The Local Knowlege

Gear & Equipment

Acushnet patent-infringement case takes on start-up brands

Ball1.jpg
Acushnet, the parent company of golf ball behemoth Titleist, is saying more than a dozen different balls from an array of small startup companies are infringing on its patents for dimple patterns.

So it’s suing them. 

The lawsuit claims Acushnet has been “seriously damaged” by the alleged infringements, but the ultimate question may be whether the mere presence of this lawsuit might seriously damage the existence of these small brands.  

Many offer low-priced versions of multilayer, urethane-cover golf balls. That’s the kind of construction typically played by tour players and a segment that now accounts for more than 40 percent of the U.S. golf ball market, according to figures from golf research firm Golf Datatech. 

Filed April 6 in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts in Boston, the lawsuit names 17 different balls from ten different companies. Among the companies listed are Rife (V-Motion), I Need the Ball (The Ball), Vice Golf (Pro) and Kick X (Tour-Z). According to the lawsuit, the dimple patterns on these balls are all the same: 318 dimples arranged in what the lawsuit terms “a triangluar dipyramid shape.” 

It is not unusual for golf balls or golf clubs from several different brands or companies to be manufactured by the same vendor in Taiwan. This lawsuit does not name the specific vendor, focusing rather on the companies named in the suit that are selling the balls in the U.S. But through interviews and research of shipping records Golf Digest has learned that the unnamed vendor is Foremost Golf Manufacturing. Based in Taipei, Foremost’s website states that it is the largest golf ball manufacturer in Taiwan, producing 10 million balls monthly. It has more than a dozen balls in its own name on the current USGA conforming list. 

In a recent email, Foremost’s Gavin Lee told Golf Digest the company has “several hundred” balls in its current catalog. “We work with the R&D [department] with each of our customers,” he wrote, indicating that Foremost is the second-largest manufacturer of golf balls in the world behind Acushnet. “Every creation is a custom design.” 

While no Titleist ball on the USGA’s conforming list utilizes a 318-dimple pattern, the patents in question cover a broad area of ball and dimple design that include patterns that range from 250 to 370 dimples. 

According to the lawsuit, “Acushnet has suffered, and will continue to suffer, damages, irreparable harm and impairment of the value of its patent rights” due to the alleged infringements.

The lawsuit also asks that the named companies “be preliminarily and permanently enjoined and restrained from further infringing the patents.” 

According to current figures from industry research firm Golf Datatech, Acushnet is the overwhelming market leader in golf ball sales. None of the other companies named in the lawsuit are tracked by Golf Datatech. Still, many have developed a niche in U.S. and international markets selling directly to consumers. Some of their designs are multilayer balls with urethane covers, typically the highest-priced golf ball construction on the market. But many of these companies offer these balls for less than the cost of Titleist’s Pro V1 and Pro V1x, sometimes as low as half the current retail price. 

Even for the largest companies, the golf ball business can be heavily litigious. A lawsuit between Acushnet and Callaway that began in 2006 went on for six years, and dealt with infinitesimal matters including the process of measuring cover material hardness. That one suit likely cost more in legal fees than any of these small brands sell in golf balls in any one year. To be sure, none of the companies named in this latest Acushnet lawsuit has that kind of legal stockpile or endurance.

Still, while several of these companies have declined comment, at least one has come out swinging.

“We understand why they are targeting us as we are a longer premium ball and one of the fastest growing brands on the market,” said Bob Koch, chief executive officer of Kick X Golf. 

Another is I Need the Ball, whose latest ball the INTB 2.0 is offered on its website for $35 a dozen. The ball named in the Acushnet lawsuit is no longer available on its website. Said company co-founder Glen Sutton, “This is not going to end us. ... It stinks that they would go after the little guys.”
... Read
Balls

Former TaylorMade R&D leader going into ball business

My-Tour-Ball1.jpg
The golf ball market is starting to get a lot more interesting. 

While most golfers have been paying attention to the recent introductions of tour-level balls from major companies (Titleist's latest Pro V1/Pro V1x, Callaway's Chrome Soft and the Srixon Z-Star family), there’s been a recent influx of smaller manufacturers that have developed some success in marketing golf balls directly to consumers (3UP.com, INeedtheBall.com, Hopkins Golf and Vice Golf). In many cases, these are balls with not insignificant technologies at prices significantly below the national average. Now comes news that for the first time one of the more notable figures in golf ball technology over the last few decades is getting into the business on his own. 

Dean Snell, most recently the vice president of golf ball research and development at TaylorMade, is the force behind Snell Golf. The company announced two new products today, one of which includes a multilayer, urethane-covered construction the highest-priced technology currently on the market. Like these other companies, Snell Golf will market its golf balls exclusively online, direct to consumers.

Unlike these companies, however, there’s an individual with some serious golf ball technology cred on the payroll. Snell has been at the forefront of golf ball development with both Titleist and TaylorMade over the last 25 years. His name is on 38 golf ball patents, and he has worked on the groundbreaking technology behind the original Titleist Pro V1 and the five-layer TaylorMade Penta golf balls. 

Snell Golf’s My Tour Ball features a low-compression core and a multilayer construction with a cast urethane cover. The company also is offering a two-piece ball (Get Sum), also with low compression, aimed at improving distance, reducing spin on tee shots and providing softer feel. 

Beyond the technologies, what may be most appealing about these products are the prices. My Tour Ball will cost $31.99, similarly priced to one of Snell’s last projects before leaving TaylorMade, the Project (a) ball. That price is in line with some of the other direct-to-consumer offerings, but $10-15 less than some name brand multilayer urethane cover balls. Get Sum is $20.99. 

“I love this game and I hate seeing it decline,” Snell says on a video on his company’s website. “The motivation I have to start this company is to try to help grow the game. If I can help in any way, I can help with the cost of the golf ball. I can give you the performance and the technology that you’re looking for at an affordable price to help you go out and play more.”
... Read
Gear & Equipment

Titleist officially debuts its latest version of the Pro V1 and Pro V1x

The first rule of strong brands is "do no harm." Few companies have done that better than Titleist when it comes to its Pro V1 and ProV1x ball franchise. So when Titleist introduced the latest iterations of its tour-level balls Wednesday at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, the changes were minimal rather than drastic, driven by tour-player feedback that essentially said, "don't change anything."

loop-prov1-packaging-560.jpgWell, maybe not anything. The response's they received focused on two areas: a little more spin on the short-game shots and a slightly softer feel would be preferred if it didn't come at the expense of its current features. Testing ensured players using various types of new constructions that they had accomplished that goal. The result being balls with a new, softer thermoset cast urethane cover.

loop-pro-v1-packaging-560.jpg

Titleist aficionados also will notice a new sidestamp (the length of the arrow is slighty different) and packaging, which was chosen with the help of consumer feedback. Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth and Jimmy Walker have already won tournaments using the new Pro V1x.

"This one's better for me because that softer cover around the greens allows me to have more spin control and softer feel off the blade of my putter without jeopardizing any distance or spin with the long clubs," Spieth said after winning the Australian Open last November.

And as for doing no harm? The price for the balls, $48 a dozen, remains the same. 


Interested in more stories on equipment? Signup to receive Golf Digestix, a weekly digital magazine that offers the latest news, new product introductions and behind-the-scenes looks at all things equipment. 

... Read
Balls

Srixon's tour balls get a new skin

If there is a developing theme in golf ball technology over the last few years, it can be summarized in just one word: softer. The latest example is the release by Srixon of the next generation of its tour-level balls, the Z-Star and Z-Star XV.

The multilayer, urethane-covered entries feature efforts to make both the inside and outside softer to produce both better launch conditions with the driver and more spin control with the wedges. The new core formulation on the Z-Star continues the company’s long-established idea of “energetic gradient growth” core, which refers to the varying levels of softness within the core. The new Z-Star further increases the difference between the softness of the the inner part of the core with the relative firmness of the outer regions of the core to better promote higher launch and low spin. The new Z-Star features a softer center and a firmer outer region compared to its predecessor. This idea also is incorporated in the new Z-Star XV, which maintains the center’s softness from its predecessor but adds greater firmness to the ball’s thin ionomer mid-layer, for further reduced spin. 

15_SX_ZSTAR_white1.jpg
15_SX_ZSTARXV_white1.jpg

















The soft theme continues with an update of Srixon’s urethane cover and coating, called “Spin Skin.” According to the company, the coating is 25 percent softer than its predecessor to increase contact with the grooves on a wedge shot through greater deformation of the ball within the groove at impact. The softer coating leads to a cover that increases frictional force by 18 percent over the preceding versions.

The new balls an updated 324-dimple pattern for a slightly flatter flight than the previous models. The dimples are more uniform in size for lower aerodynamic resistance.

The new balls are currently being tested and played by Srixon staff players, including Keegan Bradley, Graeme McDowell and Hideki Matsuyama. They will be available at retail next month ($45).
... Read
Gear & Equipment

If your New Year's Resolution was to become a Golf Ball Hot List tester, you're in luck

Do you live in or around Orlando?

Are you available all day on either Jan. 25, Jan. 26 or Jan. 27?

Do you have a means of transportation?

Is your handicap 5 or lower?

Do you want to start the New Year by testing golf balls under the watchful eye of Golf Digest editors?

If you answered yes to all of these questions, then we want you to be a tester for the 2015 Golf Digest Golf Ball Hot List. Send an email to golfball@golfdigest.com stating your name, handicap, town of residence, and the name of your pro, instructor or coach by Jan. 11.

Once the deadline closes we will notify those who have been chosen, disclosing the location of testing and details about the event. 

Good Luck! 

... Read
Balls

Callaway going soft on ball technology

chrome-soft-12-ball-box-2015.jpg
Increasingly in golf equipment, technology for better players has not trickled down to average hacks. Rather, it’s moved from innovations to help regular Joes that soon become co-opted by the pros. We’ve seen it with perimeter-weighted irons, we’ve seen it with oversized drivers. Now, there’s a movement in golf balls. 

For years, softer compression golf balls were the signature of slower swingers and better players consistently gravitated toward high-compression models. That’s been especially true since the advent of multilayer, urethane-covered models in 2000. While the preceding generation of players had favored the soft feel of wound, balata-covered balls, they eventually gravitated away from that feel preference for the obvious low-spin, high-speed distance advantages of solid-core construction balls. 

According to Dave Bartels, Callaway’s senior director of golf ball research and development, the company’s latest golf ball, the multilayer, urethane-covered Chrome Soft, is a shift from that paradigm. 

“The firmer feeling golf balls have become the benchmark for distance and all-around tour-level performance,” Bartels says. “But most golfers would agree that soft balls feel better. In the past it’s always come at a penalty to performance.”

chrome-soft-3-piece-tech-pms185.jpg
Chrome Soft ($38 a dozen, available next month) brings with it the idea of a softer-feeling core that’s also resilient. “We wanted to develop a technology that regains that feel component without sacrificing the performance that tour players and golfers at all levels can appreciate,” Bartels says.

Chrome Soft is a three-piece construction that features an intermediate mantle layer surrounded by what Bartels calls the softest formulation of Callaway’s urethane cover ever. The core is the key development. Its roots lie in Callaway’s two-piece Supersoft ball, the company’s top-selling model since it was introduced in January.

“Golf ball designers have realized that you can create low-compression balls to reduce spin with the longer clubs,” Bartels says. “With SuperSoft, the soft core compresses yet still retains its energy and restores its energy as it regains its shape to generate fast ballspeed. It doesn’t lose its energy.”

In simple terms, think of a foam ball with racquetball-like resiliency. Bartels says that unlike most tour balls, which can have a compression in the 80s and 90s, Chrome Soft is at 65. Other companies are exploring a similar area of lower compression, multilayer urethane-covered balls, including Bridgestone with its B330-RX and RXS balls and Wilson with the FG Tour.

“In general, as you make the materials softer inside a golf ball, they get slower,” Bartels says. “We’ve been able to buck that trend with this.” In fact, Bartels suggested that Chrome Soft without the urethane cover would be similar to Supersoft. The urethane cover is designed to increase spin and control for shorter shots into and around the green. He says the Chrome Soft’s cover is “the most durable golf ball cover we’ve brought to market.”

Chrome Soft features Callaway’s hexagonal dimple structure to enhance surface coverage for consistent aerodynamic performance. Unlike the company's Speed Regime line of golf balls, whose three versions are geared to specific swing speed levels, Bartels says Chrome Soft’s aerodynamic profile “is designed for golfers of all swing speeds and are optimized in particular for the lower spin conditions.” 

Bartels did not indicate whether any of Callaway’s staff of tour players would be using Chrome Soft, but the company already has begun using Phil Mickelson, who recently renewed his endorsement with the company, to promote the ball in videos and commercials.

... Read
Gear & Equipment

Golfers are a loyal lot, particularly when it comes to their golf ball

By Mike Stachura

There are 1,308 balls on the USGA's conforming list, but a Golf Datatech study suggests despite all the alternatives, most consumers aren't interested in switching what they play.

The firm's semi-annual study of serious golfers shows 97 percent use their favorite ball brand more than half the time. Moreover, three of four typical golfers play their favorite more than 80 percent of the time. That's an increase from 66 percent when the same question was asked in summer 2012.

Even so, that doesn't necessarily mean consumers believe there is one ball that would work for everyone.

Only 28 percent agreed with the statement: "Do you believe there is a single golf ball which can perform best for all levels of play?" Higher handicaps (21 and above) were the least likely to think that was true, about half as much (17 percent) as single-digit players (33 percent).

Interested in more stories on equipment? Signup to receive Golf Digestix, a weekly digital magazine that offers the latest news, new product introductions and behind-the-scenes looks at all things equipment.

 

... Read
Gear & Equipment

Hogan's secret? A hands-on approach to clubfitting

By E. Michael Johnson

In less than a month, some lucky collector is going to be the proud owner of a set of Ben Hogan's clubs that The Hawk used in 1953 when he won the Masters, U.S. and British Opens, because one of two sets used by Hogan that year is going up for auction (the other is owned by the USGA).

ben-hogan-club-fitting.jpg
Photo: Augusta National/Getty Images

What the winner will receive is not just a piece of history, but an intriguing set of sticks with so much variation from club to club that it might drive a modern-day player berserk.

That's because Hogan's clubs were from a time well before constant loft, lie and swingweight checks became routine. Manufacturing tolerances were almost an oxymoron. As such, Hogan worked on his clubs and whatever felt good to him is what he went with.

"He set his clubs up for feel so the specs are a little all over the place," said Tom Stites, now a consultant for Nike Golf who learned the art of club design from Hogan himself. "On today's golf courses a player would really dig into the turf with those 8- and 9-irons. Those clubs would be pretty tough to play. But back then when the turf was firmer they were perfectly good."

Related: Ben Hogan's Timeless Tips

That's because those 8- and 9-irons had zero bounce. Today, most clubs start with 1 degree bounce on the 3-iron and progressively move up 1 degree of bounce per club, resulting in a pitching wedge with 8 degrees bounce. Hogan's bounce angles, however, were all over the lot from minus-2 degrees on his 4-iron, to 5 degrees on his pitching wedge. Although only 5-foot-8, Hogan had his irons made a half-inch longer than standard.

The lofts would be considered extremely weak today. Comparing Hogan's personalized MacGregor forged irons from 1953 to current forgings reveals that, on average, modern irons have lofts approximately 2.5 degrees stronger. According to Stites, they also have more than five times the offset of Hogan's old blades. Additionally, Hogan's irons weighed nearly 5 percent more than today's clubs, although the swingweight (between D-0 and D-2.25) is similar.

One club where the swingweight definitely was not similar is the driver, which checked in at a swingweight of G-2 -- reported to be the heaviest ever measured at the USGA test center. Conversely, today's titanium drivers routinely tip the scale at a swingweight of C-8 or C-9. That heavier clubhead was also in a considerably more compact package. Hogan's driver head was approximately 145cc. Virtually every driver currently used on the PGA Tour exceeds 400cc, and many are at the 460cc limit.

Hogan preferred very firm cord grips with a "reminder" pattern. A close look reveals that the reminder (a raised rib in the back) was set at 5:30 instead of 6 o'clock -- a slightly "weak" hand position. Although Hogan never explained why, it is a reasonable assumption he did so to combat the hook that plagued him early in his career.

Many professional golfers have idiosyncrasies when it comes to their equipment, but Hogan was really finicky. He inserted two extra cleats in the middle of his left golf shoe for added traction and also inserted an extra screw in the middle of the insert of his fairway woods, believing the hard metal would propel the ball farther than the plastic insert. He also routinely soaked golf balls in salt water in order to find ones that were perfectly round. Hogan's personal quality-control test on balls also went a step further. He would inspect them by holding a magnifying glass up to each, searching for excess paint in the dimples.

Related: Ben Hogan: Resurrection Days

Hogan's quest for perfection wasn't brand-specific. Although under contract with MacGregor at the time, Hogan routinely used Spalding Dot and Titleist golf balls. In fact, Hogan won the 1953 U.S. Open with the Dot and then the British Open using specially made 1.62-inch Titleist balls.

Ultimately, Hogan's lack of satisfaction with MacGregor equipment led him to create the Ben Hogan Golf Co. in late 1953. Still, the equipment he used for that magical season holds significant historical importance. So much so that it is likely the clubs will sell for more than Hogan's single-season high in earnings of $42,556 in 1946, when he won 13 times.

TOUR STORIES

jerry-kelly-putter.jpgJERRY KELLY // What's in a name?

Small putter companies are the Davids amid golf's Goliaths. In fact, at the WGC-Cadillac Championship and Puerto Rico Open, five companies (Odyssey, Titleist, Ping, TaylorMade and Nike) accounted for more than 90 percent of the putters being used, leaving few opportunities for upstart or long-standing smaller companies to get their flat sticks in play -- this was a far cry from 1999 when José Maria Olazábal used a Kevin Burns 9304 model in winning the Masters. That win helped spark a run where in 2002 putters from Burns were the fourth-most-used on the PGA Tour according to the Darrell Survey 2002 Equipment Almanac.

All of which made Jerry Kelly's solid showing in the Puerto Rico Open with a Kevin Burns putter notable. "I worked with him at John Deere last year and made him a new putter for this season," said Burns, who said he first met Kelly a few years ago at the Frys.com Open. The club is a redesign of Burns' 705 model and is 33 inches long with a mid-slant neck. Kelly used it to finish T-9 while ranking third in putts per round.

NEW STUFF

callaway-speed-regime-golf-ball.jpgCallaway Speed Regime
PRICE: $48/doz. (Three models: 1, 2, 3)

Patrick Reed used a version of the SR3, a five-piece ball that features a HEX dimple pattern specifically designed for players with swing speeds above 105 mph.

CallawayGolf.com


BAG ROOM

Those spotting Hunter Mahan using a Ping Eye2 lob wedge at the WGC-Cadillac Championship can rest easy. Mahan wasn't wielding one of the old Eye2s not permitted in competition but rather a conforming Eye2 XG model. . . . Russell Henley had Nike's tour technicians check the loft and lie angle on his Method 006 putter at Trump National Doral. Henley regularly has his putter inspected because the long neck makes it more likely that the loft or lie will get unintentionally altered when traveling. . . . A Yes! C-Groove Sandy 12 putter was back in the bag of Ryan Moore in Miami. The putter is the one he used in winning the CIMB Classic in Malaysia last October. Moore finished T-25 at the WGC, ranking 44th in strokes gained/putting. . . . Ernie Els had some new fairway woods in Miami. The four-time major champion employed Adams' new Tight Lies model for his 3- and 5-woods (14 and 19 degrees, respectively). . . . Francesco Molinari wanted a slightly different feel with his Nike Method 006 putter so he practiced with one at the WGC-Cadillac Championship that did not have weights like his gamer. After a few putts on the practice green at Trump National Doral, Molinari put the lighter putter in the bag, eventually finishing T-25 while ranking 37th in strokes gained/putting.


... Read
Gear & Equipment

Callaway appeals to your softer side with new ball

By E. Michael Johnson

Remember the early 2000s when the Lady Precept gained favor among men who found the soft, low-compression ball worked well for them, too? Since then manufacturers have tried designing balls with monikers more suitable for guys but with the same design principles.

The latest is Callaway's Super Soft, which has a startlingly low ball compression (38!) that the company says comes close to the USGA limit on initial velocity thanks to a large 1.595-inch core and soft ionomer cover.

Callaway-supersoft-12-ball-2014.jpgStill, there are challenges to designing such a ball. "The more soft you make it, the harder it is to make it resilient," says Dave Bartels, Callaway senior director of golf ball R&D. The company found the balance by manipulating the core composition and using the ionomer cover, which also improved the feel around the green.


... Read
Gear & Equipment

Too cold out to play golf? Not if you're using this ball

By E. Michael Johnson

As a youngster, I played as late into the season as possible and remember using low-compression golf balls because they produced a better feel in the cold. That memory makes the introduction of the ColdFusion ball -- designed for use when temperatures dip below 60 degrees--intriguing.

ColdFushion-golf-ball.jpg
The ball has a large core with a thick, elastic ionomer cover resulting in a compression of 70. According to the company, a 10-degree drop in temperature can result in a 2.5-yard loss of distance. To combat that, the core of the ColdFusion ($30 a dozen) is designed to retain its elasticity, and the thicker, soft cover helps enhance feel in chilly conditions -- not an insignificant attribute as anyone who has felt the sting of a poorly hit long iron in cold weather can attest.

... Read
Subscribe to Golf Digest
Subscribe today