Par Busters

Something old, something new and something soft

December, 2002

According to the statistics, the average golf handicap has not decreased over the past decade despite all the high-tech innovations that have rained down on us. We know that. But buying this stuff is so much fun. Here’s a sampling of some recent offerings.

Forging Ahead
Nike Golf’s January introduction of its forged irons was one of the more anticipated golf events of the season. The clubs, with their muscle-back design and high-gloss finish, were real head-turners. It didn’t hurt that David Duval used a set to win the 2001 British Open or that last September, Tiger Woods signed a $100 million contract to start swinging them. However, after the dust settled, many eager consumers came to a hard reality: These beautiful but hard-to-hit clubs aren’t for everyone.

This month, Nike is introducing a golf club for the rest of us. The Pro-Combo irons ($999) are promised to embody the best of both worlds, a combination of feel and forgiveness: full-cavity long irons, muscle-cavity mid irons and blade short irons and wedges. Like its predecessor, the Pro-Combos are lookers, combining simple, clean lines with a few high-tech flourishes.

“The idea of creating a progressive set of irons is not new,” says Keith Tanaka, owner of downtown golf shop Roots & Relics. “But a lot of people have been asking about the Nike model. You know golfers. It’s all about finding the Holy Grail. Bottom line: if these things are easy to hit, then they will sell.”

The Soft Sell
Several years ago, many in the golf world were left scratching their heads after it was revealed that Tiger Woods’ golf ball, a Nike Tour Accuracy, was rated at a paltry 90 compression. Surely, Woods with his supersonic swing, would need something wound a little tighter. However, because of advances in golf ball construction, compression ratings are obsolete. You’ll be hard-pressed to find one on a box of balls today. In fact, the golf world has swung the other way, with low-compression balls gaining in popularity.

The Dunlop Loco (named so because it is “crazy long”) Maxfli’s Noodle (long and soft) and Precept’s Lady and Laddie are some of the best-selling balls in the golf shop. The more malleable balls respond better to slower swing speeds (the vast majority of golfers) and travel surprisingly long distances. Their affordability is also a big selling point. The balls range in price from $15 to $18 per dozen. At Aloha Golf Shop, the Lady and Laddie are second in sales to only the pricey Titleist Pro V1 ($40 a dozen).

Just for the record, the low-compression balls’ ratings hover somewhere in the 60s. The Pro V1, the overwhelming choice of better players (and harder hitters), has a compression rating of somewhere near 70.

The Latest and Greatest
The Great Big Bertha was Callaway Golf’s best-selling club of all time. Now, it’s back. Sort of. Sporting a new deep, blue paint job and a host of high-tech features like an ultra-thin high COR titanium face, The Great Big Bertha II driver ($500) bears little resemblance to its namesake. According to John Schroeder, president of Cooke Island Distributors, local Callaway Golf distributors, the name was revived because company officials were so impressed by the performance of the new club.

“This thing is so easy to hit,” says Schroeder. “Regardless of whether you hit it right on the sweet spot or if you hit it a little off center, you’ll have a consistent shot pattern. And this club is long.”

Schroeder says that the club was just introduced last October so it’s a little too early to comment on how sales are going. But he does say that it has been well-received at driving range demonstrations. However, players on the various professional tours have been using it for some time. Since using the Great Big Bertha II, Swedish sensation Annika Sorenstam has increased her average driving distance to a whopping 285 yards. In addition, last year’s rookie of the year, Charles Howell III, just ended the PGA season in the number one spot in total driving.

“We are expecting a lot of good things from this club,” says Schroeder.

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David K. Choo