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Gear & Equipment

Bridgestone says there's more to wedges than just grooves

loop-Bridgestone-J15-wedge2-250.jpgEverybody knows that grooves are important in the design of a wedge. But Bridgestone's latest offering, the J15, makes the case that it's the sole -- specifically the heel of the sole -- that's just as critical.

The narrowed heel section provides the foundation for cleaner contact (and better control on the shortest shots) by keeping the sole more flush with the ground even when the clubface is open. Meanwhile, the clubface receives a special heat treatment to increase surface hardness and to retain the forged carbon steel's interior softness.

Oh, and those grooves? They're deeper than previous models. The J15 ($120, six lofts, 50 to 60 degrees) is available in satin and oxide finishes and debuts in stores this week.

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Gear & Equipment

Winner's bag: What Brooks Koepka used to win the Waste Management Phoenix Open

140101-brookskoapja-260.jpgBrooks Koepka nabbed his first PGA Tour win in his first outing with Titleist’s 2015 version of its Pro V1x ball. The new ball is designed to have more spin on short game shots as well as having a slightly softer feel. Koepka’s iron play also served him well as he hit all 18 greens on the back nine during his two weekend rounds with his Titleist CB 714 irons and Titleist Vokey wedges.

 

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x
Driver: Titleist 915D2 (Mitsubishi Diamana White+ 72x), 8.5 degrees
3-Wood: Titleist 915Fd, 15 degrees
Hybrid: Titleist 915Hd, 20.5 degrees
Irons (4-9): Titleist CB 714; (PW): Titleist Vokey SM5
Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM5 (52, 56 degrees); Titleist SM4 TVD Grind (60 degrees)
Putter: Scotty Cameron by Titleist Newport 2 SLT T10

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Gear & Equipment

Chances are you don't hit your clubs quite as far as you say you do

We all know recreational golfers who, out of ego or ignorance, embellish their skills on occasion. (OK, maybe more like on regular occasion.) Save for a purposeful eye roll, it's difficult to challenge them given a lack of objective data.

Enter GAME Golf, which debuted its stat-tracking/GPS technology in 2013, creating sensors that golfers attach to their clubs that help calculate the true distances they hit the ball with each one. The company markets its device as a way for golfers to "be right" with their club selection by knowing how far they really hit their woods, irons and wedges, improving their course management.

In 2014, GAME Golf users played more than 170,000 rounds. At the end of the year the company aggregated these statistics to offers a look at how "skillful" regular golfers actually are. Not surprisingly it varies greatly, depending on skill level.

For instance, take GAME Golf users who shot average scores between 75-80. Breaking down topline stats from these golfers, the company found their average driving distance of 235 yards, found the fairway off the tee 51 percent of the time and hit 52 percent of their greens in regulation.

For golfers who averaged scores between 90-95, their stats aren't quite as solid. These players had an average driving distance of just 196 yards. Their fairways hit number was lower, but not drastically so, down to 43 percent. But where their significant difference was in ball-striking as their GIR mark was just 23 percent.

By basis of comparison, Graeme McDowell, a GAME Golf endorser uploaded, used the technology to track his game. Based on rounds he uploaded, McDowell averaged 270 yards off the tee, hit 77 percent of fairways and 72 percent of greens in regulation.

Meanwhile, using ShotLink data for the entire PGA Tour in 2013-14, the average drive on tour last season was 281.6 yards, the average fairways hit for players was 61.3 percent and the average GIR was 64.08 percent.



GAME Golf GAME Golf PGA Tour pros

75-80 shooters 90-95 shooters ShotLink stats
Average driving distance 235 yards
196 yards
281.6 yards
Fairways hit 51%
43% 61.3%
Greens In Regulation 52% 23% 64.08%


So, the next time the 15-handicapper in your foursome boasts about the 260 yards he averages off the tee, feel free to give him more than an eye roll.

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Gear & Equipment

After all this time, the PGA Merchandise Show might finally be getting it right

The annual PGA Merchandise Show is a Rorschach test. 

A salesman manning a perfectly uninhabited booth will assure you it’s been a “fabulous” show. A guy who’s been to 40 of them will insist they were writing more real business in the 1970s. The PGA of America will report a record of some kind. And someone will write that "technology is the new star" of our sport. 

In the end you make your own call. 

My read, after attending about 30 of these and spending, I figure, roughly 500 hours in the lobby of the Hyatt (ex Peabody) drinking beer and listening to other people’s pitches, is that we may be beginning to get it right.

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I agree there was some dazzling gadgetry in Orlando last week (devoted, curiously, to measuring the game as much as playing it), but I don’t think technology is the story. (And no, I did not miss the fact that there are now soft-compression balls that go really far!)

It sounds odd to say this, but the news for me was we’re finally seeing that golf is not a score, a set of clubs, a great resort or even a top-10 teacher. It’s an experience. Some of us are coming to that Starbucks realization that having coffee may not be about the coffee. 

In a variety of ways this show underscored that rule: Unless your product or service improves a golfer’s experience (not simply his or her score or gear) then you’re not making progress. It’s the dimples on the customer that count, not the ones on the golf ball.

All of this brilliance dawned on me during an educational seminar in which Lynn Marriott and Pia Nilsson, two of my favorite teachers, were telling 100 PGA professionals that on-course teaching -- not simply range lessons -- is key to student's improvement. Why? Because it addresses a golfer’s social and emotional lives as well as her physical or technical ones. “These aren’t mental or physical skills,” Marriott said. “They’re human being skills.” Golf being an amalgam of mental, physical, technical, social and emotional experiences. Not earth shattering, you say, but when I saw that spelled out on a whiteboard, I thought: Well, hey, that goes for the whole sport.  

With what golf has been through the past decade -- participation decline, course closings, private clubs going public, too many product introductions, etc. -- we’re beginning to view the game and its promotion holistically, which is a good thing. 

So as I walked the aisles, staring like Hermann Rorschach’s mental patients at my inkblots, I kept having this same realization. 

I saw it in the dozens of cool shoes at the show. This might have been called the National Cool, Comfortable Golf Shoe Show. FootJoy has come around. Puma has arrived. Even Callaway had cool shoes. Biion had its comfortable new version of the classics, and so on. Golf shoes are now sneakers or slippers. Call it the Ecco echo, but golf shoe technology has made, um, giant strides, all in the cause of making the sport comfortable. 

I heard it when I ran into Ron Whitten, our architecture editor, as we talked about the new list of America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses, some of which exhibited at the show. Our conversation quickly turned to playability and all the things architects were now saying about making courses more “fun” and less “great tests of golf.” 

I was reminded of it when I stopped to see the folks at Private Club Marketing and Preferred Golf, which books golf trips for American Express elite cardholders, making sure that golf experiences are memorable, not just exclusive or expensive. 

It was also apparent when I got news of Topgolf’s latest success, the opening of the new Tampa facility, where it’s said TG is doing hundreds of thousands of dollars a day. Or news that SNAG, the colorful kids golf orientation program, was expanding. 

And I had it all reinforced when I ran into Meg O'Donnell Kelly, a terrific teacher and assistant pro at Brooklawn C.C. in Fairfield, Conn. Meg reported on a kind of Topgolf experience at staid old Brooklawn. At the end of the year, she and the staff invited the tennis players and golfers and non-golfers to play a few holes and have drinks and dinner down at the tennis house. I think she called it a “Funfest.” It sold out. Then it oversold. Then they had to stop taking entries. 

But what about all that technology? Isn’t that the furthest thing from the experience of the game itself. Maybe not. 

It occurred to me that the greatest experience on earth is driving to a golf course to meet a tee time, donut and coffee by one’s side. Whether your game ever lives up to the in-car fantasy, well, you still have that drive. Wandering among the amazing technological devices that help golfers measure the speed, direction, launch angle and face angle of every swing, or to keep track of every drive, chip and up-and-in, not to mention penalty shot and three-putt, I realized that for a new generation of golfers, digital stat-keeping is like that drive to course. It’s the donut that comes with the coffee. 
 
Which is all part of the game.

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Gear & Equipment

Tiger Woods continues in role as footwear innovator with new TW '15

It seems unusual to say it now, but there was a time in the not-too-distant past when Tiger Woods wore some of the heaviest, traditional-looking golf shoes in the game. But that was before the knee and achilles injuries, the back surgery and, well, paradigm-shifting shoe technology.

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Woods switched to a prototype athletic-styled golf shoe back in August 2011, and this week at the Waste Management Phoenix Open he debuts Nike's newest version, the TW '15, inspired by the company's lightweight Free running shoe. The latest upgrade features increased stability through Nike’s Flyweave construction in the upper. The construction allows for a one-piece upper that let designer Tobie Hatfield selectively stabilize sections of the upper that are stressed the most during the golf swing.

“Tiger epitomizes power,” Hatfield says. “His power starts with natural motion, which begins with unleashing the foot from the ground up. Flyweave gives you that flexibility coupled with support.”

The TW '15 is 10-percent lighter than previous models.

According to Hatfield, the shoe also features improved traction elements on the outsole that are inspired by Woods’ passion for spearfishing. Hatfield says those points in the toe are reminiscent of octopus beaks, while he sees shark scales in the rubber of the shoe's tip and  heel.

The shoe ($250) will have limited availability beginning Feb. 2 at nike.com and be more widespread by March 5. There are three colors: university red/black, metallic silver/black and black/white. 

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Gear & Equipment

How Bridgestone is tweaking the dimple pattern in its e-Series balls to get you more distance

For nearly a decade, Bridgestone's e-Series balls, the e5, e6 and e7, have been aimed at average golfers looking to correct specific trajectory problems. They've also been the company's most consistently successful product line, accounting for routinely more than 50 percent of its market share. And for their entire history their development has been tied to Bridgestone's grassroots ball-fitting program that has steered golfers to a particular ball based on a launch monitor fitting with a driver. The company reports that it has conducted more than 264,000 ball-fittings as part of its Bridgestone Challenge.

So there would seem to be no reason to change the formula. And for the most part that's exactly the plan with the newest versions of e-Series balls, which continue the theme of a softer compression that gets progressively firmer as you move out from the center. 

Related: Our favorite products from the PGA Merchandise Show

But there is one noticeable exception in the new lineup. Each of the e-Series balls feature tweaks in dimple pattern aerodynamics geared to more distance. Those changes include what the company is calling "web" dimples, which more closely links its dual-dimple shaped depressions in a tighter pentagonal pattern to expand the surface coverage by 10 percent for more consistent flight. The result is a more penetrating flight with a shallower landing angle for more rollout.

The e5 uses a urethane cover over top of a large, soft compression core that gets gradationally firmer as you move out from the center. It's designed for higher flight with more spin on short shots because of its urethane cover.

blog-bridgestone-e5-0123.jpg

The low-spin e6 incorporates a low-spin mantle designed to mitigate off-center hit spin typically found in slices and hooks. The company calls it the softest multilayer ball on the market and it includes a soft compression gradational core, mantle layer and low-spin Surlyn ionomer cover. 

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The three-piece e7, which features a gradational core,  mantle layer and a Surlyn ionomer cover for low spin, is aimed at players seeking maximum distance who need their shots to fly lower. 

blog-bridgestone-e7-0123.jpg

Available at retail next month, each ball will sell for $28 per dozen.

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Gear & Equipment

Here's what the PGA Merchandise Show looks like on hyperlapse

The tyranny of Instagram's hyperlapse application means I couldn't speed it up enough to walk all the way from one end of the floor to the other, but here's a portion of the show near some of the major manufacturers. The clip takes us past GoPro and Oakley, around Callaway and Cobra, and past Titleist and the PGA's presentation stage. As you can see, it's pretty hectic. 

 

#PGAShow

A video posted by Luke Kerr-Dineen (@lukekerrdineen) on

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Gear & Equipment

Get ready to be able to see your golf swing from any conceivable angle

The search for the perfect swing may be a never ending journey, but the science of motion capture analysis tools is at least providing a road map. One of the latest is 4D Motion, which uses up seven sensors about the size of the Velcro closure in your glove attached to your hips, arm, wrist, chest, legs and club shaft to track the movement of both the club and your body as you swing.

blog-4DMotion-0123.jpg

Set to be available in May and initially aimed at instructors, the 4D Motion uses the sensors to create a full-body, three-dimensional biomechanical model of every swing. It tracks everything from swing path and hip rotation to face angle and clubhead speed. Using a tablet, phone or computer, you can view the swing from nearly any conceivable angle, including from above.

Related: Our favorite products from the PGA Merchandise Show

"As a golfer, I always felt that I could never see yourself making a swing," says founder and CEO Sang Kim. "With this you can see everything your body is doing, not just the club. Another thing this can do is because it's so portable, you can use it on the course. So you can see how your swing changes for instance when there are trees right and water left."

Then again, maybe nobody wants to see that.

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Gear & Equipment

How early should you start your kids in golf? This company says as early as possible

ORLANDO -- Golf's future may ride heavily on the idea of growing the game with youngsters but one new manufacturer says they're not starting the game early enough.

"When you see a skier with his 1-year-old and you ask him when his son is going to start skiing, he's likely to say, 'He's already started,' says Kris Wilson, president and CEO of The Littlest Golfer. "But if you see that same guy at the golf course with his son and ask the same question about starting to play golf, he might say, 'Oh, I don't think I'll start him until maybe he's 6 or 7. I think if you start kids early with the game, they become golfers for life."

So Wilson developed a set for beginning junior golfers called the TLG First Set ($100), aimed at youngsters 18 months to 3 years old. The set includes three ultralight, high-impact plastic training clubs with composite shafts, foam balls, a tiny Sunday bag and an instructional DVD. Most notable are the soft, pre-formed grips designed to place a youngster's hands on the club properly every time.

littlest-full.jpg
The Asheville, N.C.-based company also markets golf-inspired clothes for youngsters and even babies (including a polo one-zee), as well as golf books and matching themed slacks for parents.

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Gear & Equipment

Live from Day Two at the PGA Merchandise Show

Upgraded towels 
The towel on my bag is boring and gross. The towels made Devant Towels are not. They got involved with the caricature artist David O'Keefe to create some pretty fun towels. The one here is called the Big Three, obviously. Check out the Caddy Shack line, it's hilarious. 
They retail at $20.
- K.L. 

big three towel.jpg
 

An app that trains your brain

ThinQ is an app that works on your desktop or smart phone and, in the words of its CEO Tim Suzor, is the "Lumosity for sports." It includes a series of games designed to prove the cognitive abilities that are most important for playing good golf. "Coaches usually just tell their students to focus better," Suzor says, "but there's nothing out there that actually trains people to focus better." The games are divided into five different categories -- Awareness, Adaptability, Attention, Intention, and Synchronicity -- and get increasingly more difficult the more you play them. The app costs $7.99 for a month's subscription, or $79.99 for a year.

- LKD

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Hackel the hamster

I freely admit that i'm not the most fashionable guy around, but I decided to venture over to the fashion side of the PGA Merchandise Show anyway. Why not? Anyway, I keep my head down as I walk and I'm not really focusing on anything, but by the time I actually start engaging with my surroundings, I look up and see Marty Hackel, Golf Digest's Mr. Style, doing this. Not sure why, but in any case, go Hackel!

- LKD


A push cart that doesn't take a Master's degree to fold up 

While the push cart is making a bit of a renaissance thanks to its use last year by the NCAA men's individual champion Cameron Wilson of Stanford, one of the traditional complaints about their use by average golfers is the difficulty of folding them and storing them in the trunk of a car without taking up too much room. Too often storing a push cart can make building a dresser from Ikea seem like child's play.

loop-sun-mountain-reflex-opened-400.jpgBut Sun Mountain is combating those complaints with the Reflex push cart, which folds up nearly instantaneously and neatly to a size that's barely more than two cubic feet. The cart's E-Z Latch system takes the Reflex from open to folded in three steps that might take all of five seconds even on a day when you've used its beverage holder for nothing but refills on Coors Light.

loop-sun-mountain-reflex-folded-300.jpgThe cart also includes two padded accessory trays, and its twin handles rotate so they can be positioned at any angle and in any arrangement, from a traditional horizontal setup or flipped vertically to accommodate players who prefer a more centered position.

Despite its compact size when folded, the Reflex ($260, six colors) features the widest wheel base of any Sun Mountain push cart.

-- M.S.


Companies continue to pursue more affordable launch monitors 

SkyGolf has a new launch monitor that's geared towards people that don't want to spend an overwhelming amount of money, but still want all the stats. The SkyTrak is small, standing at just 7.5" tall. It records ball speed, launch angle, back spin, side spin, and side angle. It pairs wirelessly with your iPad, so you view all of the stats whether you're hitting balls in your garage or out on the range. They're working on adding a gaming component soon, so you can set up matches against your buddies. Retail is at $1995. 

-K.L.

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Two reasons the golf industry should be looking up

The golf industry has been searching for specks of bright news after what initially was a tough year in its retail data, and it got two bright signs in reports released by Golf Datatech and PGA PerformanceTrak during the PGA Merchandise Show.

Golf Datatech announced that its first-ever study of the size of the global golf market revealed annual sales of equipment to be some $9 billion. The report is a cooperative effort with Yano Research Institute, which studies the golf market in Japan, and its full details will be reviewed early next month. Of that $9 billion, the U.S. accounts for 41 percent, Japan 24 percent and Korea 7 percent, while the U.K. and Canada each share 5 percent. Said Tom Stine, co-founder of Golf Datatech with Jon Krzynowek, "The report is valuable first because it's never been done before. The industry needs this. If you don't keep score, how do you know if you're winning or losing?"

Krzynowek noted that while 2014 had been a down year for the U.S. golf market, it wasn't as bad as others might have you believe. Overall, he said the golf-retail business was down 3.5 percent, but that some categories, such as irons, the highest purchase price equipment item, were up in 2014.

Perhaps even more positive was the report released by PGA PerformanceTrak, which analyzes rounds played in the U.S. According to its data, rounds played per day courses were open were up 1 percent in 2014. While total rounds played were down 1.4 percent compared to 2013, the number of days courses in the U.S. were open was the lowest in nine years.

Golf-fee revenue per day open and golf-merchandise revenue per day open also were up in 2014 compared to 2013, and 36 of the 70 major metropolitan areas saw growth in rounds played per day open in 2014.

-- Mike Stachura


Is this the start of hipster golf?

Golf's critics always say that the game is too slow, doesn't provide enough exercise, and that it's not environmentally sustainable. Well, on the surface, The Golf Bike seems to take a step towards solving all three. The Golf Bike retails for $995.00 and the idea is pretty simple. You ride it to the golf course and during your round, and because it has specified slots for your clubs, you don't have to worry about balancing them on your back as your ride. Problem solved, right?

- Luke Kerr-Dineen

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The ultimate hybrid golf bag?

In past years we've seen a handful of manufacturers introduce all-in-one golf bag/push carts combos that try to scratch a niche in the market. This year in Orlando, there's a different hybrid golf bag that's got our attention.

Pat Maguire, a New Zealand native and founder of Aeroe Limited, has unveiled the GolfPod, which he's dubbing "the world's first hardshell golf travel case and cart-bag combo."

loop-golfpod-playing-500.jpgThe Aeroe GolfPod has a square design that's less than a foot wide and deep, allowing it to easily fit on the back of a golf cart or sit on the frame of a push cart. It has room for 14 clubs and an umbrella, plus two separate compartments to store golf balls, water bottles, outerwear, etc. When you're done with your round, reattach the removable top, and the bag becomes it's own self-contained travel case (which stands 49-inches tall and comes complete with wheels for easy transport) that can be checked as luggage at an airport.

Additionaly, Aeroe has also developed "The Link," a patented rack system* that allows the GolfPod to snap in to the top of a car's roof rack without the need for straps and bungee cords.

loop-aeroe-golfpod-500.jpg* I have to admit, that's what initially drew me into the Aeroe booth in the first place. I saw Maguire demonstrating it and had a flashback to Aunt Edna on the top of the Griswolds' car in the movie "Vacation." But I digress ...
 
Maguire had three GolfPods at the show, saying that the company is now entering the production stage and hopes to have products ready for retail in the fall of  2015. Retail prices is set $600.

-- Ryan Herrington

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Hello and welcome to GolfDigest.com's stream of live updates from the 2015 PGA Merchandise show. We'll have our team of editors roaming the property hunting for things to catch their eye. Think of it as your own kind of private Twitter stream, except with less animals. Stay tuned for regular updates and catch up on our stream from Tuesday here and Wednesday here.
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