It’s a golf fan’s version of the hot-stove league. The weather keeps us off the course but the game is always in our mind and perhaps more than some sports, the equipment we use is integral and vital to our performance and enjoyment.
As we do every year, the New England Golf Monthly’s staff attends the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla. to evaluate the latest golf equipment and then pass on the information about the best of what we find to our readers. The purchase of new clubs is an investment of not only money but in our future enjoyment so researching and comparing models is the first secret to getting what best matches our game. The second secret (and it’s not really secret) is the PGA Professional who can analyze and fit clubs to our individual swing, thereby making a crucial contribution to getting exactly what we want, need…and pay for.
Axis1 Golf – An Axis1 putter not only looks different than other putter but are balanced much differently and for some they may be the solution to the USGA’s ban of the anchored stroke using extra-long putters. The Axis1 design uses a heel counterweight to make a torque-free putter with the center of gravity in the center of the face, right where the ball makes impact. They introduced at the PGA Merchandise Show a Tour model which joins the line up with the previous Joey, Joey C, Eagle and Umbra models with prices between $199 and $299.
Ben Hogan Golf – CEO Terry Koehler has designed the new PTx irons for those wanting a game-improvement iron and they are made with a 7-step co-forging process and a thin face. The sole is titanium weighted and each iron from 20 degrees to 47 degrees has a hollow body construction. Pricing with KBS steel shafts is $169 per club and with UST Mamiya Recoil graphite $184 per club. Also new, the Ben Hogan VKTR hybrids provide higher ball flight without sacrificing workability and have interchangeable weights of 18 and 20 grams. Offered in 11 lofts they carry a price of $249 per club with UST Mamiya IROD graphite shafts.
Bettinardi Golf – Take a look at the four new BB Series Models from Bettinardi all in midnight black PVD finish with Hyper-Honeycomb milled pattern of the soft carbon steel face. Particularly appealing are the head’s paint accents in silver and lime green. The BB1, BB1F, BB8 and BB40 are $300 each.
BioMech Golf – Last year the BioMech AccuLock Ace putter created a sensation and this year their latest is the AccuLock Touch ($300) with a more blade-like head shape but using the same principles. Even though the putter is an extra-long length, it conforms to the USGA rule that bans the use of an anchored putting stroke. Using an AccuLock, the stroke is made while the grip rests against the inside of the leading forearm stabilizing the hands, arms and shoulders.
Bridgestone Golf – The big news from Bridgestone is the redesigned Tour B330 golf balls. For swing speeds less than 105 mph there are the Tour B330RX and Tour B330RXS (both $40 dozen) with the soft AMATOURcore and high friction coefficient SlipRes cover. The new Tour B330 and Tour B330S ($45 dozen) for higher swing speeds have the firmer TOURcore along with the SlipRes Cover and the same 330 Dual Dimple pattern.
Callaway Golf – “Forgiveness meets fast” is the one-liner for the new XR16 driver’s ($350) head shape designed in conjunction with aerospace giant Boeing Co. with lots of forgiveness and a re-engineered Speed Step Crown for lower drag in the downswing. Also new and part of the XR family are the XR OS irons ($800 steel) with Callaway’s Face Cup technology, a wider sole and lower center of gravity to help get the ball in the air. XR OS Hybrids ($220 each) are complementary to the irons and made with a cup face and a wider higher MOI clubhead. We also like the new Chrome Soft golf ball ($40 dozen) with 4-piece construction compared to last year’s 3-piece. It has the proprietary Dual SoftFast Core for greater ball speed from the driver and the Tour Urethane cover. Callaway’s putter division Odyssey has four new Tank Cruiser models: V-Line, #7, #1 (Wide) and 2-Ball Fang, each priced at $249.
Carbon Putters – Maybe they aren’t an overnight sensation, having been in business for more than five years, but Carbon attended their first PGA Merchandise Show in January and from the number of people crowding into the booth they achieved a lot of attention. Carbon putter heads, they are proud to point out, are 100 percent milled from forged steel billets by scratch golfers so all by itself this makes the company one-of-kind. Although it has nothing to do with the performance but rather good marketing, Carbon names putters with a Western gun-slinger theme—The Kid, Ringo, Holliday—and all are price at $290. “Cassidy,” “Brocious” and the “Duke” are coming soon.
Cleveland Golf – We think of wedges when we think of Cleveland and they haven’t disappointed us with the two new super game-improvement wedges the Smart Sole 2.0 C and Smart Sole 2.0 S. Both are meant to be short-game stress reducers with the C model designed, the company says, so it “helps eliminate the chunked wedge” while the S takes away “the embarrassment of being stuck in the sand.” As one golfer with both game faults exclaimed, “I can’t wait to get ‘em!” Pricing for either is $110 (steel shaft) and $120 (graphite shaft).
Cobra Golf – Cobra brought out three driver families this winter and the one we like has a “Spaceport” in the sole so you can see the clubhead inner construction though that’s not our main interest. It the performance of the King LTD ($449) which has a forged face plate, a center of gravity on the neutral axis of the face and a carbon fiber crown not to mention a channel around the face perimeter making this a top quality design. We also like the King Forged TEC irons meant to be played by better golfers. The forged clubhead has a stainless steel face backed by a urethane and carbon fiber badge. The Technology Enhance Cavity design includes heel and toe tungsten weighting and a set sells for $1,099 in steel and $100 more for graphite shafts.
Cure Putters – High modulus of inertia (MOI) putters resist twisting better when the putter head strikes the ball off center and Cure builds putters with extremely high MOI. Popular on the Champions Tour and building on the success of their previous RX Series there are the new RX3, RX4, RX5 and RX6 models. They feature a streamlined look at address and a softer feel from a spiral milled face. As do all their putters, these models have a high center of gravity combined with less loft and deeper face to reduce backspin by promoting impact at the ball’s equator. The RX3, RX4 and RX5 are $260 and the RX5 is $230.
Edel Golf – Edel makes highly crafted wedges, irons and putters from the best materials with eye-appeal designs that produce results. Everyone likes the look of their Torque Balanced Putters ($330) which come in a choice of “Black Armor” or “Platinum Armor” finishes and with head weighting that may be adjusted for different green speeds. The E-1 is a classic mallet shape, the E-2 a modified blade and the E-3 a more classic blade. An optional weight kit is available with two weights, 6-gram and 21-gram, and a special wrench.
Knuth Golf – Capitalizing on the success of the High Heat driver, Knuth is bringing to market a line of fairway woods ($299) and hybrids ($249). All will have a beta titanium cup face construction for more trampoline-effect across a larger portion of the face compared to clubfaces made with steel. The faces are also wider meaning a larger sweet spot so distance isn’t penalized as drastically when the impact is off-center towards the toe or heel. Like the driver, to help amateurs get the ball in the air High Heat fairway woods and hybrids have the center of gravity placed deeper and lower in the clubhead.
Mizuno Golf – In addition to introducing iron lines under the MP-25, MP-5 and JPZ-EZ names the company known for its irons has come out a line that really drew our attention the JPZ-EZ Forged made of boron steel. These don’t look like a game-improvement iron but they do have a CNC milled back cavity, Mizuno’s vibration dampening system and Triple Cut sole so they are contenders in this category. The price for 4-iron through gap wedge is $1,000 with steel shafts and $1,100 with graphite. We also liked the new Mizuno S5 Wedge with a knockout Blue Ion finish available in 25 loft and lie combinations. The “Blue Magic” was developed using input from former world number one Luke Donald and retails for $130.
Nike Golf – The Vapor Fly line takes over from last year’s Vapor line with design changes to produce a higher ball flight in every club from driver through long irons. The Vapor Fly driver ($350) has a distinctive blue crown and yellow accented sole but also provides the average golfer with better launch conditions from the one-third lighter crown, Compression Channel, cavity back and Nike’s Hyperflight face. At the top of the line is the Vapor Flex 440 ($500) using twice the amount of carbon fiber and a reversible tube in the sole to adjust launch angle, spin rate and forgiveness. In addition to a full complement of fairway woods and hybrids their also the Vapor Fly irons using three different constructions within a set: hollow RZN cavity long irons, RZN pocket mid irons and RZN cavity short irons. With steel shaft $800 and with graphite $900. They also introduced a Black RZN Tour ball and a Platinum RZN Tour ball with new 4-piece construction that sell for $48 per dozen.
Parsons Xtreme Golf – PXG has had a lot of press recently for signing endorsement contracts with popular stars on the PGA and LPGA tours but more significantly their new 0811 driver has really tuned some heads. The good looking head shape has 16 platinum colored movable weights and adjustable hosel fine-tuning of the club’s biases to correct swing faults of the user. The thin face is made of a high strength titanium alloy and clubhead weight is positioned for added resistance to twisting on off-center hits. Available in either 9 or 10.5 degree lofts, the 0811 price is $700. PXG lineup includes fairway woods ($500), hybrids ($400) and irons ($300 each) with a high launch, soft feel and large sweet spot design.
Ping – The G30 driver of last season was a runaway hit for Ping and they hope to capture the same magic with the new G driver ($435) for 2016. Weight saved from an exoskeleton design of the crown allowed the center of gravity to be pushed lower and deeper positively effecting launch and forgiveness. Aerodynamics were also adjusted with, in addition to the well-known crown “turbulators,” a redesign of the trailing edge of the head to lessen drag. The G family includes a new Crossover—part iron, part hybrid—with the workability of long irons missing in hybrids but with the easy-to-hit properties of hybrids. The new G irons according to Ping produce less spin so players may see 5-yards additional distance plus there are other positives such as a five percent increase in MOI from top to bottom of the blade and added beveling on the rear edge. Ping G irons come standard with Ping AWT 2.0 steel shafts for $110 per iron and are also available with Ping CFS graphite shafts for $125 per iron.
Piretti Golf – Any golfer visiting the Piretti booth at the PGA Merchandise Show has to be impressed with their custom milled putters. One of the additions to their Rev2.0 line is the Savona priced at $355 to $390 and with a 375-gram head weight. This good-looking mallet has very high MOI and may be customized to fit the user. Also getting a lot of attention was the Ferrara model ($340), a zero offset center shafted blade with moderate toe hang. It is a little heavier than usual, weighing 365-grams, and has a very nice titanium PVD finish.
SeeMore Putter – After Zach Johnson’s win in the Open Championship using the SeeMore FGP (his second major with SeeMore) interest in the putters with the unique aiming system skyrocketed. For the new season they have added to the Giant line with three models. The Giant FGPt ($295) is a smaller version of the first Giant introduced in 2015 while the Giant mt1 (also $295) is a more traditional shape. Finally the Mini Giant ($395) is quite a bit smaller than the Giant and uses copper weighting to boost the MOI. All have the SeeMore cover-the-red-dot-with-the-shaft aiming system with zero offset shafts.
Sentio Putter – The brand new Sierra 101 putter line uses what Sentio calls Dynamic Response construction to separate the face from the body with a vibration dampening layer of polymer. The neat thing about the design is these putters is the response level can be changed during manufacture simply by changing the hardness of the polymer core. Available in three models, the Sierra 101 comes in a choice of color coded core: green for soft, red for medium, and blue for firm. All models retail for $249 and feature a 350-gram head weight, 3 degrees loft, 72 degrees lie, full offset plumber hosel and a medium amount of toe hang.
Snell Golf – Though not new for 2016 the My Tour Ball and Get Sum balls stand up in any comparison to the latest from bigger manufacturers. The three piece My Tour has a low compression core for low driver spin and soft feel with a mantle layer for iron spin control. The Urethane cover is ideal for short game control and feel. The two piece Get Sum has a Surlyn cover with a low compression core and is great for most golfers. The My Tour is $32 per dozen and the Get Sum is $21 per dozen.
Srixon – The third generation of the Q-Star ball is for mid to high handicap players and features an improved SpinSkin cover for added friction to give better performance around the green. Retail price is $25. All seen was the Srixon Z355 driver which is designed with a clubhead between 10 and 15 grams heavier than comparable heads and very lightweight shaft on the idea the average player will be able to generate more clubhead speed. To counterbalance the heavier head the shaft has its heaviest part closer to the end of the club so more distance will be achieved with a lower amount of effort. Retail price is $350.
TaylorMade Golf – There was a lot of anticipation waiting for what TMaG would do to regain lost market share in the metal wood segment and all the questions were answered with the introduction of the M1 series last summer. By any measure it was a smashing success. The M1 driver has a carbon fiber crown and two tracks for sliding weights on the sole but at $500 the company wanted more affordable complementary model. Enter the M2, which still has the carbon fiber crown but not the costly T-shaped system of sliding weights, selling for $400 there are also a complete line of complementary fairway woods, hybrids and irons. Better players should evaluate the PSi irons from TaylorMade with the unique slots in the face first used in the RSi model and a completely new Speed Pocket design behind the face. PSi irons carry a price of $1,099 with steel shafts and $1,299 with graphite. The new golf balls from TaylorMade include the Tour Preferred ball (4-layer construction, 80 compression) with a 65% softer more flexible mantle and the Tour Preferred X ball (5-layer construction, 87 compression) with a thicker re-engineered cast urethane cover.
Titleist – For 2016 there are new versions of the AP1 and AP2 irons. The 716 AP1s ($899 steel, $1,099 graphite) are cast from a very strong stainless steel with Titleist’s 360-degree undercut cavity for more unsupported area of the face, more off center hit forgiveness and distance. 716 AP2s ($1,199) for better players have a co-forged tungsten sole heel and toe weighting in the 3 to 7-irons that helps move the center of gravity behind the hitting area. Titleist is number one in golf ball market share and has brought out an improved NXT Tour and NXT Tour S ($35 dozen). The NXT Tour has a larger center dual core for lower spin and higher ball speed complementing the for Fusablend cover for even longer driver and iron distance. The NXT Tour S has similar performance but with a much softer feel from the lower compression core and softer Fusablend cover. There’s also a new Velocity ball with a larger, faster LSX core that produces higher ball speed for more distance. Priced at $27 a dozen the Velocity may be purchased with single (1, 2, 3, 4) and double-digit (00, 22, 77, 99) numbers.
Tour Edge Golf – Both irons and metalwoods are at the top of the bill for Tour Edge and we especially like the CB Pro Tungsten irons. Hollow construction combined with progressive tungsten sole weighting combined with forgiveness and distance make a powerful package. Three-iron through pitching wedge is $800 with steel shafts and $900 with graphite. The Exotics EXd irons have a large portion of the face unsupported for more ball speed, a deep undercut cavity for help on mishits and variable thickness face providing added trampoline effect. Four-iron through A-wedge is $600 (steel) and $700 (graphite). Exotics EXi irons have a more traditional shape, slightly less offset with a dual undercut cavity and sole slot for more distance by allowing more face flex. Prices are the same as the EXd model. The Tour Edge Exotics EX9 drivers come in two versions, the standard (460cc draw bias 10 or 12 degree) and the Tour (pear-shaped 430cc 9 or 10 degree). Both are designed to produce low spin drives and have much larger sweet spots matched with a hexagonal pattern variable face thickness. The standard model is $300 and the Tour $400. We suggest taking a close look at the Exotics EX9 fairway woods ($230) that have a sloped crown and Tour Edge’s SlipStream sole with an interchangeable heel weight. The design has less aerodynamic drag and a smooth turf interaction for more clubhead speed at impact. We also liked the cup face construction of the Exotics EX9 hybrids ($160) matched up with a SlipStream sole and weight reducing combo brazing to make them easy to hit from any lie.
Volvik – They are billed as the most played color golf ball on the professional tours and are seen often on the LPGA Tour and at the PGA Merchandise Show, where they were the ball used at the indoor Equipment Testing Center, Volvik introduced six new models. In our estimation the new Vivid, the first matte finish ball, was the most interesting. A premium ball with 3-piece construction similar to their Crystal model, it is 80-compression and the company says its testing show it to be one of the longest golf balls on the market today, especially for slower to medium swing speeds. Available in green, orange and pink the Vivid retails for $30 dozen.
Wilson Staff – Everyone we talked to who has tried the new Wilson Staff C200 irons comes away impressed. Wilson says they are targeted for use by what they call the “crossover player;” a mid to high handicapper wanting more distance in a more playable clubhead than typical game-improvement irons. The C200s are constructed so the thin face comes in contact with the club body at only a few points which let the face have lots of flex at impact. Priced at $800 with steel shafts, the Wilson Staff C200s with graphite shafts are $900 and both are in shops now. The FG Tour F5 driver ($380) has a lightweight adjustable hosel and three interchangeable sole weights close to the face to decrease spin. The variable thickness face helps preserve ball speed across the width and the driver comes two lofts, 9 or 10.5 degrees.
Yonex Golf – Yonex has been under the radar in recent years but at the PGA Merchandise Show were demonstrating a new driver the, EZone XPG. The carbon crown has been made larger, lowering the center of gravity for better launch characteristics. To produce higher clubhead speed a counterweight, 2 grams of tungsten powder, at the grip end balances the tungsten weight sole screw. The model family also includes fairway woods, hybrids and irons made with the similar weighting.WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?