X2 Hot, are for guys who aren’t.

Cynicism aside, this particular branch of the Callaway driver tree (the Speed Enhanced Series) is markedly different from X2 Hot, Bertha proper, and Alpha. While realistically the differences between those models boil down to bells and whistles, price, and some slight nuances on the launch monitor, the V-Series really does offer something unique from the rest of the Callaway lineup.

Simply put, there is a legitimate market for this type of driver, and by offering up “for anyone who wants to hit their driver farther” Callaway has, to a degree, obfuscated their actual target demographic.

I’d call that a disservice to golfers, but that’s part of the shady side of selling golf clubs. Nearly everything has to be billed as being for nearly everyone, even when it’s clearly not.

The ultralight design (starting at 290g total weight) is generally suited to the slower swing player looking to gain some speed however he can. While there are no absolutes in fitting, lighter-weight drivers are often a better fit for smoother (less aggressive) swingers. For a sizable segment of golfers, heavier is almost always better.

I could give you a list of other less than ideal fit categories, but your takeaway should be that Bertha V-Series isn’t actually “for anyone who wants to hit their driver farther”.

Aerodynamic improvements are nice too, but by all accounts that particular design feature favors guys who already swing the club fast. For most of you, any appreciable distance gains will need to come via the weight reduction, not aerodynamic improvements.

Noteworthy perhaps is that Callaway has reduced the stock shaft length on the Big Bertha V-Series to 45.5″. As you may recall, 46″ was standard on Optiforce. While we found FT Optiforce relatively easy to control given the length, the V-Series should be better in that regard, albeit with the potential for lost distance on your best swings…but it’s still longer than Big Bertha.

Kinda Updated Aesthetics

As is reasonably obvious, the new Big Bertha V-Series doesn’t look much at all like last season’s FT Optiforce. It’s a bit of a throwback to Callaway’s popular Warbird sole design. Coincidentally, so was Callaway’s 2013 Japan-Only Legacy Platinum Forged Driver. The similarities between the two are unmistakable. Callaway didn’t start from scratch. One almost certainly begot the other.

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We’ll give Callaway the benefit of the doubt and assume they made some reasonably significant under the hood changes, but what we see sounds like a 2013 driver (same marketing) and looks like a 2013 driver (Japanese model). That dubious combination, plus the price tag (coming on the heels of price cuts and the Dick’s debacle) doesn’t do much to raise our excitement level for this particular offering. And again…I’m a guy who loved Optiforce.

Final Thoughts

It’s entirely possible that I’ve read this wrong, and Callaway really thinks they have something of consequence in the Big Bertha V-Series, but more than any Callaway Woods release in recent memory, this has the feel of a club line being released for the sole purpose of putting something new on the shelf.

Not only is it not compelling, it feels unnecessary.

Bertha V-Series comes on the heels of a rapid discount cycle (6 months on Bertha and Alpha, faster still on X2 Hot). The marketing story is a 3rd-generation rehash, and the design itself isn’t fresh. Toss in the premium driver asking price ($400), and the 1-year release cycle for what by most reasonable accounts is a niche product, and I promise you I won’t be the only one wondering what Callaway is thinking right now.

Everything about this release (all of the above and that bit about being 7 YARDS LONGER) is lockstep inline with what consumers are telling us they hate about the state of the golf equipment industry right now. Quite frankly, if I didn’t know any better I’d think the release was satire, or at least an attempt at comedic irony.

If only this release was a special Callaway Edition of The Onion.

It’s not. This is real, and I don’t think it’s going to go over well with the consumer.

If I’m wrong, the cash register (and 3 or 4 guys who work for Callaway) will offer the proof.

Let’s chat about it again in 6 months.

Pricing and Availability

Pre-Orders for the Big Bertha V-Series Driver and Fairway wood begin on Friday August 8th. Retail price for the driver is $399. The fairway wood, which includes Heavenwood designs in the #4, #5, #7, and #9 models, retails for $249.

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