The Local Knowlege

Gear & Equipment

Our lobby has been overrun by golf bags

Here's a snapshot of our lobby at Golf Digest headquarters, which suggests either A) we're testing new golf bags, or B) there's a massive backup on a tee somewhere.

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Actually, yes, it's that time of year when our equipment editors are reviewing golf bags for our annual bag Hot List. They started with 63 bags, which meant scrutinizing an endless assortment of zippers and dividers, straps, and water bottle holders. The best of the bunch will be featured in the Hot List in the July issue. Your assignment until then is to check out last year's bag Hot List for background.

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Gear & Equipment

A limited-edition Rory McIlroy putter put out by Nike sold out in two minutes

Apparently some people think that if they have the same putter as Rory McIlroy they might putt like him. How many? At least 215. That’s the number of folks who shelled out $450 for a Nike Method 006 putter -- selling out the limited-edition online offering in just two minutes on Wednesday.

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 McIlory has used the putter -- which is a derivative of the company’s Method Midnight 006 -- for his last two major championships. The blade-style putter was developed by Nike master craftsman David Franklin and features the polymetal groove technology that was first introduced in the company’s original Method line of putters. “When we get together to discuss what the athletes need to perform at a world-class level, we bring our expertise to the table and they bring theirs,” said Franklin. “There is power in that and we take it very seriously.”
 
Indeed, both McIlroy and Tiger Woods have often talked about their involvement in the club development process at Nike. “This is really the first time I've worked with a manufacturer where I've been so involved, and so I really feel like my opinion is valued, a lot,” McIlroy told Golf World last year. “We might discuss something and the guys will come back a couple of weeks later and we’ll have the physical product in our hands, and right away we're working on, ‘how does this look, how does it feel, is it what you imagined it to be like.’ I've worked really hard with the guys on developing stuff that's going to work for me.”
 
Apparently 215 everyday golfers feel that it’s going to work for them, too. And if you’re looking to get your hands on one of the Method 006 putters, some will still be available at select retailers beginning April 17.

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Gear & Equipment

Acushnet patent-infringement case takes on start-up brands

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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.”
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Gear & Equipment

Nike just patented plans for a really intense, interesting camera

Nike applied for and, on March 17, was awarded a patent for a fascinating-looking camera. Quartz, who spotted the patent, describes the camera as "a cross between a boombox and an antique radio."

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The camera is designed to be placed at any angle you want, like a regular camera, but it's different because it simultaneously records 11 different sections of the golf swing in high-definition. Unfortunately, no word on when the product will hit the market.

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Gear & Equipment

Puma's new golf shoes keep it casual, but also sophisticated

As casual footwear styles continue to cross over into golf shoes, officials at Puma Golf believe there's an opportunity to bend the trend slightly. With the launch of their BioDrive Leather shoes, the company hopes to appeal to golfers who seek the comfort and performance of more modern golf shoes but also want a more upscale look.

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The shoes ($140) use full-grain leather in four color combinations to create a premium, sophisticated appearance. In addition to a waterproof upper, they incorporate the technological bells and whistles from the original mesh version of the BioDrive shoe.

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The compressed foam midsole reduces the weight and increases the shoe's cushioning and flexibility. The carbon-rubber outsole and perimeter wrap design provide increased stability and durability. Octagonal spikes on the shoe's bottom help create more than 130 points of contact with the ground for better traction.

The shoes will be available April 1.

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Gear & Equipment

The story behind the technology hidden in Nike's Method Converge putters

Putters sometimes get noticed more for what people see on the outside. However, it's the materials and structures inside the clubhead and grip that are the game-changers on Nike's new Method Converge.

Each of the four head styles uses a proprietary resin polymer ("RZN") between the face and back to improve how the ball rolls. The company says the polymer material can control sidespin on off-center strikes so toe and heel misses come off the face consistently straighter.

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Even more intriguing is what's inside the grip. On the Nike's 35- and 38-inch counterbalanced models (called CounterFlex), a 75-gram weight can be shifted within the 15-inch grip to let golfers adjust how much counterbalance they want.

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There are four models in the series, with standard designs ($170) available in May and the CounterFlex ($230) available in June.

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Gear & Equipment

What happened to Troy Merritt's 2-iron (and Phil Mickelson's 8-iron) isn't normal

OK, what the heck is going on at the Valero Texas Open? The first day featured the craziest birdie ever by Aaron Baddeley as well as 31 players failing to break 80 at TPC San Antonio in windy conditions. It also provided two of the strangest equipment malfunctions you'll ever see.

Related: 9 costly equipment rules blunders

First, Troy Merritt, whose 2-iron's face caved in somehow on the 11th hole:

Merritt, remembering where a lot of his bread is buttered, was quick to offer a follow-up tweet promoting his equipment sponsor. Smart.

But TPC San Antonio didn't discriminate when it came to embarrassing players or breaking certain brands of equipment. Phil Mickelson had the head of his Callaway 8-iron snap off at impact while hitting out of a fairway bunker on the 12th hole:

Hey, you know what they say about messing with Texas.

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Gear & Equipment

Executive shuffle at TaylorMade-adidas Golf

Less than a year after taking over for Mark King as CEO of TaylorMade-adidas Golf, Ben Sharpe has left the company. A company-issued press release Thursday cited "personal reasons" for the departure.

Elevated to company president and CEO is David Abeles, an industry veteran who rejoined the company as president of TaylorMade and Adams at Sharpe's direction Feb. 12. Abeles will report directly to Herbert Hainer, CEO of adidas Group.

This is Abeles third stint at TaylorMade. He started in 1998 as general manager for Asia Pacific, then was promoted to director of sales, North America before spending six years with Acushnet (parent of Titleist/FootJoy) as VP sales and marketing. Abeles returned to TaylorMade in 2008 as executive VP and GM only to leave the company a second time in late 2013.

"David has a proven track record of success and leadership excellence," Hainer said. "I am convinced that David will lead our golf business into the next era of growth."

Hainer has a vested interest in hoping that statement comes true. A Wall Street Journal article from last September stated that, "In meetings with Adidas representatives, large shareholders have criticized the performance of Chief Executive Herbert Hainer, arguing that Mr. Hainer should have reacted faster to the steep slide in U.S. sales at its TaylorMade golf brand, according to people present at the meetings."

Another WSJ article published today noted that Adidas' stock price fell 40 percent in 2014 and that it was seeking to bring products to market at a more rapid pace. The article detailed that Adidas reported 2014 net profit of 490 million Euros, down from 787 million Euros the year before, on sales worth 14.5 billion Euros.

When Abeles rejoined TaylorMade in February, Sharpe stated: "We now have the executive talent to execute the game plan we have established for long-term success."

That success, if achieved, will ironically happen with Abeles, not Sharpe at the helm. 

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Gear & Equipment

PowerBilt's latest driver reaches a new low (in a good way)

In equipment circles, the push for drivers with extremely low spin is a more common topic of conversation than Tiger Woods' return. Nearly every driver introduced in 2015 has a center of gravity (CG) lower than in past generations. The latest to do so is PowerBilt's new Air Force One DFX Tour.

loop-DFX-TOUR-DR-Sole-450.jpgThe club has a nine-gram weight angled forward in the front of the sole. The result is a lower, more forward CG compared with the company's regular DFX MOI driver to produce tee shots with less spin.

The DFX Tour ($300, 8.5, 9.5, 10.5 degrees) also uses pressurized nitrogen gas in the clubhead to reinforce the metal walls without needing added material for support (the valve houses the nine-gram weight). This helps designers create a more flexible, thin face for more ball speed.

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Gear & Equipment

This GPS range finder may not look all tricked out, but don't be fooled

In the NEO Ghost, Bushnell has developed a GPS range finder that seems aptly named. At roughly 2 by 2 inches, you might hardly notice it’s there.

When you do reach for it, however, you’ll find it offers several helpful features. The device ($130) is pre-loaded with more than 30,000 courses and includes auto-course and auto-hole recognition. In addition to front, middle and back green distances, it provides up to four hazard/lay-up yardages per hole. It also has a distance-measuring mode to track how far you hit any shot.

loop-neo-ghost-group-560.jpgThe NEO Ghost is available in black, white, neon green and charcoal and comes with a clip holder that lets you carry it on your belt or golf bag.

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