TaylorMade Brings AeroBurner Speed to an Iron

TaylorMade Brings AeroBurner Speed to an Iron

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Written By: Tony Covey

After the Adams Golf acquisition, the stated plan for TaylorMade was to narrow its focus to the better player and let Adams have its way of things with the senior and super game-improvement crowd. While that’s not completely what happened, TaylorMade more or less has stayed out of the highest handicap market. Consider this: The last true Super Game-Improvement Iron from TaylorMade was the RBZ Max.

With plans to do something quite a bit different with the Adams brand underway, it makes perfect sense that TaylorMade would choose now to re-enter that market with a product designed for higher-handicap, yet still competitive golfers.

That’s right…higher handicap golfers play in tournaments and are as game for a $2 Nassau as anybody else. And they take my money…just like everyone else.

The AeroBurner is for them, which might not be good news for me.

TaylorMade Aeroburner Irons-31

AeroBurner Speed…(eye roll)

As you can see from the spec chart, the major selling point here is AeroBurner Speed…now available in an iron. Frankly, I don’t actually know if AeroBurner speed competes favorably with Callaway’s Outrageous Speed, so for now let’s assume that everything is ludicrously fast and get on with our story.

Have a look at the specs and try and contain your outrage until the end.

aeroburner_iron_spec

I know…a 22° 5-iron and a 43° PW. It’s extreme, but lets also remember that static loft isn’t the same as dynamic loft, so don’t get to thinking you’re going to hit nothing but worm-burners. TaylorMade designed AeroBurner with an emphasis on high launch and high peak trajectory.

Really what TaylorMade sought to create with AeroBurner is an iron that would compete favorably with PING’s G30 and Callaway’s Big Bertha irons, but do so at a more consumer-friendly price point. At $699, you can think of AeroBurner as affordable speed.

Umm…You Forgot the Face Slots

TaylorMade Aeroburner Irons-19

It’s funny how quickly a golf company can condition us. When I first saw the RSi1 I was absolutely astonished by the presence of face slots. Frankly, I thought TaylorMade had jumped the shark once and for all…that is until I hit them and realized how big of a difference those slots apparently make. One look at the AeroBurner iron and I’m totally befuddled again; this time by the lack of face slots. What the hell TaylorMade? I want face slots!

It turns out there are several reasons why TaylorMade chose to produce AeroBurner with a slotless face.

As TaylorMade’s Director of Product Creation for Irons, Wedges and Putters, Tomo Bystedt, explains it, fundamentally what face slots do is make the iron behave like the face is bigger than it is. In simple terms, face slots add forgiveness to smaller iron heads. AeroBurner is a large iron as it is (somewhere somebody is screaming “shovels!“, and so the need to for additional forgiveness isn’t what it is on an RSi2, or even an RSi1.

TaylorMade Aeroburner Irons-37

AeroBurner is already a max COR iron, so the addition of slots would have necessitated thickening the face (to bring the iron back to the USGA’s happy place), which in addition to fundamentally defeating the purpose of creating a fast face, would have moved the CG to a place other than where TaylorMade wanted it.

Finally, face slots add to manufacturing costs. TaylorMade’s goal was to create an iron that was attainable (affordable) for the masses. Face slots would add another $100 to the retail cost, which TaylorMade doesn’t think makes a whole lot of sense considering the additional trade-offs that would have needed to be made.

Now is probably a good time to mention that from a design perspective, AeroBurner’s slot technology functions more like the original slot found in RocketBladez. The emphasis is on low face forgiveness, and adding spin back to what are, by any reasonable measure, strongly lofted irons.

But other than that lack of face slot stuff…

It’s Exactly What You’d Expect

TaylorMade Aeroburner Irons-10

Call it Super Game-Improvement, call it a distance iron; we can haggle over category adjectives, but the AeroBurner inarguably looks the part for either.

Blade lengths are long. Offset is tremendous (maybe even outrageous), and the toplines are as thick as nearly any iron in golf. Like I said, it’s what you’d expect.

For some the larger footprint will breed confidence, for others, total contempt. I get that. If the AeroBurner iron isn’t for you, then it isn’t for you. Higher handicap golfers looking for more forgiveness and plenty of help getting the ball in the air might feel differently.

If you’re a TaylorMade guy, or just a guy looking for a forgiving iron with an emphasis on distance, it’s reasonable to assume that you’re going to find yourself trying to decide between the AeroBurner iron and the RSi1.

Check back tomorrow to see the results of our head to head test between the two.

Pricing and Availability

TaylorMade Aeroburner Irons-20

Available at retail on Wednesday, March 18, AeroBurner irons are available in 8-piece sets and are equipped with stock REAX 88 High Launch steel shafts ($699) or AeroBurner REAX 60 graphite shafts ($799) in stiff, regular, senior or ladies flex.

AeroBurner Irons

TaylorMade Aeroburner Irons-7

TaylorMade Aeroburner Irons-40
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TaylorMade Aeroburner Irons-30
TaylorMade Aeroburner Irons-18
TaylorMade Aeroburner Irons-17
TaylorMade Aeroburner Irons-16
TaylorMade Aeroburner Irons-15
TaylorMade Aeroburner Irons-6
TaylorMade Aeroburner Irons-1

Golf Forum – Golf Blog (MyGolfSpy.com)

Pricing Wars – Callaway vs. TaylorMade: Who Blinks First?

Pricing Wars – Callaway vs. TaylorMade: Who Blinks First?

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Written By: Tony Covey

Over the last several seasons, early discounting has become the norm for industry giants Callaway and TaylorMade. Now that the bulk of 2015 product has been announced (and most is already on shelves), some of you have, no doubt, begun counting the days until you can get a R15 for $249 or a Big Bertha Alpha 815 Double Black Diamond for $369. And yeah…those are probably high-end estimates.

This could be the year it doesn’t happen. Sorry.

Last season TaylorMade held the line (mostly) on SLDR, but you know…that JetSpeed thing happened. Slash prices, toss in a fairway wood, do whatever needs to be done to prop-up those numbers.

Callaway was anything but slow in discounting X2Hot, Big Bertha, and Big Bertha Alpha. Out with the old and in with the new has been the mantra for companies that rely on frequent releases to create volume, and volume to drive revenue.

Can either company make it through May without cutting prices?

While it would certainly be better for the industry if both go full Titleist (no discounting until there’s a new model), I am both a cynic and a jaded realist.

Let’s set the over/under at June 15th.

Why This Year Could Be Different

Should TaylorMade feel compelled to grit it out, it can lean on the adidas and Ashworth apparel lines where margins are much higher than they are on golf clubs. With expectations lowered…or at least reduced to more realistic levels, TaylorMade-adidas Golf might be able to make enough money with cutting prices.

Callaway, for its part, has actually increased the average selling price of its products. If the snow melts quickly, that alone could be enough to sustain the company, despite the lack of a significant alternative revenue stream outside of the hard goods market. While the ball that changed the ball won’t threaten the Pro V1 anytime soon, Callaway’s ball business is on the uptick. That won’t hurt either.

And This Time We Mean It! (For Real)

Lately, both companies have devoted a fair amount of time to discussing their commitments to inventory management, and supporting their retail partners. Presumably that would include both a reduction in the number of units produced and a responsible pricing model that won’t force retailers to go broke buying SALE stickers.

Is this the year that the golf club market regains its dignity? If TaylorMade and Callaway have forecasted correctly, and inventory levels prove to be responsible, I believe this is really the year. The insanity is over.

If winter drags, products start collecting dust, and that retail channel we talk so much about starts to show signs of backing up, all bets are off. Slash and burn…try again next year.

Who Blinks First?

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post’s poll.

Golf Forum – Golf Blog (MyGolfSpy.com)

Trademark Wars – Callaway vs. TaylorMade (2014 Edition)

Trademark Wars – Callaway vs. TaylorMade (2014 Edition)

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Written By: Tony Covey

The annual war of words, nay,the annual war for words between Callaway and TaylorMade has resumed. And no, this isn’t a repeat from last July.

If you’ve got a few minutes for a brief history lesson, I suggest you check out previous stories on the National Advertising Division’s (NAD) ruling on Callaway’s marketing of the RAZR Fit Extreme as the Longest Driver in Golf, as well as last season’s dueling Trademark claims on SLIDER (Callaway) and SLDR (TaylorMade).

This latest chapter begins with TaylorMade and Callaway filing Trademark applications for “XR” all of seven days apart.

In the interest of sweating the details, it should be pointed out that TaylorMade was actually the first to submit its filing. I don’t mean to imply that TaylorMade is in the right here, only that it was first to pull the trigger.

As I often do when these type of situations arise, I will now pause a moment for anyone who seriously wants to argue coincidence.

Anybody?

One of these companies is quite obviously screwing with the other.

Never mind who’s on first, who’s on top?

TaylorMade Screwing with Callaway?

callaway-xr-logoCallaway’s filing has a logo, and it’s worth mentioning that TaylorMade’s filing doesn’t. This proves absolutely nothing, but could suggest that when Callaway filed, they did so with actual intent.

Given that TaylorMade has just announced R15 and AeroBurner, it’s unlikely the company has any short to mid-term plans for anything called XR, while for Callaway, XR is next-in-the-pipeline, coming soon, kind of stuff.

I can’t state this as 100% indisputable fact, but I’ve heard that Callaway has…or maybe had every intent of calling the early 2015 successor to X2 Hot the Callaway XR.

If I have reason to believe that the next Callaway driver is going to be called XR, then it’s plenty reasonable to assume that TaylorMade knows it too. Why not try and beat Callaway to the punch…at least as far as the US Trademark office is concerned?

callaway-xr-app

Is TaylorMade simply trying to take advantage of what may be a later-than-it-should-have-been filing from Callaway?

It’s not hard to make a compelling argument that this is a case of TaylorMade trying to complicate things for its #1 rival, and perhaps force it to spend a little extra money in the process.

I could also argue that if these Trademark shenanigans actually delay the release of another Callaway driver or two, then TaylorMade might actually be doing Callaway a favor, but let’s save that one for another day.

Callaway Screwing with TaylorMade?

xr-05-sole

If we’re going to consider accusing TaylorMade of corporate shenanigans, it’s equally fair to ask exactly what the hell Callaway might be thinking naming a line of clubs XR to begin with.

For those who don’t know, over the last 12 years or so, TaylorMade has produced a handful of non-conforming XR Series drivers for the Japanese market.

TaylorMade may not have included an XR logo in its Trademark filing because, well…they already have one. And since we’re being honest here, allowing for the fact that there are only so many ways to write XR; doesn’t Callaway’s look a bit like what TaylorMade already stamped on its clubs?

TMaG-XR

While TaylorMade’s XR isn’t as entrenched in our relatively mainstream consciousness as its R-Series (or Burner Series for that matter), from an apples to apples perspective, a Callaway XR driver wouldn’t be wholly dissimilar to something called a TaylorMade Legacy.

With a near limitless pool of potential product names to skim from, would Callaway seriously go with something that TaylorMade has already used?

At a time when Callaway is trying to differentiate the rest of the industry, recycling a name (even one that’s not particularly well-known) from its #1 competitor doesn’t make much sense either.

If the possibility that TaylorMade is screwing with Callaway is unsavory, the possibility that Callaway might be screwing with TaylorMade is just confusing.

TaylorMade-XR-app

No Comment

I reached out to representatives from both companies and both succinctly declined to comment for the record.

What I take from that is a likelihood that legal departments are probably already involved, and are likely exchanging threating letters on the regular.

Believe me when I tell you that legal departments, and these two in particular, absolutely thrive on sending letters.

These sort of disputes are far from uncommon in the golf industry, but anecdotal evidence suggests that they’re popping up more frequently between Callaway and TaylorMade.

How This Ends

We’ll have to wait to see how this plays out. My guess is that Callaway releases an XR Driver (or two or three) in the spring, but it’s probably going to take some behind the scenes horsetrading (the kind of stuff we’ll never hear about) to make any Trademark problems go away.

This latest clash speaks not only to the competitive nature of both companies, but also reaffirms everything we’ve learned over the last two years; at corporate level, these two really don’t like each other very much.

Golf Forum – Golf Blog (MyGolfSpy.com)

TESTED: Taylormade R15 (vs) SLDR

TESTED: Taylormade R15 (vs) SLDR

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New clubs are great.  We’ve been conditioned as consumerists to think that newer = better.  Earlier this week we gave the world the first look at the new 2015 Taylormade R15 driver.  Last night we were in New York city to cover the live launch event Taylormade had for the media.  Today, we tell you whether or not 2015 is any better than 2014.

From a performance standpoint the 2014 Taylormade SLDR ranked #1 in the MyGolfSpy Most Wanted testing.  The SLDR took home not only the distance category but also the overall.  So, the R15 has some tough shoes to fill that is for sure.

Data

We hit the new R15 side by side next to the SLDR. Both clubs were set to the stated loft position (in this case 10.5°), and both had the movable weight(s) set to the neutral position.

Here’s how the data looks:

r15-vs-sldr

RESULTS

As you can see, we saw a bit more ball speed with the new model, but despite the lower launch, we saw a bit more spin as well. Noteworthy is that that ball speed was slightly more consistent (based on standard deviation) with R15 than with SLDR.

Although both models are 460cc the white head of the R15 does make it appear larger than the SLDR. We’re back to the part of that science of white thing again.

From a feel perspective, we think the R15 is an improvement over SLDR, though visually I prefer the old one.

Summary

  • Distance = R15 Longer
  • Accuracy = R15 More Offline
  • Ball Speed = R15 Higher
  • Launch = R15 Lower
  • Spin = R15 Higher
  • Feel = R15 Slightly Better

Takeaway

While we’ll certainly need to spend more time with it (and have more people test), our preliminary assessment is that while R15 shows better ball speed numbers than SLDR it most likely isn’t a must upgrade for most current SLDR owners. The ability to move more weight to the heel and toe, along with the stability setting, may make R15 more attractive for golfers who require shot shape correction in their driver.

 

Golf Forum – Golf Blog (MyGolfSpy.com)

TaylorMade Ultimate Driving Iron Gets Officially Official

TaylorMade Ultimate Driving Iron Gets Officially Official

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Written By: Tony Covey

Just a couple weeks ago, the latest ‘prototype‘ (wink, wink) in the TaylorMade arsenal, the Ultimate Driving Iron (so much for no nonsense names) found its way onto the tour van, and into the hands of TaylorMade’s PGA Staffers.

In just its first week on tour, Justin Rose won the Quicken Loans National with a UTI UDI (in the bag). And damn if he didn’t just win again in Scotland. Other TaylorMade staffers have been testing the UDI, and as you might also expect, TaylorMade reports that their guys love it.

Maybe you’ll love it too.

UDI-16

Given the timing, it was a reasonable assumption that the UDI was created with an eye towards this week’s Open Championship at Royal Liverpool. TaylorMade would offer it up to its staffers as an easier-to-shape alternative to fairway woods and hybrids; designed to better meet the demands of links golf.

Retail availability was less certain. UDI, as interesting as it may be to some of you, strikes me as a horse-for-the-course kind of club. The prevailing wisdom was that no matter how ULTIMATE the performance on tour, the club itself would likely never see the fluorescent lights of a retail shop near you. UDI isn’t designed with the average golfer in mind.

If the Mini Driver is niche, then UDI is ultra-niche.

UDI-13

Taking Niche Mainstream

The thing is, while this isn’t a wholly new TaylorMade, it is a slightly different TaylorMade, and part of the current strategy appears to involve taking these actually-tour-inspired niche products and making them available to the consumer.

It’s one of the things a segment of golfers has, for years, asked of TaylorMade to do. For now anyway, the company seems intent on obliging despite the undeniable fact that a Tour Preferred Ultimate Driving Iron won’t ring the register with nearly the same intensity as the next SLDR Driver.

How un-TaylorMade is that?

Rather than flood the market with yet another round of drivers (it has been a couple of months already, right?), the company has dedicated a portion of its summer efforts to a couple of limited run products with not a ton of profit potential (or fanfare). It’s a little strange, but then again, summer is slow. It is only July.

Let’s talk in September.

UDI-17

About the UDI

“We designed the Tour Preferred UDI for players seeking a versatile club that delivers incredible distance off the tee and a high-performance alternative from the fairway. The clean, traditional look at address inspires confidence and the Speed Pocket technology provides amazing distance and consistency.” – Tomo Bystedt, Director of Iron Creation, TaylorMade-adidas Golf
  • Distance – CHECK
  • High-Performance – CHECK
  • Traditional – CHECK (really?)
  • Speed Pocket – CHECK

My god, this Ultimate Driving Iron thing has EVERYTHING. Except, well, it’s a driving iron which most of us don’t need, and if we did, probably couldn’t hit well anyway.

Going back to that bit about this slightly different TaylorMade….many of you probably don’t need a UDI, but its availability supports the notion that if TaylorMade is going to put it in the van, it’s going to put it in the stores.

It’s hard to get too pissed off about that.

TM13IRN0021_TourPreferred_IronsCharts_SoundAndStructure
UDI-3

 *Pictured are the TaylorMade UDI 2-Iron (left) and the TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC 3-Iron (right)

From a design perspective, the idea behind UDI is to blend the distance and playability of a rescue club (dammit, TMaG, how’s about just calling it a hybrid like everybody else?), with the shot-shaping control of an iron. The point here is that UDI makes it easy for accomplished golfers to flight shots low and otherwise manipulate trajectory as needed.

Sounds like something that could be useful on an Open Championship course, doesn’t it?

UDI-8

The hollow cavity of the UDI allowed TMaG designers to position mass lower and farther forward, which, along with a thin, unsupported 455 Carpenter Steel face, promotes faster ball speed (forward) and higher launch (low). And yes…as Tomo mentioned, it’s got a Speed Pocket.

TM13IRN0021_TourPreferred_IronsCharts_SpeedPocketTechnology

TaylorMade claims that it’s the increase in launch angle that makes the UDI more playable than previous models. Apparently the catch-all playable, in this particular case, speaks to the ease with which you should be able to hit high shots, with low lofted clubs.

Also, there’s the obligatory stuff about crisp sound and great feel.

The Rebirth of the One Iron

For those of you who either can’t read a spec sheet or just happened to gloss over it, take note that TaylorMade is offering a 1-iron option in the UDI.

UDI-spec-chart

With the 12° Mini Driver, TaylorMade basically revived the 2-Wood. Now with a 16° UDI, TaylorMade has given the 1-iron new life. Astounding. Everything old really is new again.

That reminds me…did you guys see that story about the lab in Toledo that just found several vials of viable Smallpox?

For those who don’t want or need (basically for those of you who aren’t insane) a 1-iron, the UDI is also available in 18° and 20°; lofts which more directly compete with similar offerings from Titleist, Callaway, and Adams.

UDI-14

So. . .Whaddaya Think?

I’m actually quite curious to hear your thoughts on the UDI.

I enjoyed a bit of playful fun at the expense of the Mini Driver, but you guys were largely receptive to it. That surprised me.

Mocking aside, the Mini has proven to be the best addition to my bag since I started playing this ridiculous game. There were concerns that it wouldn’t be playable from the fairway, let alone the rough. They were unfounded. I hit it better than any fairway wood I’ve ever played, and I hit it confidently from EVERYWHERE (except side hill lies).

Could the UDI prove similarly versatile? If I can hit a Mini out of 3-foot heather, most of us should be able to hit a UDI off a fairway…and out of the rough.

UDI-11

That said, I really don’t know where the UDI make sense for most guys (I did say the same about the Mini). Is it something you’d put in your bag every day? Is it just for recreating the experience of The Open at home? Is it a club you buy because of some sense of nostalgia, but never use for anything more than banging balls at the range?

Is it anything you’d even consider spending your money on?

It’s not that I’m necessarily opposed to the UDI, but as a mostly average golfer, I’m just not sure where it fits. Of course, if TaylorMade is to be believed, the UDI was never intended for guys like me anyway. Neither was the Mini.

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Pricing and Availability

The TaylorMade UDI is available starting July 14th (that’s today). Retail price for the UDI is $199. Custom shaft options are available, and you can bet upcharges will almost always apply.

Golf Forum – Golf Blog (MyGolfSpy.com)

Spy Pics – TaylorMade ULTIMATE DRIVING IRON

Spy Pics – TaylorMade ULTIMATE DRIVING IRON

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About this time last season, reinventing the driving iron was all the rage among the equipment companies. By the time we decided to put them to the test, Adams, Titleist, Callaway (who would probably like you to know they were first), Mizuno, and even Fourteen Golf offered retail availability of some form of iron designed to be hit primarily off the tee.

One year later it appears TaylorMade has decided to get in on the action. Whether their new “UDI” is fashionably late, or simply late to the party is certainly a matter of perspective.

TMAG - UDI-3

Designed for Jason Day?

While I’d be hard-pressed to heap praise on any driving iron (not like they’re huge needle movers in the marketplace), I can’t exactly fault TaylorMade for finally conjuring up what is a realistically a specialty club likely designed for Jason Day’s upcoming vacation to Royal Liverpool.

As you may recall, Day put a 1-iron in his bag in advance of the Open Championship last year and went so far as to use only irons during a practice round at Murifield last season, so it’s far from unreasonable to think that while the Ultimate Driving Iron will be available to any TaylorMade staffer who wants ones, it’s likely Day who’ll have the pick of the litter.

TMAG - UDI-7

While there are some obvious inferences to be made about the new club…it’s for better players seeking control, and likely lots of roll off the tee, few specifics of consequence are available.

I can’t tell you:

  • If/when it will be available at retail
  • Retail price (if ever available at retail1)
  • Available lofts
  • Stock shaft

1It’s TaylorMade…it’s gonna be available at retail

The one we have pics of is is 18°, and it’s obviously designed as an extension of the Tour Preferred iron family (CB/MC), but otherwise details are few and far between.

TMAG - UDI-1

We’ll have more information as soon as TaylorMade decides to share, or a credible source leaks additional details.

Have Your Say?

Would you consider putting the Ultimate Driving Iron in your bag?

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Golf Forum – Golf Blog (MyGolfSpy.com)

Community Review – TaylorMade Spider SI Putter

Community Review – TaylorMade Spider SI Putter

Post image for Community Review – TaylorMade Spider SI Putter

Written By: Will Dron

At MyGolfSpy we’re known for our data-driven Most Wanted club reviews. We are, afterall, #Datacratic. What you may not know is that our Community Members are also given the opportunity to test new equipment as well. When a good opportunity crosses our desks, we select 3 or more MyGolfSpy forum members in good standing to take part in our community review process.

Each golfer who is selected is asked to write a complete review of the product being tested. Those individual reviews are posted in the forum with each tester and author making himself available to answer any questions from our other forum members.

Our member reviews from MarcKilgore, Jmikecpa, The Artful Duffer, and Jaxbeachpackerfan have already been shared and can be found by clicking on each’s member to name to read their individual reviews. For my part, I tested the TaylorMade Spider Si along with our tester group and will include some research I’ve done on the club, comparisons to my current putter (original Ping Nome), and the findings from our member tester group.

We’ve taken all of feedback from our testers on the 38″ TaylorMade Spider Si Counterbalanced Putter and consolidated it here in this community review.

If you’d like the opportunity to take part in a future community review, Join the MyGolfSpy forum, contribute, and see for yourself why it’s different here.

TaylorMade_SpiderSi_Head_and_Cover2

A look at forgiveness

One of the things I set out to find out was what do the MOI values TaylorMade espouses mean. For reference, TaylorMade boasts the Spider Si has a MOI of 6000+ and the Daddy Long Legs a MOI of 8500+. So I went to Google and look it up and found a couple of interesting articles:

Moment of Inertia: What is It?
Moment of Inertia (MOI)

“Moment of inertia or in our case more correctly referred to as rotational inertia is simply an object’s (clubhead) resistance to turning or rotating when acted on by some outside force (ball).” – Ralph Maltby

I’ll only briefly mention the mathematical aspects in this paragraph since I can already imagine many of you just not giving a damn.

The formula for MOI is mass times distance from the center of gravity squared. There, done with the math part.

One thing mentioned in the one-putts article that has been echoed by TaylorMade in the past is that almost no one can tell the difference of a difference in 1000 MOI. So while mathematically speaking, there is some difference between the Spider Si (MOI 6000+) and the Daddy Long Legs (MOI 8500+) and likewise between a blade style putter and the Spider Si, in practice the gap between the numbers isn’t nearly as drastic as it might seem. They do offer a point of reference, which can be helpful for giving the golfer a better sense of how much MOI he prefers in a putter.

That said, our testers (and I agree with them) found the forgiveness of the Spider Si to be fantastic. Compared to the Ping Nome, there was little difference, but that is a plus for the Spider Si, since I found the original Nome to be incredibly forgiving.

One difference between the two putters, however, is that the Nome has a very distinctive clink sound when struck off the center of the face, whereas the Spider Si more-or-less feels the same unless you miss significantly away from the center of the face.

TaylorMade_SpiderSi_Head_and_Cover3

Choking down a really long grip

The Spider Si has a head weight of 380g. Most putters on the market today have head weights of 330-370g. This is where the long grip and counter balancing comes in. The 125g grip they use has most of its mass in the back of the club to help mitigate the swingweight of such a heavy head.

…which led to my next question, what is the swingweight of this putter?

Luckily, I have a scale for such questions. Unluckily, the swingweight of this putter is literally off the scale. The thing is, using this scale is something most five year olds would be capable of, so I know I didn’t screw it up, but to double check I took out my Ping Nome and it measured to around E6. This is reasonably top heavy, but at least it was on the scale. Now, the real issue is you need to choke down on the Spider Si, so getting a functional swingweight is near impossible with the simple equipment I have since it really needs to be measured at the spot of your hands.

TaylorMade_SpiderSi_Grip_Scale

Even without a tool to measure swingweight though, a simple waggle test will tell you the swingweight of this putter is significantly higher than most traditional putters. For comparison, after adjusting to the Spider Si, the Nome with its E6 swingweight felt very light. This exaggerated swingweight makes the counterbalanced club just feel incredibly stable.

A great deal is said about confidence while putting. Counterbalancing can give you the confidence that you won’t hit a push or pull as often.

One important thing we found about counterbalanced putters is there is an adjustment period, due in part to the drastic difference in swingweight. Many of our testers, who spent over 4 weeks with the putter, echoed this in their reviews. For me personally, I was ready to toss out the putter after the first few rounds. I was putting poorly and looked at every part of this putter as a reason why I was putting so badly. I even went back to the Nome and, oddly enough, continued to putt badly. I did work my way through it though and in the last weeks of the review process, had some of the best putting rounds of my life. While there is an adjustment period, it can be worth the effort.

TaylorMade_SpiderSi_Shaft

On a more negative side of counterbalanced putters, our tester group also found one very important problem: the grip will occasionally catch bellies and jackets. Since the putter is choked down, a portion of the grip sticks out past your hands. I’m a pretty skinny guy, but whenever I wore a jacket I had to be especially conscious of this overhang. We tested the 38″ model, so it’s likely the issue would be mitigated simply by selecting the 35″ model.

“This review showed how important it is to get properly fitted for a putter. I am 5’ 10”, cursed with short legs, long torso, and a growing waistline. The 38” length was 1” too long for me to use without having to stand more upright, suck in my gut, or step back a few inches from the ball, which made it very difficult to properly align longer putts.” – MarcKilgore, MGS Community Member

The other aspect of choking down on a putter that I noticed was until you found the right spot on the grip, consistency suffered. This is why I think I struggled the first two weeks with this putter, until I had a set spot on the grip (using the Spider icon as a guide), I was always in a slightly different setup. However, once I was able to adjust and consciously remember to grip it in the same place each time, my putting improved dramatically. A future improvement manufacturers could make is to add horizontal stripes on the grip to help make it easier to find your ideal grip spot every time.

TaylorMade_SpiderSi_ChokeDown

PureRoll Insert

The final bit of technology I looked into was the PureRoll insert. TaylorMade has put all their eggs in the basket when it comes to this insert. Unfortunately, much of the manufacturing process is kept as TaylorMade’s secret sauce, but what I can tell you is the inserts are made using a customized machine that can create grooves the size of a fraction of a hair’s width and there are many of these micro grooves in the insert.

From a testing perspective, the face of the putter is primarily affects how the putter feels, but if you buy into TaylorMade’s story, then it also affects how well the ball rolls, which we tested as a measurement of accuracy. Both will be addressed in the next two sections.

“Clean and crisp. It’s definitely and eye catching design and the colors fit together nicely … There’s a muted little click and away goes the ball. I wish the feel was just a fraction harder for a little more feedback as I wonder if some of my distance control issues on the long putts could be to to everything feeling so solid.” – The Artful Duffer, MGS Community Member

There is, however, one complaint several of us had of the insert, and that’s sand can get stuck inside the grooves. Personally, I found this to be almost a non-issue, but if you don’t carry a brush to clean your irons, you may want to do so.

TaylorMade_SpiderSi_Head2

Performance Notes

The three main areas our testers were asked to focus on were accuracy, distance control, and forgiveness. Each was evaluated separately for putts greater than 20 feet, between 5 and 20 feet, and less than 5 feet.

Three of our testers rated accuracy from all distances as very good to excellent and the final tester rated it as fair. Personally, I felt like the ball was on a rail after being hit. One tester said it was comparable to the Odyssey 2 ball. I would rate it marginally better than the Ping Nome, but by no means a clear-cut winner.

“I tend to try and hit shorter putts from six feet and in firmly and at the back of the cup Philly Mick style (and yes I have four jacked a few holes from inside of 6 feet). The same characteristics that made this putter maddening on mid range putts made it a superstar from shorter ranges. The ball holds its line well and I seemed to make anything I looked at from short range.” – Jmikecpa, MGS Community Member

Distance control was a bit different. I was with most of the testers. We really struggled with distance control for a while and this was the biggest area that required adjustment, which makes sense since the putter feels so different from most putters out there. After the adjustment period, several of us rated distance control as excellent. One tester rated distance control as excellent right off the bat and another tester said he was still working on it by the end of the 4 week review cycle.

TaylorMade_SpiderSi_Head_Ball

Finally, forgiveness rating from every tester was consistently excellent. Off center hits more or less went the same distance as center hits. Ralph Maltby mentioned in his testing that even plus one cappers use a 5/16” to 3/8” circular area of the clubface, so no complaints here.

TaylorMade_SpiderSi_Grass

Subjective Notes

In this section, testers looked at the looks, sound and feel, and likelihood of purchase of the Spider Si.

Two of our testers loved the looks of the putter and three of them, including myself, felt it was good, but nothing outstanding. One major complaint we found though is it is painfully obvious when the paint chips. This is true of nearly any of TaylorMade’s white putters. My son uses the Spider Blade, and typical of a 10 year old, it looks very much like it was tossed out of a car and then chewed on by a rabid animal.

If  the durability of the finish is a major concern for you, we might have a deal-breaker where the Spider Si is concerned.

I was honestly shocked by how much our tester group liked the sound and feel of the putter. For me it was actually a significant adjustment as the Spider Si is much more muted than I was used to. I’m not one to really care about sound and feel, but it was a noticeable change. Our tester group all rated sound and feel as excellent though: different, but very good.

“The alignment lines are almost exactly ball width extending back an inch and a half from the putter face.  But then, there are also the wings, and the slight flange at the end of the wings, which end with a gap between the two wings also almost exactly a ball width apart.  Visually, this creates an alignment channel extending 3+ inches behind the putterface, but without any mass for the last portion of the channel.  This provides additional alignment aid to me without the clunky look or feel it would have if it were solid the entire distance.” – Jaxbeachpackerfan, MGS Community Member

The grip received high marks as well as soft and comfortable to use, with the exception of being too long for at least one of our testers, and with another tester still deciding whether it was too long for him or not.

Likelihood of purchase received much harsher scores from our tester group though, but that’s mainly because they’re a bunch of cheapskates several of them like buying models one seasoned removed. While the scores were low, several of them said the numbers were still fairly high compared to other recently released putters. Only one tester said he would not buy this putter, but again that was largely due to the 38″ test length being too long for his frame. Personally, if I were looking to buy a putter the Spider Si would be at the top of my list of putters to check out.

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Conclusion

I’m assuming several of you really did not read everything above this section, so I’ll repeat myself a bit. The real takeaway from our review is many of us felt counterbalancing works, but takes time to adjust. Likewise for TaylorMade’s PureRoll insert. The high MOI of the Spider Si gives more than enough forgiveness and it feels incredibly stable through the putt. It wasn’t for everyone, but a lot of this had to do with the fit of the club. TaylorMade recommends people who putt 34” clubs can use either the 35” or 38” models, but it was the guys who used 34” putters previously that had the most complaints with the 38” model we received. Fitting, as always, is very important and it should be added that it is very easy to custom order any putter to your preferred length.

I should also mention the putter has a scoop! Mallet users on the practice green know how nice it is to not bend down every other minute like a Hooter’s waitress to pick up a ball. My back is OK with me spending time on the practice putting once again.

Golf Forum – Golf Blog (MyGolfSpy.com)

TaylorMade JetSpeed is Dead! Long Live SLDR S!

TaylorMade JetSpeed is Dead! Long Live SLDR S!

Post image for TaylorMade JetSpeed is Dead! Long Live SLDR S!

Live Event Coverage

TaylorMade is hosting a media event at the Omni LaCosta Resort in Carlsbad, California for the announcement of the forthcoming SLDR S Metalwoods and SLDR Irons. For more info and pictures, be sure to check out our Live Stream at the bottom of both articles.

Written By: Tony Covey

The Death of JetSpeed

I can’t (actually I could, but I just don’t’ want to to) talk about the birth of SLDR S without first talking about the sudden demise of JetSpeed.

It’s not that we’re unaccustomed to short product lifecycles at TaylorMade, but by most any measure, JetSpeed’s was incredibly short. It’s been less than 6 months since JetSpeed was announced, and for many the December arrival, and now May departure means that JetSpeed was barely around long enough to see the start, never mind the end, of a golf season.

It’s almost as if it never existed at all.

There’s no nice way to put this: By TaylorMade standards, JetSpeed was flop. The interwebs would hashtag JetSpeed with #EpicFail. It’s not mean when it’s true.

And as long as we’re being honest, that’s almost entirely on TaylorMade. It’s not that JetSpeed was a particularly bad offering. It actually was…is…as solid as most anything else TaylorMade puts out.

The JetSpeed product line, from driver, to fairway, to rescue, is very good.

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Triple Fail

In my estimation, JetSpeed’s issues were 3-fold:

It was poorly timed:  A December launch? Yeah…TaylorMade tried that. In December guys aren’t buying new clubs, better than half the country is putting them away for the winter. By the time spring finally rolled around (which was basically last week), JetSpeed had the dubious distinction of being one of the oldest products on the shelves. That seldom ends well for a non-flagship offering.

It was poorly marketed: One word: PUPPETS. Yeah…TaylorMade tried those too. Speed Police wasn’t a particularly brilliant marketing campaign (and that’s as kind as I could possibly be about that). I told TaylorMade people as much when it launched, and I wasn’t shy about delivering the requisite I told you so last week.

An interesting side note that I probably enjoy more than I should; how ironic is it that a driver featured in a campaign to highlight golfers using outdated technology is now, itself, out-of-date?

Does time fly or what?

Did I mention the puppets.? Jesus.

It was completely over-shadowed by SLDR: By any reasonable measure TaylorMade’s SLDR has been THE top driver of 2014. It’s the #1 seller at retail, and based on things like our Most Wanted Driver Test, Golf Digest’s Hot List, and others, it’s the most decorated (most industry accolades) of any driver as well.

Between the SLiDing thing on the sole and the relentless hammering of the LOFT UP message SLDR has been a huge success and a huge story for TaylorMade. Unfortunately for JetSpeed, SLDR was the only story.

For TaylorMade it’s a 100% SLDR world right now, and that hasn’t helped move the really goood, but lesser-known product with the silly name.

It’s Time to Move on. . . Already

I’ll wrap up my diatribe on the demise of JetSpeed by suggesting that its legacy will be one just short of a disaster, and if TaylorMade allowed it to live for the duration of a normal product cycle, come September it most certainly would have been just that. And so mercifully…or perhaps mercilessly, TaylorMade is putting JetSpeed down.

5 months, 3 days, and 4 puppets after JetSpeed landed on store shelves, its direct replacement, the SLDR S, will be available for purchase.

Feel free to moan about TaylorMade release cycles, and (if you see it that way) TaylorMade jamming more equipment down the consumer’s throat (they don’t actually force you to eat), but this time it’s different. Mistakes were made, apparently big ones. JetSpeed simply isn’t resonating with consumers in any measurable way, and so, because they can, TaylorMade has made the smart…and largely obvious decision to move on.

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Introducing SLDR S

No doubt this is where TaylorMade would have liked me to begin the story. What can I say; I meander, but almost always eventually get to the point.

While we didn’t realize it at the time, we got a preview of the SLDR S lineup last month when TaylorMade announced the Mini Driver. The Mini is brilliant, by the way. The rest of the new SLDR S family fits nicely into the same mold.

The “S” in SLDR S presumably stands for Silver, and so as you might expect, all of the clubs in the lineup feature silver crowns. Like the SLDR driver, the SLDR S driver features the sliding sole weight mechanism that most associate with the SLDR name.

Unlike everything else in the SLDR family, and really unlike anything TaylorMade has produced on a large scale in years, nothing in the SLDR S family offers an adjustable hosel. Everything..drivers, mini drivers, fairways, and rescues…all of it features an old-school glued hosel.

It’s mind-boggling, I know.

I gave it some thought, and couldn’t come up with anybody who even registers for market share that’s still producing a glued hosel driver; and there’s certainly not anyone doing it at the $329 price point.

#DistanceForAll

The idea behind the SLDR S family is what TaylorMade is calling #DistanceForAll. Yes, that is the official hashtag. By removing adjustability from the hosel, TaylorMade can offer the benefits of SLDR (Distance) at a more affordable price (For All). See what they did there?

The lofts are slightly different (10°, 12°, 14°, and 16°) than the original SLDR (and no…that 16° thing isn’t a typo.) The paint color (Silver) is clearly different, as is the lack of adjustability, but otherwise the SLDR S is the same as SLDR.

Actually, It might be better.

Removing the adjustable hosel will actually nudge the CG ever-so-slightly lower, and some would certainly argue that a traditional (glued) hosel design will produce less aerodynamic drag as well. Take those two factors for what they’re worth, but neither is going to hurt you as far as distance is concerned.

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The PGA Tour “Silver Out”

Now would probably be the time to mention that TaylorMade will help support the launch of SLDR S by staging a Silver Out on Tour during the TPC at Sawgrass and the HP Byron Nelson Championship. Staffers will wear silver adidas apparel, carry silver staff bags, and play Tour-Only (bastards!) satin silver SLDR drivers. Basically everything is going to be silver.

TaylorMade is being up-front about that fact that their tour guys will be playing regular SLDR (not SLDR S), and that it’s only the paint that has been changed.

And oh by the way, a limited quantity of these special silver SLDR drivers will be available through the TaylorMade Vault.

SLDR Will Never Be Discounted…EVER

Frankly, I don’t have any sort of problem with tour-only, and limited this or that, but if 3 months from now TaylorMade launches an adjustable version of SLDR S to the masses, I’m going to very loudly scream Shenanigans.

And about that, team TaylorMade is saying that’s not going to happen. In fact, what TaylorMade is telling me is that they’ve committed internally, and now that I’m telling you about it, I guess that means publicly as well, to NEVER discount SLDR. Never. Ever. Never.

It was $399 when it launched, and apparently it’s going to be $399 until the day it disappears. Skepticism is expected, probably even welcome, but I think TaylorMade might finally be serious about restoring some level of consumer trust. It says so right on the hat.

TaylorMade-Trust-Hat-1

Chopping prices on a flagship driver is bad for the consumer and as TaylorMade and Callaway have apparently figured out, bad for your brand as well. It’s lose-lose anyway, and if you’re the last guys doing it, it’s hard to justify calling yourself the #1 Performance Brand in Golf when the retail experience ends with a Blue Light Special.

SLDR has to live, and it looks like TaylorMade is going to let it do just that.

About those Fairways and Rescues

While SLDR S Driver is almost entirely SLDR the fairways and rescues are more like JetSpeed (without the baggage of the JetSpeed name).

Compared to the SLDR series, the faces are shallower, and overall the clubs are larger. To put it simply, they’re designed with more of a game-improvement slant.

“They are shaped and crafted to be more playable for golfers of all swing speeds and abilities”. -TMaG Press Release

Pricing, Options and Availability

The SLDR S driver is available in four high-lofted options (10°, 12°, 14° and 16°), each equipped with the lightweight Fujikura Speeder 57 graphite shaft and TaylorMade high-traction grip.

SLDR S fairway woods are equipped with the Fujikura Speeder 65 graphite (43.25”) shaft and is available in five models/lofts: 3W (15°), 3HL (17°), 5W (19°), 5HL (21°) and 7W (23°). The SLDR S Rescue shaft is the Fujikura Speeder 72 (41.25”) and is available in four models/lofts: 3 (19°), 4 (22°), 5 (25°) and 6 (28°).

The entire SLDR S metalwood family will be available at retail on Friday, May 16. The driver will retail for $329; the fairway woods for $229; and Rescues for $179. For more information, visit taylormadegolf.com.

TaylorMade has also introduced SLDR Irons. Info and full coverage can be found Here.

SLDR S Live Stream

Golf Forum – Golf Blog (MyGolfSpy.com)

TaylorMade Announces SLDR White. . .Seriously

TaylorMade Announces SLDR White. . .Seriously

Post image for TaylorMade Announces SLDR White. . .Seriously

Written By: Tony Covey

How do you improve the #1 Driver on Tour?

You could make it more adjustable. You could offer a bevy of zero upcharge shaft options. You could make it sound and feel better.

You could even make it longer.

Or, using the TaylorMade logic, you could make it available in a second color.

Seriously. That’s what TaylorMade is going with. SLDR is now better because of an alternative paint scheme.

TaylorMade is calling the White SLDR The Other #1 Driver.

I thought that was Callaway’s Big Bertha.

If I had written this article two and half weeks ago, none of you would have any trouble believing that today’s announcement that TaylorMade will be releasing a Limited Edition version of their SLDR driver was just another in a growing line of killer MyGolfSpy April Fools gags.

I assure you it’s not.

The SLDR White is real. This is happening.

The only thing that’s surprising about the SLDR White is that it took TaylorMade this long to do it.

Rumor Becomes Reality

Rumors of the SLDR White date all the way back to 2013 (soooo long ago, right?). Well ahead of the PGA show we hear rumors – I’d almost call them confirmations – from two separate credible sources that TaylorMade would be announcing SLDR White at the PGA Show. Wouldn’t that have been something? Almost nobody of any repute announcing anything at the show anymore.

When I started digging for answers late last year, TaylorMade representatives were understandably cagey about the topic. And while nobody has really come clean on the topic, my belief is that TaylorMade had every intent of announcing the driver at the PGA show, but ultimately decided to push it back. Whether the delay was to clear the stage for Hack Golf or to simply wait for a more necessary or advantageous time to push forward, would be speculative on my part.

Since I don’t have any problem speculating, I’m going to suggest it was probably a little bit of both.

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What is SLDR White?

Fortunately, TaylorMade has made this particular section insanely easy to write.

SLDR White is exactly the same as the existing SLDR. It’s available in the same lofts (9.5°, 10.5°, 12°, and 14°). The stock shaft is exactly the same (Fujikura Speeder 57), which explains why the price point is exactly the same ($399) too. You still need to #LoftUp.

What’s different…in fact the only thing that’s different, is the color of the paint.

“The white crown with black button-back delivers a remarkable appearance at address. Many golfers fell in love with white when it came out in 2011, and now we are delivering a limited edition white SLDR with low and forward CG for more distance when you loft up.” – Brian Bazzel, Sr. Director of Metalwood Product Creation

Now in fairness, offering up a different colorway and calling it Limited isn’t exclusively a TaylorMade thing. Cobra has done it for the last several years. Generally Cobra’s releases appear more purposeful (Orange like Rickie, or Green to celebrate a Major Championship), they often upgrade the shaft, and generally Cobra is pretty forthcoming about how many they’ve actually produced, but the ultimate purpose is basically the same.

Golf companies create clubs, even limited ones, because they want  to sell more clubs.

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How Limited is Limited?

What is different is that when Cobra (and most other companies) release limited offerings, they tell you exactly how limited the product is. For now anyway, TaylorMade isn’t talking numbers.

TaylorMade’s SLDR White is a Limited Edition, and we’ll all just have to take their word for it.

My guess (and it’s just that) is that they are in fact producing less SLDR Whites, but given how deep we are into the SLDR lifecycle, and that fact that everyone (including TaylorMade) is growing more sensitive to retail inventory levels, that’s not so much limited as it is logical.

Produced in Logical Quantities doesn’t have quite the same draw as Limited Edition though, right? So Limited it is.

Why White? Why Now?

At some point TaylorMade may talk about how a segment of golfers really missed the white crowns of R1* and RocketBallz series drivers. While I’m certain there are guys that really do love white (I think it’s cool), there’s a whole lot more to this than caving to the quiet demands of a small market segment.

“SLDR has to live.”

Those 4 very simple words (if you consider SLDR a word) came from the mouth of a TaylorMade representative several months ago. Let’s put them in context.

Whether it was to fight off a surging Callaway, or to make the financials look better after the late start to the 2013 golf season, TaylorMade took a shot with the R1 Black. When that didn’t produce the entirety of the desired result, TaylorMade released SLDR early…way early.

SLDR was originally slated for launch in early 2014 as the first complete reimagination of TaylorMade’s flagship driver since R7. It was to be the celebration of a decade of adjustability. It should have been the latest and greatest competing on equal footing with Callaway’s Big Bertha series.

Instead TaylorMade used it (and later JetSpeed) to make a late season financial push.

SLDR has been an unquestionable success. It’s one hell of a badass driver.

sldr-big4

Despite being among the oldest in a new line of flagship drivers on the shelf it has so far been able to hold the #1 spot (retail sales). That’s no small feat, but the undeniable reality is that through aggressive marketing, and a very solid product, Callaway has been able to take a chunk out of TaylorMade’s lead.

Even as the footsteps get closer, SLDR has to live.

If they’re going to compete on equal footing, TaylorMade almost certainly has to get back on schedule. That means major product releases happen in the Spring. You can’t continually release new product at the end of the golf season when your major competitors are all on a Spring schedule. You’ll eventually lose.

If you squeeze product lifecycles down to 6 or 8 months, you’re going to piss off the consumer in substantial numbers, and eventually you’re still going to lose.

The conundrum for TaylorMade is that quality and performance in golf equipment is often (too often) associated with newness. The latest and greatest is always better than what came before it…even 4 months before it. We’ve said it countless times. If the goal is to compete, and to win, year in and year out (and it absolutely is that at TaylorMade), you can’t succeed with the oldest product on the shelf.

Unfortunately replacing SLDR now isn’t an option (at least not a good one). SLDR has to live. And it probably has to live for the rest of the 2014 season.

So if TaylorMade is going to retain its crown as the #1 Driver in Golf, they’re going to have to continuously come up with creative ways to keep an aging product fresh.

So far that’s exactly what they’ve tried to do.

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A Very Clever TaylorMade

My opinion; TaylorMade made a pretty big mistake releasing SLDR when they did. With spring finally here, they’re running at a clear disadvantage. With the exception of Titleist, everybody has newer product.

That said, to TaylorMade’s credit they have done an absolutely masterful job of keeping SLDR as fresh as is reasonably possible considering the less than ideal circumstances.

They made LoftUp a story unto itself, and have been relentlessly telling, and retelling it.

When the original lure of SLDR started to fade, they released the 430.

When that story ran its course they made a story out of the 14° offering.

Just about a month ago they offered up the SLDR guarantee. Love it, or your money back. No questions asked.

And just as we’re beginning the golf season in earnest, and consumers are finally starting to spend real money, TaylorMade is rejuvenating SLDR for the 3rd time by offering up the SLDR white.

It’s SLDR, SLDR, and more SLDR. Tweak it, keep it fresh, but don’t change it.

That’s what they’ve done so far, and my guess is they’re not done yet.

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Final Thoughts

I have absolutely no issue with TaylorMade releasing the SLDR White. Actually, I’m kind of happy to see the return of white, even if I’ve believed from the moment it disappeared that white would be back.

It would be easy to chuckle at this release and call it what it is (and it absolutely is TaylorMade digging in as best they can to fight for market share). It’s certainly fuel for the fire of the TaylorMade haters out there, and I suppose this time around that’s more fair than it has ever been.

For the rest of you…TaylorMade fans, and those uncomfortably riding the fence, I’m optimistic (but far from certain) that SLDR White could further signal TaylorMade’s commitment to do what needs to be done. I think they may just ride it out this time.

SLDR has to live. It can never be seen as the discount/budget alternative to flagship offerings from Titleist, Callaway, and even Nike. There can be no price rollbacks this season – not with this driver.

White or no white, if TaylorMade is willing to absorb whatever hit that comes from having an old driver on the shelf, and lets SLDR live for the duration, it would go a long way towards restoring the faith of the consumer, and fighting the growing perception of TaylorMade as golf’s discount brand.

If they don’t…no matter how much they want to talk about TRUST, there really won’t be any left to discuss.

The TaylorMade SLDR White Driver is available at retail beginning 5/2.

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Golf Forum – Golf Blog (MyGolfSpy.com)

Agents on Assignment: MyGolfSpy Forum Members LoftUp at TaylorMade

Agents on Assignment: MyGolfSpy Forum Members LoftUp at TaylorMade

Post image for Agents on Assignment: MyGolfSpy Forum Members LoftUp at TaylorMade

Written By: Will Dron

Several weeks ago, before we learned the results of the MyGolfSpy Most Wanted Driver tests and before TaylorMade went all out advertising the SLDR, several members from the MyGolfSpy forums were sent deep into TaylorMade HQ and the Kingdom. The mission was to ask as many questions as we possibly could to various members of the TaylorMade Staff and learn about their new driver.

Since then the forums have been abuzz with Lofting up and 17-1700. You really should catch up on the conversations in the forums because it’s been controversial to say the least, but in case you’re unaware, TaylorMade thinks every golfer in the world, regardless of swing speed, should be increasing their driver launch to 17 degrees and reducing their spin rate to an “optimal” 1700rpm. That’s everyone from tour pro to the guy who takes 5 hours to play a round. Everyone.

It took us a while to absorb it in too. Initially I didn’t believe a word of it. We all know there’s an optimal launch angle and backspin rate that varies based on swing speed right? Then, we started hearing it from everyone else too. From the moment we set foot in Carlsbad, California to visit TaylorMade as part of their Loft UP+ experience, this 17-degree launch angle and 1700rpm backspin kept being brought up.

 TaylorMade Golf  on the Callaway Bertha Alpha:
“We have a patent for an adjustable club with screws at the top to do exactly what the Callaway Bertha Alpha does, but we realized no one would ever want to increase weight towards the top of a club”

What the folks at TaylorMade told us is that Loft Up+ was a bit of an accident. They released the SLDR and found everyone had to increase loft. Now, what they’re saying is that all golf companies for the past ten years had been designing drivers wrong. They focused on getting the ball up in the air and forgiveness by pushing the CG low and back on the club, which increases spin. To mitigate the increase in spin, you had to loft down. But spin could never be reduced enough and launch angle couldn’t be raised in this way. Thus, 17° and1700 RPM wasn’t achievable. This is straight from the horse’s mouth; we’ll go into this more in a bit.

Thus, golf spies MBP and WD (Dan Mann & Will Dron) and 6 forum members were invited by golf’s biggest marketing machine to attend TaylorMade events during the week of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. What was the catch? We were sent to TaylorMade’s “The Kingdom” fitting center and put these claims or 17-1700 to the test. TaylorMade also let it be known from the start that no question, other than those related to unreleased technology, was off the table. Although they kept evading one question: Why was only one Canadian was allowed to attend? Well, joke was on them, because WalkerJames, a transplanted Canadian, was also in the mix.

You can read about the initial invitation to this event here.

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TaylorMade produces at best decent equipment, they’re just good at marketing

The trip came and went, and we returned to our homes. We originally started writing this piece about everything we learned while we were out there, going over how clubs at TM are designed and manufactured. When we handed our draft to our editors, Golfspies X and T, for their opinion, they told us, “No, no, no, that stuff is interesting, but the real story is how did your perceptions of TaylorMade change on this trip, and how well did they really answer the questions we asked.

So back to the drawing board we went. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about TaylorMade? Is it the driver? Is it their overfueled marketing machine? More so than any other company in golf, TaylorMade generates buzz. Look at the blog articles on this site if you want proof. Anytime TaylorMade is in the title of an article, the number of comments shoots up.

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Every golf equipment junkie has some perception of TaylorMade. Some think they are marketing whores who will say and do everything to make a buck. Others think they are marketing whores who make good equipment and know how to sell their product to make a buck.

We had several dinners with various TaylorMade employees from marketing, R&D, and manufacturing. Other than discussing future products, at no point were we ever held back in our questioning. We asked everything from product design to competitors to tour van equipment. We asked about drivers, putters, wedges, everything. We got answers to everything, even a few we weren’t supposed to hear about  in advance – like the Tour Preferred Wedges or the Project (a) ball. Hell, at one point Sean Toulon, the executive VP of TaylorMade, admitted he thought the Spider Blade putters were ugly, and they needed to be updated.

But what did we learn beyond what was said?

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You guys were brainwashed

This really needs to be addressed before anything else. Not only was TaylorMade open and candid with answering questions, they were open with their wallets when it came to meals. We passed around $120 bottles of wine and the final bills were huge: ribeye one night, sea bass the next. We were certainly wined and dined.

We were also fitted with new SLDR drivers with custom shafts and Tour van heads. TaylorMade knew exactly what they were doing when they invited us and set the stage for themselves. We had a damn good time there, and this wasn’t an accident.

Now, with that out of the way, lets get to some of the more common things we hear about TaylorMade…

tmag-yesmen

Perception #1: TaylorMade will say ANYTHING

Probably, but they vehemently argued they and their lawyers back up their numbers across a broad range of golfers. Never one to back down, they flat out stated they were better than some of their competitors on this issue. Callaway (as you’ll find out, TaylorMade isn’t opposed to firing a shot at Callaway) claimed a gain of up to 32 yards with their XHot fairway wood off the turf. That claim was based on one golfer. That’s not to say you should believe straight up everything they said. You always need to check the fine print.

Perception #2: (On a similar note) Marketing makes all of the decisions

Make no doubt about it. The marketing department is involved with every step of a club creation, right from the get go of the concept stages. If it can’t sell, then don’t bother. We were told by one of the R&D guys that they prototyped a driver head that was 10 yards shorter, but incredibly forgiving. The project never made it out the door.

Now, that said, the opposite is also true. Marketing wanted a driver with screws to move the CG between the top of the driver head and the sole. R&D responded that no one would ever do that, because who would want to add spin? So that product too, was nixed. That statement was a direct jab at the Big Bertha. TaylorMade’s willingness to go after competitor’s products was certainly entertaining. For obvious reasons, TaylorMade didn’t miss an opportunity to trash Callaway’s gravity core.

tmag-ballmold

Perception #3: TaylorMade is a driver company

Nope. Drivers are the top dog, but apparently they hold onto the #1 spot for fairways and fluctuate with a few other companies in being #1 iron on tour. The irons market is a tight. Hybrids they’ve given to Adams (because they own Adams). They were also darn proud of being #2 ball on tour, having completely ceded the top spot to Titleist.

They have a decent amount of putters and were very proud of their TrueRoll inserts. That’s pretty much where it ends for putters though. They don’t see a market for milled putters. Wedges? Really, they don’t seem too invested in seriously competing in the wedge market either. It’s just too small a segment. Even their new Tour Preferred wedges are just prettied-up ATV wedges. Point is though, TaylorMade, like all publicly traded companies, needs to continue to grow, and they’re going to push into every avenue where the see value.

Perception #4: Innovation at TaylorMade is just for show

We had one guy (JBones) who was professionally fitted for a R1 driver and paid nearly $800 for it last year weeks before they cut the price by $200. He was professionally fit for the SLDR while we were there and gained nearly 10 yards. There’s a difference folks.

Perception #5: Products are released in increments, they hold back technology

This is an interesting one. The guys at TaylorMade insisted they were not an incremental company, but in the next breath stated that it will take a few years to get most golfers to 17° and 1700 RPM, so they could see each release in the next few years getting incrementally closer to that goal. In the end though, we had very little insight into what was in the pipeline beyond a prototype driver I’ll mention in the next section.

tmag-3dwedge

Perception #6: TaylorMade doesn’t care about how their products sound or feel

Yes and no. They admitted their primary focus is performance, but they also do a lot of testing on sound and feel. Case and point were the RocketBladez irons, which premiered the slot in iron technology, but sounded like a dying bell when struck. The next iteration, the SpeedBlades, offered improvement by increasing the thickness of the topline of the club.

The engineers create prototypes and iterate through various changes by shooting thousands of balls at each version until they’re satisfied with the sound. The SLDR, for example, was tuned by adding thin metal pipes inside the head. You can see these in the pictures of the SLDR head that was cut open. So they do care about sound and feel, but not at the expense of performance.

tmag-sldrcut

If you read this with the hope that TaylorMade will be releasing more forged clubs though, don’t hold your breath. The engineers there believe they can make a cast club feel the same as a forged club, because the material is the same. I’m not going to get into that debate here, but the point is don’t expect more forged offerings.

Perception #7: You have to buy in a store because stated loft can vary greatly from actual loft

We specifically asked this question. It turns out tolerances for drivers and metalwoods (as measured by TaylorMade) are within a fraction of a degree. The issue is there is no single industry standard for measuring loft, and we’re talking fairly small increments here. Look at a protractor to get the sense in how precise you need to be for a single degree of loft.

Irons and wedges do have a looser tolerance range, however; we learned a little known secret: when you order from the custom department, irons get re-measured and are adjusted within a fraction of a degree from stated loft and lie before being shipped.

Perception #8:  PGA players have access to fitting beyond what the mere mortal has

Fact is, PGA players tend to know what they like. Oftentimes, a fitting for them is simply narrowing down between a few choices. Lucas Glover told us he doesn’t look at launch monitors at all. They send him three head/shaft combinations and he goes with whichever he prefers. Amateur fittings, on the other hand, often are done from scratch and are therefore far more involved. For full fittings, TaylorMade has a proprietary system to create 3D models of a person’s swing called the MAT-T system. For putter fitting they have a second system that uses high speed cameras. Unfortunately, all this comes at a steep cost for us amateurs, but it is available.

loftup-jleonard

SLDR Perception #1: The SLDR driver is only for really high swing speed golfers

So, back to the whole 17-17 thing. As a reminder, TaylorMade feels that to achieve optimal launch conditions, everyone needs to reach 1700rpm backspin with a 17° launch angle. Their answer is the SLDR, and they feel the SLDR is in fact, for everyone. I’m not going to go into details about the club itself, you want read all about the actual club here:

Previous MyGolfSpy SLDR Coverage

Pre Release
Initial Release
SLDR 430
Phil Mickelson bags the SLDR (as a side note, since TaylorMade doesn’t have a marketing deal with Phil, so they couldn’t capitalize on it when he put the SLDR in play last season)

It’s quite possible that the story that TaylorMade was surprised that everyone had to loft up was all a contrived marketing message to boost sales of a driver that was released halfway through last year. Whatever the truth is though, TaylorMade did a damn good job proving what they were preaching.

On Tuesday, January 21, the group of us attended the Loft+ Media event. This started as you can expect all TaylorMade events do. They increased distance for all golfers. Out came Justin Leonard, Robert Allenby, and then Lucas Glover. One after the other, they hit their old driver and then the new one. Every one of them increased their loft, lowered their backspin, and gained distance. None of them reached the magical 17-17, but they got closer.

Contrived right? I agree. Look at the driving statistics from the PGA Tour and you’ll notice driving distance stays more or less the same year after year. The reason is PGA players often have enough distance and optimize for specific distances, shot shapes, or how the ball lands. So of course they’ll gain yards when hitting a driver optimized for distance.

After this little demonstration though, TaylorMade attached a prototype driver to a robot to actually show what they were getting at. The robot swung the club and achieved 17° and 1700 RPM with a very average 146 ball speed (roughly in the 90mph range clubhead speed)…and knocked the ball 264 yards.

TaylorMade readily admitted they weren’t there yet, but 264 yards for the average golfer? TaylorMade says it can happen. From my experience, despite the occasional forum phenom, the average golfer can barely hit their driver 200-220 yards. The prototype technology was cool to see and very impressive because there is literally nothing on the market that can do this. Unfortunately they said they were still 2-3 years away from reaching the goal. The SLDR is just the first step.

In the spirit of this article, lets go over some of our other preconceptions about the SLDR:

SLDR Perception #2: You need enough backspin to keep the ball in the air

This is only true if you don’t have a high enough launch angle. When a ball shoots forward and stays low, it’s true backspin keeps the ball in the air. If you try to hit a 9 degree SLDR when you really need a 12 degree, you’re certainly going to have issues keeping the ball in the air.

SLDR Perception #3: You need more backspin if you have lower clubhead speed

This is similar to the above preconception, but slightly different. Again, loft mitigates the need for backspin. However, the thing that fitters were avoiding with high swing speed players was a ballooning affect. The higher the swing speed, the easier it is to balloon the ball. TaylorMade’s answer is to never have enough backspin to balloon.

jbones-nofit

SLDR Perception #4: I don’t need to be fitted; I’m an average golfer and can buy right off the shelf!

Part of our trip involved a trip to the Kingdom so we could put SLDR’s hype to the test ourselves. Originally, The Kingdom was created as an internal R&D facility and club-fitting facility exclusive to Tour Staff Professionals. Since 2005, however, it was opened to the public, for a price, as the ultimate golf experience. Here and now I will let it be known; The Kingdom IS golf nirvana. Yes, I think I pee’d a little when I let out the squeal walking through the front doors to the sight of our names on the big screen.

kingdom-tour

We were given a quick tour of the facilities, showing their high tech 3D analysis fitting system, putter fitting system, and club building shop where our drivers would be put together. It wasn’t a large place. Really just the size of a small home, but what we were there for was outside at the range behind the facility so we could put the whole “Loft Up” thing to the test.

We would spend the next 4 hours outside, hitting balls with our current gamers with a group of fitters watching our swings. Each one of us was matched to a head and shaft combo based on our swings. Our swing speeds were all over the place, ranging from high 90s to 120. Here were the outcomes:

tmfitting

Some quick notes about the fittings:

  • HighFade has the smoothest swing in the world. That’s a regular flex shaft with a 104mph clubhead speed. Feel free to still call him a bitch for using an R-flex shaft though.
  • JBones distance really was 304.5 #freakofnature.
  • dru, MBP, Theoo, and Walker were not fitted with a LM.
  • Everyone who was fitted with a LM believes it wasn’t necessary. The fitter knew which shaft would work ahead of time. The LM simply confirmed it.
  • We simply did not have time to confirm all numbers. However, there were multiple witnesses to confirm everything above.
  • Dru had his head weight reduced by removing the weight port to get to a D3 swing weight.
  • Draw/Fade setting was changed for various people.

Like Leonard, Allenby, and Glover, every single one of us gained yards. A lot of that did have to do with having professional fitters on hand. Every one of us decreased backspin way lower than previous conventional wisdom would have suggested, and they pushed us as close to the 17-1700 as they could. A year or even a month ago if someone told me I could increase yards by killing my backspin I would have laughed in his face. After this trip, it was pretty hard to not buy into 17-1700 ourselves. There’s only so much proof even the more cynical of us can take.

sean-kingdom

By this point we’ve seen the results of the MyGolfSpy Most Wanted Driver test. Does that mean you should run off and by a SLDR? Hell no. Remember that all of us were fitted. That said several of us were fitted with our current drivers and still gained yards. The SLDR is certainly worth giving a try and if you can go to a fitter, make sure they understand how to fit for the SLDR and do not use the traditional approach of more backspin as swing speed decreases.

Some final preconceptions about the SLDR:

SLDR Perception #5: Low spin makes it hard to shape the ball

This is certainly true. I used to be able to hit fade shots fairly easily, if not necessarily every time I wanted. I simply cannot hit those kinds of fades anymore.

SLDR Perception #6: Low MOI and low spin will make the SLDR very unforgiving

On paper, I agree with you. Fact is, not a single one of us could complain about the constantly straight and long shots we were getting. I was amazed just how forgiving of a driver the SLDR was. That’s not to say more MOI is not more forgiving. The results from the PING G25 in the Most Wanted test prove this, but the SLDR is by no means unforgiving.

SLDR Perception #7: Smaller heads are for better players and larger heads are more forgiving

While testing the 430 and 460 heads and asking questions, what we found out was there was only about 100 RPM spin difference between the two heads. It really came down to personal preference when choosing which head. Go with whatever gives you the most confidence.

 kingdom-range

Conclusions

We’re home now and several weeks later, it’s still hard not to enjoy the numbers we get from our fitted drivers and memories of teeing it up at La Costa Resort with fellow members of MGS. The members of our forum proved to be a great crew, though we never did get an answer about why only one Canadian was allowed to attend. We did find out how several of us were sober and not so sober though, so we’ll take that as a consolation prize. We also found out that the group of us could go through every single meal without pausing between questions. It must have been exhausting for the TaylorMade staff, though they did seem to enjoy it as well.

We certainly learned more about TaylorMade’s marketing message and their current club design strategy. It’ll be interesting to see how they continue to follow this plan over the next 2-3 years as they try to push everyone closer to 17-1700. In the meantime, we learned their business strategy was more aggressive than any of us had realized.

Remember the 5-year war from Callaway? It was never mentioned directly, but clearly TaylorMade is up for the fight.

“The Gravity Core is little more than an attempt by Callaway to distinguish themselves from the crowd.” – TaylorMade Golf

TaylorMade’s Executive Vice President, Sean Toulon, readily admitted the golf market was shrinking. This meant the only way TaylorMade can grow was at the expense of their competitors, and they were not shy about it. From the onset of our dinners with the crew at TaylorMade, you could tell they smelled blood with the release of the Big Bertha Alpha. On several occasions they mentioned that TaylorMade has a patent for an adjustable club with screws at the top to do exactly what the Bertha Alpha does, but (in their words), what they realized was that no one would ever want to increase weight towards the top of a club. In TaylorMade’s estimation, the Gravity Core is little more than an attempt by Callaway to distinguish themselves from the crowd.

There is no doubt that TaylorMade fully intends to take business from Callaway.

So the question to Callaway, Nike, Ping, Wilson, Mizuno, Titleist, Adams (oh wait, nevermind), Cobra, Cleveland (nearly forgot about them) are going to do? We now have a clear cut plan from TaylorMade along with admission that they are gunning for your marketshare.

Golf Forum – Golf Blog (MyGolfSpy.com)

TaylorMade Tour Preferred Golf Ball is LETHAL-IER

TaylorMade Tour Preferred Golf Ball is LETHAL-IER

Post image for TaylorMade Tour Preferred Golf Ball is LETHAL-IER

The latest in a recent run of poorly kept secrets has been revealed. Today TaylorMade officially (it doesn’t count unless it’s official) announced their new Tour Preferred and Tour Preferred X Golf Balls.

Sorry guys, the LETHAL’s run is over.  I know…I was right there with you. I mean who here wasn’t desperately hoping for the 2014 LETHAL-IER, or perhaps something even more regal like SUPER DEATH NINJA (TP of course).

The absolute fact of the matter is that TaylorMade knows LETHAL was a stupid name. Really…they really do know it. When I discussed the subject with Josh Talge, TaylorMade’s VP of Metalwoods and Golf Balls, he suggested that in addition to the ridiculous name, packaging the balls to look like a Metallica album perhaps wasn’t the shrewdest marketing move either.

Keep in mind, Josh came from Old Spice. When the guy whose former company brought us “I’m the man your man wants to smell like” and “I’m on a horse” willingly concedes that aspects of the previous product were a little too over the top, you might have gone just a little too far.

While LETHAL was a really good ball that sold pretty well, it turns out that the heavy metal crowd isn’t one of golf’s key demographics.

Exit LETHAL. Enter Tour Preferred.

Like LETHAL Tour Preferred is a serious golf ball (actually it’s 2 golf balls), for serious golfers (and anybody else willing to spend $45 per dozen). Unlike LETHAL it has a name that isn’t going to chase anybody away before they actuall hit it, and packaging that’s a whole lot less Enter Sandman.

TourPreferredBox

Enough About the Name What About the Ball?

As you might expect given the Tour Preferred’s position as TaylorMade’s latest and greatest, TaylorMade is claiming that the Tour Preferred franchise is the best performing ball the company has released to date.

Who would have guessed.

As you might imagine, there are a few key features of the new balls that TaylorMade would like you know about, so I’ll just copy and paste them right here:

  • REACT™ Core for greater ball speed on all shots for increased distance.
  • Spin Mantle™ designed to deliver precise and consistent spin rates on given shots throughout the bag.
  • Low-Drag Performance Aerodynamics (LDP™) A 322-dimple pattern designed to minimize distance loss on low spin shots and also maintain a penetrating ball flight into the wind.
“Golf ball innovation doesn’t just happen overnight. Rather, it is a series of ongoing conversation with our Tour players. These conversations have led to the introduction of breakthrough technologies including low drag aerodynamics for ultimate wind resistance, a five-layer construction for superior control throughout the club set and now our softest and most durable cover.” – Dean Snell, Vice President of Golf Ball R&D, TaylorMade Golf

The other featured technology found in the Tour Preferred balls is what TaylorMade is calling Soft Tech™. Soft Tech™, is marketing speak, or maybe marketing double-speak for a cover material that TaylorMade claims is softer and more durable than anything they’ve ever produced.

The end result is a ball that lasts longer while providing softer feel around the green.

The Cover Really is Thinner…and Softer

Keep in mind, when it comes to thinks like cover thickness, improvements are generally measured in micrometers, but when TaylorMade’s Lindsay Main (TaylorMade’s Product Manager for Golf Balls) pulled samples of LETHAL’s cover and Tour Preferred’s cover out of her purse for me to compare, the differences were substantial.

Tour Preferred’s cover is significantly and noticeably thinner, and again, that’s no small thing considering the scale we’re talking about. Tour Preferred is, as TaylorMade suggests, actually noticeably softer as well, which absolutely did make me question the durability of the new ball.

Main assured me that the new material, despite the softer feel, is absolutely more durable. I haven’t spent enough time with the new balls to confirm, but I will say that I experienced the occasional shearing problem with the LETHAL.

Also…the woman carries golf ball parts around her purse. Did you catch that? That’s kinda hot, right?

Tour Preferred X ProfileTour Preferred Profile

We’re Number 2!

One of the more interesting aspects of the TaylorMade Tour Preferred Press Release is the right-out-of-the-gate mention that they are The #2 Golf Ball Brand on the PGA Tour.

Generally speaking, “we’re 2nd best” isn’t the best way to advertise your product, but in this case, I think it actually makes sense. Titleist is #1. Everybody knows Titleist is #1, and you know what, if everybody is willing to be total honest about the situation, they’ll tell you that Titleist is going to stay #1 for the next little while.

Probably worth a mention as well, TaylorMade is not the #2 brand at retail, so I’m guessing the thinking is your basic pyramid of influence stuff. If it is on Tour, it often is with the consumer too. Right now there’s not a clear #2 as far as market share is concerned, and before you can make any kind of serious run at Titleist, you have to be the most dominant #2. And so…hey…we’re number 2we’re number 2.

If you can’t beat ‘em (and nobody can right now), join ‘em.

To that end, TaylorMade has moved away ridiculous names (LETHAL, RocketBallz), colors (TP Red, TP Black), and even softness designators (S, not S) in favor of the regular vs. X approach of Titleist and one or two others.

If you’re trying to paint yourself as a viable alternative to the leader, you’ve got to make it easy for the consumer to understand which of yours compares to which of theirs. When I play Titleist, I play the ProV1 X, so it probably makes sense for me to take a look at the Tour Preferred X.

That was easy, right?

The two new balls are nearly as similar as they are different. Performance off the tee and around the green should be comparable. You can expect even more greenside spin than LETHAL. Performance differences will be more apparent on mid-to-long iron shots. In those situations, Tour Preferred will spin more and launch a little higher.

Comparatively, on those shots, Tour Preferred X will spin a bit less and provide a more penetrating ball flight. TaylorMade estimates that roughly 80% of its Tour Pros will settle into the Tour Preferred X.

TaylorMade isn’t making any noise whatsoever about the number of layers in each of the new balls. It’s not good for anyone if golfers approach the new lineup with a 5 layers is better than 4 approach. Like most anything else in golf it’s about finding what fits you best. That might be the 5 layer Tour Preferred X, it might not.

There is no best, only what’s best for you.

TourPreferredXBox

Hands On With TaylorMade Tour Preferred

I’ve only played a fairly miserable 18 with the new golf balls. What I can tell you based on my poor performance is that that Tour Preferred is that it’s really good off the tee and it doesn’t’ float. I’ll spend some more time with it once my game crawls out of the dumpster behind Arby’s.

It’s early yet, but TaylorMade can already claim 3 Professional wins with the Tour Preferred X. Sergio Garcia has won twice (Thailand Golf Championship and Qatar Masters), and Jessica Korda just won the Pure Silk Classic with the same ball.

Tour Preferred and Tour Preferred X will be available at retail on March 1st at $45.99 per dozen. For more information, please visit www.taylormadegolf.com

Golf Forum – Golf Blog (MyGolfSpy.com)

TaylorMade Tour Preferred Irons – They’re an Experience

TaylorMade Tour Preferred Irons – They’re an Experience

Post image for TaylorMade Tour Preferred Irons – They’re an Experience

Written By: Tony Covey

You might not remember given how long it’s been, but…

Once upon a time when TaylorMade said “Tour Preferred” it meant something. Tour Preferred products represented the very best of what TaylorMade had to offer. Tour Preferred products were specifically designed not just for better players; Tour Preferred products were designed for the very best players in the world.

No. Seriously…it’s true.

Those inside TaylorMade would almost certainly tell you that Tour Preferred is the heritage, the foundation, and the very soul of the company…at least it was.

TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-39

As product cycles accelerated, TaylorMade’s focus drifted away from the better player towards the average (and arguably below-average) player. The company’s product lines lost nearly all differentiation.

I’ll stop just short of saying TaylorMade abandoned the better player, but why make a product for a specific somebody, when you can make a product for the non-specific everybody and absolutely rule the industry?

Nearly every TaylorMade product was designed with nearly every golfer in mind. Own the middle, own the market.

As time passed, Tour Preferred was condensed to TP and before anyone realized what had happened, true better player offerings from TaylorMade were harder to find than a straight man at a Justin Bieber concert. The TP badge had been devalued to the point where it meant nothing more than the shaft in your new RBZ Stage 2 Tour TP driver was the real deal.

Don’t miss our article on why it matters that TaylorMade’s new irons are Tour Preferred

TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-28

And Then It Just Got Silly

Think about this for just a moment; if you expand out RBZ Stage 2 Tour TP to its full name, what you get is RocketBallz Stage 2 Tour Tour Preferred. That bit of discombobulated redundancy is supposedly one of TaylorMade’s more recent better player offerings. RocketBallz Stage 2 Tour Tour Preferred was for the serious golfer…seriously.

Dammit, stop laughing.

All the while, much to the consternation of those in the know, what was once Tour Preferred had become exclusively Tour Issue; unavailable to the average or even better golfer unless he was willing to pay a black market premium.

Wanna play what the pros really play? Tough shit.

Is it any wonder why a growing consumer segment (which certainly includes a high percentage of better golfers) has grown intolerably frustrated with TaylorMade?

TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-9

The Rebirth of Tour Preferred

I can’t say when it happened, or why it took so them so damn long (it’s probably hard to see the forest through the trees when you’re raking in millions – I wouldn’t know), but it’s abundantly clear that TaylorMade has finally figured out they need to get serious – or at least serious about the better player – again.

You’ll be forgiven for not noticing it among the onslaught of new drivers (6 different models hit shelves in 2013) the continuation of the ridiculous, though infinitely enduring, RocketBallz (Stage 2) series, and the addition of three more almost as ridiculously-named product lines (Lethal, SpeedBlade, and JetSpeed), but TaylorMade has spent the last several months laying the groundwork for today, and the rest of what’s to come.

TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-17

The new Tour Preferred experience is about more than equipment. While a refocus on the better player is a key element of the product line, Tour Preferred is about paying attention to every detail, providing an exclusive tour van-like experience to the Tour Preferred player (more on that below). Tour Preferred is about recapturing the heritage, and perhaps even the soul of the TaylorMade brand.

And it all begins with 3 sets of new irons; the first in what I expect will be a full line of products to bear the Tour Preferred name.

Got a question about TaylorMade’s New Tour Preferred Irons?

Product experts will be answering questions Live on the TaylorMade Golf Website from 8AM-11AM Pacific Time, Monday, January 6th)

We don’t believe you can call yourself a great iron company unless you create irons that great players want to play. Irons that meet a Tour pro’s requirements for look, feel, sound and workability,” –Sean Toulon, Executive Vice President, TaylorMade-adidas Golf

TaylorMade Tour Preferred CB – $899

“The Ultimate Union of Speed and Precision”

Tour_preferred-CB

While the Tour Preferred CB is the direct replacement for the RBladez Tour, the new irons have been completely redesigned.  The CB is more than just RBladez Tour 2.0. It’s new. It’s different. It’s better (and yes…TaylorMade always says that).

The new design features an open-channel cavity (similar to what others call a slot cavity or pocket cavity), and as you might expect, retains TaylorMade’s now signature goo-filled Speed Pocket sole design.

By now you should all be familiar with TaylorMade’s Speed Pocket, and its reported benefits, but it’s worth mentioning that, like TaylorMade’s distance irons (SpeedBladez, RocketBladez), the CB’s Speed Pocket is also engineered to produce more consistent shots, higher launch, and, yup, more distance.

Tour_preferred-CB

Anchored by a 46° pitching wedge, I suppose the CBs qualify as strongly lofted, although it should be pointed out that the strong lofts aren’t simply about cheating the distance equation. The lower loft actually help create the desired ball flight at the specified length.

Short irons are compact with minimal offset. Middle and long irons are slightly larger, with progressively more offset as the clubs get longer.

In case it’s not entirely clear; while still positioned as a better player’s offering, the Tour Preferred CB is the most forgiving of the 3 models released today.

tour-preferred-cb-spec

 

TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC – $999

“Ideal Blend of Beauty, Feel & Consistency”

TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-19

If my recollection is correct, it’s been 3 years since TaylorMade’s last Muscle Cavity release (remember the Frankenstein swing weight nuts that TaylorMade called a Precision Weight Port?), so everybody is going to have to take the day off from complaining about TaylorMade’s ridiculously short product lifecycles.

If you’ve seen the previous MC offering, you shouldn’t need me to point out that the new Tour Preferred MC is a radical, yet pleasant, departure from the previous model. It’s a huge aesthetic upgrade, unless you’re a guy who genuinely prefers irons that look like they were assembled with spare parts from an Erector set.

While the 3-7 irons do feature a Speed Pocket, the MC implementation functions differently than it does in the CB. Like all Speed Pocket equipped designs, consistency remains part of the design spec, however; instead of height and distance, the MC’s Speed Pocket is designed with an emphasis on feel. The goal is to retain the feel of a true muscleback while maintaining more consistency than you’d get without the Speed Pocket.

Seriously…you can be a solid ballstriker and still benefit from TaylorMade’s goo slot. There’s no mutual exclusivity here.

Embrace the goo.

TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-11

A Different Type of Combination Set

The most intriguing design feature of the Tour Preferred MC Iron will likely prove to be its most polarizing. As is the case with SpeedBlade and Tour Preferred CB, the 3-7 irons (open-channel cavity) are cast.

Like the new Tour Preferred MB, however, the 8-PW in the MC set are forged from 1025 carbon steel.  While TaylorMade has tried to mitigate the material differences with the Speed Pocket, the expectation is that there will be a pronounced difference in feel between the scoring irons and the rest of the set.

I’m certain some are going to have a real problem with it. I’m equally as certain that others won’t give a damn. I’m not sure which corner I’m in just yet.

As I mentioned in my PING i25 article, discontinuity in iron sets is becoming a trend of sorts as manufacturers seek to integrate beneficial aspects of game improvement and distance iron design into iron sets designed for better players.

The thinking is that even better golfers will be happy to trade a little bit of feel for a few extra yards and more forgiveness, so long as they’re able to retain enhanced feel and control in their scoring clubs.

TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-13TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-14
TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-100TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-101TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-102

The Tour Preferred MC features a progressive shaping, with the scoring clubs being noticeably more rounded than the long and middle irons. That’s not an unusual design choice these days, and TaylorMade certainly hasn’t taken it to the extremes that we’ve seen in other designs.

Most will appreciate that, even as the shape changes, there’s very little difference in topline thickness, and sole width increases only as much as functionality dictates. For reasons that should be fairly obvious, the cast long and middle irons feature the bending notch common to all Speed Pocket designs.

Without question, the Tour Preferred MC is the most compelling of the 3 new TaylorMade irons, if only for the fact that it’s the first set to blend a Speed Pocket with more traditional forged scoring clubs.

Best of both worlds? The holy grail of iron design?  That, of course, remains to be seen.

TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-27

I am personally very curious how this unique combo set is going to play, which is why the Tour Preferred MC irons will be in the bag I’m taking to this month’s PGA Show. If all goes as planned, I’ll have a chance to test them out over the course of several rounds.

tour-preferred-mc-spec

See what are our readers have to say about the Tour Preferred MC in the MyGolfSpy Forum.

 

The Tour Preferred MB – $1099

“The Ultimate Blade Iron for the Purist”

TM_TourPreferred_MB

Without question, the Tour Preferred MB  the sexiest of the new iron offerings. As they have with the MC, TaylorMade has thankfully dispensed with the previous incarnation of the MB’s Precision Weight Port. In terms of functionality, the PWP was damn near brilliant, but as far as fitting in with the desired aesthetic of a true muscleback…meh.

What about new technology? Here’s the reality: a blade is a blade, and well, if we’re being totally honest here, that means there really isn’t any.

Instead the focus is on refinement. TaylorMade has improved the overall shape of the iron, smoothing lines and, at the request of their Tour pros, reducing camber. Did I mention they ditched the weight nuts?

TM_TourPreferred_MB_Irons2

Frankly, the more I see the Tour Preferred MB Irons, the more I wish I had decided to give them a try instead of the MCs. Not that I have any business playing blades, but seriously, they’re just so damn pretty (said with the acknowledgement that it’s difficult to screw up a blade). Let’s be honest again…pretty isn’t a word which one normally uses to describe TaylorMade irons.

Functional, sure. Pretty…it’s about time.

For the Speed Pocket averse, I should probably specifically mention that from the 3-iron to the pitching wedge, the Tour Preferred MB is a true blade, You’re not going to find any cavities or goo here. The MBs are a 100% forged set from end to end.

Enjoy it.

tour-preferred-mb-spec

 

What is Tour Preferred All About?

“Our mission with Tour Preferred is to make equipment that pleases the better player in terms of look, sound, feel and performance, through a collaborative creative process between tour professionals and TaylorMade designers and engineers. Much the same, we build and service that equipment with the absolute precision and care that the better player insists on and requires.”

As I suggested at the beginning, TaylorMade’s new Tour Preferred (fyi…I’m really fighting the impulse to say “TP”) lineup is about much more than just the clubs. Beyond SpeedPockets, what differentiates the new TP Tour Preferred offerings from the multitude of products from TaylorMade’s competitors is the quality, and the personal experience that will be a part of every Tour Preferred purchase.

TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-44

What does that actually mean?

With their new irons, TaylorMade is claiming that meticulous attention is paid to every detail. Every curve, line, and angle is checked and re-checked throughout the manufacturing process to make sure it’s true to spec.

Your Tour Preferred order, even if it’s 100% stock, will be hand assembled to exacting specifications by TaylorMade’s custom department, and with your irons you’ll receive a spec card signed by the technician who built them.

Tour Preferred is special. It’s a cut above…at least that’s the perception TaylorMade hopes to create.

TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-40

The Welcome Package and Beyond

One you’ve registered your Tour Preferred product you’ll receive a welcome package from TaylorMade (stuff actually worth having), and among other things, access to concierge service via a dedicated Tour Preferred hotline.

Got a TaylorMade question?

Me neither, but I suppose you never know when something may come up.

As part of the Tour Preferred experience you’re also entitled to free annual loft/lie checks, as well as annual grip replacement (both are limited to two years).

TaylorMade is finalizing plans for additional Tour Preferred benefits which, based on the preliminary ideas I’ve seen (but can’t discuss), are truly a step beyond anything being offered by any other manufacturer right now.

TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-42

It’s not about owning clubs; TaylorMade wants to make the Tour Preferred player part of something bigger.

Whether you want to draw parallels to a high-end car dealer experience, or the treatment you’d receive at a country club a little nicer than mine, Tour Preferred is about bringing a near tour van quality, personal experience to the better golfer, or if we’re being honest, any golfer with $900-$1100 to spend on new irons.

You’re not simply buying clubs, you’re buying membership into a semi-exclusive club that promises to offer the best of all things TaylorMade.

TaylorMade no doubt hopes you’ll be more loyal to the brand as a result.

TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-43

Barely the Beginning

Irons are almost certainly just the beginning. While SLDR 430 just missed the cut (I suspect it was a timing issue more than anything else), it’s reasonable to assume that metalwoods, wedges, and balls will eventually be part of the Tour Preferred lineup, and many of those additional products will likely offer benefits similar to what you get when you purchase a set of Tour Preferred irons.

Because TaylorMade can build-up the Tour Preferred franchise in parallel to their existing lines for average golfers, there’s very little risk of negatively affecting the bottom line. If executed properly this Tour Preferred thing has the potential to positively impact how the TaylorMade brand is perceived by golfers; especially among the low handicap crowd that TaylorMade CEO Mark King has suggested has always been the company’s core audience.

If TaylorMade is able to create the perception (real or otherwise) that a Tour Preferred Product is truly a premium, higher-quality, offering – and to do that, I believe they’ll need to extend the lifecycle of Tour Preferred Products out to two years while maintaining the premium price point for the duration – then for the first time in a very long time, better players will have a concrete and tangible reason to take TaylorMade seriously again.

Don’t miss our article on why it matters that TaylorMade’s new irons are Tour Preferred

TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-41
TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-24
TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-23
TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-21
TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-45
TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-6
TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-15
TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-12
TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-10
TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-7
TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-38
TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-37
TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-34
TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-33
TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-32
TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC Irons-31

Got a question about TaylorMade’s New Tour Preferred Irons?

Product experts will be answering questions Live on the TaylorMade Golf Website from 8AM-11AM Pacific Time, Monday, January 6th)

Golf Forum – Golf Blog (MyGolfSpy.com)

TaylorMade SLDR Driver Is So Good Even Phil Mickelson Uses It

TaylorMade SLDR Driver Is So Good Even Phil Mickelson Uses It

Post image for TaylorMade SLDR Driver Is So Good Even Phil Mickelson Uses It

Written By: Tony Covey

Callaway’s Top Staffer Bags TaylorMade’s SLDR Driver

Phil Mickelson plays his TaylorMade SLDR driver in the draw position. I wouldn’t have guessed that. Of course, I also wouldn’t have guessed that Callaway’s #1 Tour Guy would be putting Callaway’s #1 competitor’s driver into play at the Presidents Cup either.

The same guy who told the world he couldn’t have won the Open Championship without Callaway, apparently feels he needs TaylorMade to help Team USA capture The Presidents Cup.

Spin it any way you’d like, but there’s no way this doesn’t look bad for Callaway. It’s as bad as the shoddy refinish job on Mickelson’s TaylorMade driver. And let me tell you, man, that’s bad.

We’ve Seen This Before

As you may recall, last November Phil Mickelson replaced his Callaway fairway wood with TaylorMade’s RocketBallz. That was Pre-XHot, and by Callaway’s own admission they didn’t have anything that could really hold its own against RBZ.

At the time, Harry Arnett, Callaway’s Senior VP of Marketing, thought it was much ado about nothing:

“We told him, ‘Play whatever you want. We’ve got the prototype coming in a few weeks. If you really feel like this is the best way for you to compete and win, then go for it!’” – Harry Arnett

And arguably Harry was right. Eventually Phil won the Waste Management Open with Xhot in the bag, sales increased significantly, and while Callaway didn’t come close to catching TaylorMade, there’s no denying that XHot helped put a resurgent Callaway back on the map.

Callaway would like us to believe it’s no different this time around.

They’re wrong.

A driver, especially a TaylorMade driver, is a much bigger deal than a fairway wood, and The Presidents Cup is a much bigger deal than the HSBC Champions series in China.

People watch The Presidents Cup. #JustSayin

Mickelson-sldr-mygolfspy

Same Story, Different Year

In a response to a question posted on Twitter about Phil’s driver choice, Harry Arnett had this to say:

 

The reality of the message isn’t much different from last year.

Let’s all be patient here. If we can just give Callaway a few months they’ll have something just as good as what TaylorMade already has on the shelves.

They’re just not ready yet.

For Callaway, a company hoping to position itself as the leader in technology, innovation, and all that cool stuff that makes us want to buy new golf clubs we probably don’t need, having to publicly acknowledge for the 2nd year in a row that the product they’ve spent hours dialing in to exactly details catch match the performance of TaylorMade’s flagship product; there’s absolutely no way that’s good for business.

Callaway and Phil Mickelson have all but completely validated the low and forward CG story of TaylorMade’s SLDR Driver, and that’s not good for business either. Well…it’s good for TaylorMade’s business.

Twist it, spin it, and promise a better future, but right now it’s not so good for Callaway.

Once is an aberration. Twice…well, that’s a pattern.

And the pattern suggests that for all the good things that have happened for Callaway this year, they’re still playing catch-up.

TaylorMade Responds

Golf companies are notoriously cagey about discussing players under contract with different companies. When asked for a comment, a TaylorMade Spokesperson, who I can only assume has been smiling uncontrollably since the news of the Mickel-SLDR broke, would only say this:

“SLDR has been hot since it hit tour in July and we are flattered he is playing it.”

Callaway’s Statement

Despite what quite obviously isn’t the best press of Callaway’s season, their willingness to sign off on Phil’s SLDR illustrates the commitment the company makes to its staffers. If there’s something better out there, Phil is welcome to put it in his bag.

That’s the commitment Callaway made to Phil, and they’ve honored it – even when it’s clearly not in their best interest to do so.

I gave Callaway’s Sr. VP of Marketing, Harry Arnett the opportunity to share Callaway’s perspective on Mickelson’s driver choice. What follows is his full statement on the matter.

“It’s no secret by now that Phil and Callaway have perhaps the most unique relationship of any Tour player and a golf company. It’s been reported before that we have one of the most flexible contracts of any top player and that much is for the most part true.Throughout Phil’s career, he has experimented widely and routinely both within the Callaway range of products and even outside Callaway’s range into competitive products. We’ve always allowed him to do so even on occasion when it was within our contracted right to prohibit it. This was the spirit of the agreement with Phil when it began a decade ago.It was fairly well publicized last Fall that Phil played a competitor’s fairway in some events in Asia. At that time, we said we were not that concerned because we had a fairway coming that we were confident would outperform anything and would quickly get into Phil’s bag when it was ready. That proved out to be true on both accounts.

About a month ago, Phil asked us if he could experiment with a competitive driver, wanting to try a low/forward center of gravity the SLDR driver produces. Since our own version of driver that can deliver this particular low/forward cg mass property wasn’t ready, we permitted him to do so.

On Thursday night Phil personally called Chip Brewer, our CEO, and asked permission to put the driver in play at the President’s Cup. He felt he needed to have a driver in the bag since the rain and wet conditions had made the course play longer than it had earlier in the week. Chip agreed to let Phil play the driver, feeling it was the right thing to do for Phil and his position in the team. And was completely consistent with the history of Callaway’s long relationship with Phil.

We are of course embarrassed by the conversation around this and we wish the circumstances were different. But once again, we are 100% confident the driver we have coming will dramatically outperform the competitive driver he’s playing and will be in Phil’s bag when it’s ready to bring to market. So to that regard, once again, we aren’t overly concerned.” – Harry Arnett, SVP Marketing/Callaway Golf

Golf Forum – Golf Blog (MyGolfSpy.com)

How Long Can TaylorMade Dominate the Industry?

How Long Can TaylorMade Dominate the Industry?

Post image for How Long Can TaylorMade Dominate the Industry?

Written By: Tony Covey

Will TaylorMade Stay On Top?

Yesterday evening on Twitter and Facebook we asked a very simple question:

For how much longer do you think TaylorMade will dominate the golf industry?

Technically I rephrased the original question, but you get the gist. It goes without saying that “dominate” carries a bit of ambiguity.

Does dominance mean they ring the register at a significantly higher rate than anybody else? Does dominance mean the continued absence of a clear #2 or serious threat to the empire?

For me it’s a bit of both, I suppose.

Predictable Response

As we’ve come to expect from just about any query posted on social media, the responses were a predictable mix of…

Outrage (combined and summarized like this):

TaylorMade is only a marketing company that floods the market with cheap mass-produced crap from China while lying to gullible consumers. They suck.

A dose of The optimistically delusional:

titliestcallway

This despite the noteworthy fact that both companies, like TaylorMade, mass-produce their products in China.

The apparent TaylorMade loyalist:

90s Callaway“…ouch. Fair…but ouch.

The awesomely playful Callaway loyalist:

And of course, the obligatory rant against marketing and the current state of the industry.

rant

I’ll Ask Again

With the perhaps unrealistic hope that we can all stay on topic, I’m going to pose the same question to you here today.

Before you answer, try to remember this:

We all live in our own little bubbles. We think that what happens on our local golf course or in our local shops must be what happens everywhere else. If I hate Callaway, everyone does. If I think Nike makes the best equipment in golf, nearly everyone else believes that too.

We like to think that as individuals we represent the majority. More often than not, we don’t. Pop your bubble, man.

I’d like ask that you do what you can to take your own emotional reactions out of the question. Refrain from spewing hate, or complaining about release cycles, or how much money a given company spends on tour. This isn’t a question about means. It doesn’t matter how TaylorMade got to their current position of dominance. The reality is they are dominant. We’re only asking how long you think they can stay on top.

While I’m certain that if you gave me 10 minutes I could find 10 guys who’d like to see Wilson, or Cobra, or PING, or Titleist, or Tour Edge or… (you get the point) steal the #1 spot from TaylorMade, realistically, we see only two companies with the potential to actually do it any time soon. So for the sake of this discussion, we’re going to limit our focus to Callaway and Nike.

Before you answer our poll questions, and add your comments, I’d ask  (please, please, please) that you first consider the following facts:

TaylorMade

  • The #1 Driver on Tour (it shouldn’t matter, but #1 on tour remains the most significant piece of branding for any company who can claim it)
  • A strong #1 in the metalwoods category (market share)
  • A strong #1 in the iron category
  • #2 in the apparel category (adidas), trailing only Nike
  • #3 in the footwear category (adidas), trailing Nike (#2) and FootJoy (#1).
  • Not a top 3 player in the ball, putter, or wedge categories

Callaway (the company most often considered the greatest threat to the TaylorMade empire)

  • #1 Putter on Tour
  • #1 (Odyssey) in Putter market share
  • Trails TaylorMade significantly in driver and iron market share.
  • Leads (relatively small margins) TaylorMade in Wedge and Ball Categories
  • Not a significant factor in footwear or apparel, which are huge revenue streams for its competitors (adidas, Nike, and PUMA)

Nike (the company I believe is the bigger threat)

  • Has Tiger Woods
  • Trails TaylorMade significantly in drivers and irons
  • A relative non-factor in wedges and balls
  • Leads TaylorMade (adidas) in apparel (#1) and footwear (#2) categories
  • Has a ton of money

Now consider a few intangibles

  • Over the last 12 months Callaway has sought to reinvent itself. It has launched a full-on Social Media assault, and has basically started its own media company to shoot and promote Callaway-centric video content. While it has clearly had some impact with online consumers, Callaway’s ability to reach the offline consumer remains uncertain.
  • Nike has the largest Social Media following in golf, the deepest pockets in the game, and a documented history of dominance in other sports, but is still fighting perceptions that it is not a “real golf company”. Thus far the Nike way has not translated to golf, but it is most certainly ramping up its efforts. Nike’s financial situation gives it the luxury of time to figure things out.
  • Insiders have suggested that there has been a fundamental shift within TaylorMade. The analogy I would make is one of a football team that has stopped trying to put points on the board, and has switched to the prevent defense. The problem with playing the prevent is that you give up a lot of yards, and your opponent usually scores a few points of his own. If TaylorMade goes back to playing offense, can anyone keep up?
  • As much as some might like to believe otherwise, the products themselves aren’t really central to the question. Why you may perceive that Callaway products are superior to Nike Products, or that Nike products are superior to TaylorMade, I can assure you that they’re all very good, and very similar (and all mass-produced in China). Properly fit to properly fit, there’s no significant difference…especially in the driver category.

Have Your Say

So armed with facts, intangibles, and (I suppose) your own perceptions, please share your thoughts on the following:

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post’s poll.
Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post’s poll.

Golf Forum – Golf Blog (MyGolfSpy.com)