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Gear & Equipment

Callaway lets the tech do the talking with Solaire Gems women's clubs

By Mike Stachura

loop-equipment-callaway-solaire.jpgToo often the talk regarding women's clubs centers on color and the number of pockets in the bag that come with the set. Although the latest Callaway Solaire Gems line has easy answers to those questions (two and eight, respectively), it also offers technology upgrades that include thinner faces and reduced offset.

The metalwoods are designed with a flatter roll on the faces to increase launch angles by 1.5 degrees. The irons feature a deeper undercut cavity (similar to last year’s X Hot irons) for a faster-flexing face. Offering a higher loft on the sand wedge (56 degrees) improves greenside versatility.

The seven-club version ($700) includes a driver (13.5 degrees), 3-wood, 5-hybrid, 7-iron, pitching wedge, sand wedge and putter. The 12-club set ($1,000) adds 5- and 7-woods, a 6-hybrid and 8- and 9-irons.

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Gear & Equipment

Wilson celebrates its centennial with some vintage swag

By Stephen Hennessey

Drawing on a history that includes ties to legends like Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead, Wilson is marking its 100th anniversary by selling throwback gear.

As a part of the yearlong celebration, Wilson staffers Kevin Streelman (below), Ricky Barnes and Padraig Harrington, among others, are wearing hats with the company's former shield logo. The retro caps ($20) can be purchased with other cool items sporting the historic trademark. They include vintage-looking FG Tour 100 irons, a centennial model of the company's Nexus carry and cart bags ($200), headcovers ($20), golf balls and towels.

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The brand has been around since 1914, and its tour pros have won 61 majors using the company's irons. For more information go to Wilson.com.



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Gear & Equipment

Forgiveness is key in design of Callaway's new Edge hybrid-iron set

By Mike Stachura

In Callaway's Edge hybrid-iron set, forgiveness takes many forms.

The company touts the Edge as its most stable iron, but the design didn't just strive to make mis-hits better, says Evan Gibbs, senior manager of product performance. It also tries to help golfers improve in spite of themselves.

"These players don't have consistent swings, so you want a little more offset and a wider sole that's going to give them more forgiving turf interaction," he says.

HotList-Callaway-Edge-iron.jpg

Those features, with lofts that are 1 to 2 degrees higher than Callaway's X2 Hot irons, can help get the ball in the air. "For higher-handicap players, it's less about controlling spin and more about getting those launch angles high," Gibbs says.

HotList-Callaway-Edge-Hybrid.jpg
In stores Friday ($700 in steel, $800 in graphite), the set has three hybrids (4H-6H) and five hollow-cavity irons.


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Gear & Equipment

TaylorMade adds driving range to Times Square

NEW YORK -- Approximately 330,000 people wander through New York's Times Square each day. On Tuesday, TaylorMade hoped to make most of them golfers.

The company, which created a snowy white-out on a Manhattan street in 2011 for the launch of its first white driver the R11, constructed a driving range at the famed "Crossroads of the World" between 42nd and 43rd Streets to highlight a promotion for its SpeedBlade irons.

The "Speed Pocket World Challenge" also took place in three other cities (London, Toronto and San Francisco), with prospective customers getting the opportunity to demo the SpeedBlade 6-iron compared to other irons. A leader board captured golfers' stats and compared them to the results from events in the three other cities. A local winner will be named in each city, as well as an overall "Speed Pocket World Champion," who will receive a trip to the company's Kingdom clubfitting facility. (At noon Tuesday, the leader had picked up 38 yards over his previous irons.)

"It was really fun to try out the new clubs in a setting like this," said Jonathan Balangon of New York. "They usually only do this kind of thing at private country clubs."

Introduced last fall, the SpeedBlade irons are the company's second iteration of irons with a slot in the sole. The slot, called the "speed pocket," is designed to allow the club's thin face to flex at impact to create more ballspeed and a higher launch angle.  

Top-rated teacher Hank Haney and Golf Channel personality Charlie Rymer also were part of the program. The good news is that after a rough weather start to the golf season the forecast for midday in Times Square of 50 degrees held true.
 

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Gear & Equipment

Ping i25 irons are making converts

By Mike Stachura

It has apparently been an easy transition for tour players from Ping's i20 irons to the new i25, a progressively designed line that alters blade length, sole size and even the width of the cavity's stabilizer bars through the set.

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Of the staff players who have switched, Kirk Triplett won with them a few weeks ago on the Champions Tour, and Azahara Munoz was runner-up in Singapore on the LPGA Tour. Updates include a shift in the center of gravity on the long irons (slightly back) and short irons (slightly forward) to optimize performance.

The i25 ($800, set of eight) also has a 10-gram tungsten weight low in the toe and a softened sole relief to make the club forgiving enough for middle-handicappers.



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Gear & Equipment

Wilson Golf taps its long history with latest FG Tour 100 irons

By Mike Stachura

Building a club that mimics 1970s design isn't usually the way to go in the innovation-addicted world of golf equipment. But when it comes to making a forged blade iron, Wilson is hoping something that looks old is all new.

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Introduced to commemorate the company's 100th anniversary, the FG Tour 100 irons evoke the "button-back" design of its 1971 Staff Dynapower irons. The heads are forged from 8620 carbon steel and have the iconic Wilson bore-through, "fluid-feel" hosel insert and distinctive long ferrule. Also, the button-back has been redesigned for better weight distribution.

One thing different about the new irons is the price. The 1971 clubs retailed for about $200; today's set costs $1,000, which, as it turns out, is less than the rate of inflation.


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Gear & Equipment

Adams offers 'straight' talk with its new XDT iron

By Mike Stachura

The story about irons designed with a low center of gravity to launch the ball higher isn't new. Same goes for thin faces.

Adams' latest iron has those concepts covered but takes the conversation about iron technology one step farther. The new XTD ($600, 4-iron through pitching wedge) seeks to create straighter shots by pushing weight farther back from the face.

Adams XDT iron (415).jpgThe back of the club has crossed braces that deepen the CG and produce "gear effect," says Justin Honea, Adams Golf's senior VP of R&D. That's something usually seen in only metalwoods, but Honea says moving the CG back from the face has resulted in toe shots with a bit of draw spin instead of going straight right.

The design also benefits from a thin Carpenter 455 steel face and a sole slot for increased face flexibility. The set includes the option of adding the new Adams Pro hybrid for an additional $100 a club.



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Gear & Equipment

Late-season iron sales up


The golf industry's sales numbers for the full year 2013 are still a few weeks away from being released, but it already has been a resurgent year for iron sales. 

November numbers continued that trend, according to industry researcher Golf Datatech's report of November iron sales at on- and off-course shops. Units showed a 6.3 percent boost, while dollars were up 16.4 percent compared to last November's numbers. 

The estimated $25.3 million in sales was the highest figure for November since the 2007 recession. It also was the fifth highest November since Golf Datatech began tracking sales figures in 1997. While November numbers will never match the kind of sales seen in the spring and summer months, there's been an increasing trend for companies to launch products in the fall. This November's iron sales were clearly fueled by successful fall introductions from a handful of major companies that ranged from players irons (Ping S55, Titleist AP2) to game-improvement sets (Adams Idea, Cobra Baffler XL, Mizuno JPX-EZ, TaylorMade SpeedBlade). 

The iron business, which almost always is the biggest equipment purchase a golfer makes, was one of the few bright spots for the industry in November and throughout much of the year. Of the eight major categories tracked by Golf Datatech (metalwoods, irons, wedges, putters, balls, bags, gloves and shoes), irons saw the only significant gains. Wedges were flat and all the other categories were down to varying degrees.

In related news, Golf Datatech in conjunction with Yano Research Institute of Japan are expected to announce their findings in the first-ever U.S./Japan joint golf market report next Wednesday at the annual PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando.
 

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Gear & Equipment

While The Iron Is Hot: 2013 sales data, so far

By Mike Stachura

From the Nov. 13 edition of Golf Digest Stix:

iron-sales-data.jpg"Game-improvement irons defy classification. They're distance irons that don't look like distance irons," Callaway's senior VP of R&D, Alan Hocknell, told Golf Digest recently. They're also selling. Through 2013's first nine months, iron sales had their best performance since 2008, Golf Datatech reports. In dollars, sales were 4 percent ahead of last year's pace and showed double-digit gains over 2011, 2010 and 2009.

One reason could be the emergence of clubs with thin, high-speed face designs, bringing some metalwood distance technology to irons. It might also be cyclical. Golf Datatech's latest consumer-attitudes study suggests the average serious golfer buys a new set of irons every 5.2 years.


[Illustration by Harry Campbell]

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Gear & Equipment

Irons influenced by driver technology are drawing notice from tour pros

By E. Michael Johnson

We all have things we like to hold on to. Cars that we run into the ground and shirts that we wear until threadbare come to mind. Irons also tend to fit that bill.

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Photo: Jim Rogash/Getty images

The main reason golfers hold on to irons past their prime is that the technology is often hidden in a plain shape and presented in a quiet way. Such visual understatement leads consumers to believe irons are short on science and engineering, making what they currently have in the bag as good as anything they could possibly purchase. That is shortchanging the benefits of today's improved models.

The creative use of technology and materials has never been more prevalent in irons. Some of it you see (such as better-designed soles to improve turf interaction) and some you don't (optimal center-of-gravity positions). Perhaps the biggest leap has been that driver technologies, such as thin faces that produce a high springlike effect and high moment of inertia (helping maintain ball speed even on mis-hits), have made their way to irons.

Related: Hot List Irons

At the BMW Championship, TaylorMade unveiled its latest iron designed for distance, SpeedBlade, having staff players Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose exhibit its benefits. Rose hit shots with a TaylorMade MB (muscle-back) 4-iron and the SpeedBlade 4-iron, the latter not only resulting in approximately 20 yards more distance, but a greater peak height as well.

"Sure, I'll take the extra yards," said Rose, who switched to RocketBladez irons in his 3- through 6-irons earlier this year. "But it's the ability to get the extra distance with the height that matters. If the ball comes in flat, it's not going to help. But these reach a nice apex and then come down with an angle of descent that it should have. That is a huge plus."

Rose's comments underscore the reluctance of some to put thin-faced irons that produce extra yards in play. Sure, it might be fun to nuke a 5-iron every now and then, but irons are not designed for distance. Distance control and accuracy are the keys. And high COR irons would appear to contradict the very attributes one would want in their irons.

Now, however, designers appear to have tapped into the best of both worlds: extra yards while maintaining consistency with that distance as well as achieving the correct height for the corresponding iron. After all, a 5-iron that flies like a 3-iron isn't helpful no matter how much more length it produces.

Related: TaylorMade upgrades slotted iron with SpeedBlade

"The face rebound is something that hasn't had a lot of attention on irons until recently," Nike's Tom Stites told Golf World earlier this year. "What we've been able to do for the VR_S irons is take technology from behind the face of our drivers and bring it down to our irons to produce faster ball speeds without sacrificing the height players expect from their irons."

But is there such a thing as too thin? Certainly there are limits on how skinny an iron face can go before issues regarding durability and intangibles such as poor sound and feel come into play. But for now designers seem to have been able to stretch those limits on face thinness while avoiding drawbacks.

All of which means that while you might consider your old irons to be trusted allies, new ones with thinner faces that allow you to hit an 8-iron the same distance you used to hit a 7-iron will give you a better chance to get reacquainted with someone you might not have seen in a while: Mr. Green In Regulation.

TOUR STORIES

bubba-watson.jpgBubba Watson // The Big Switch

Bubba Watson hates changing equipment. Being the quintessential "feel player," the 2012 Masters champ can sense the slightest differences, which makes adapting to new clubs challenging. In fact, Watson has used Ping's S59 irons since 2004, getting a new set each November and working into them over a couple months. Which is why Watson's change at the BMW Championship to a set of Ping's new S55 irons is noteworthy.

Watson used the off week prior to the BMW to test the clubs at his Orlando home. Although ready to make the change, there was work still to be done as Watson felt the irons were hooking too much. Taking an earlier flight (yes, commercial) to Chicago, Watson arrived at Conway Farms where Ping's tour reps flattened the lie angle on his irons 1 degree, alleviating the problem and prompting Watson to put the irons in the bag. "I trust my feel so when it feels right to me, I trust that we've done the right things," Watson told Golf World earlier this year. Watson's instincts about that were pretty much spot on as he ranked T-7 in greens in regulation with the new irons at the BMW.

NEW STUFF

taylormade-speedblade_hero.jpgTaylorMade Speed Blade
PRICE: $799 (set of eight, steel)

TaylorMade's latest iron marries a thin face with a "speed pocket" (a slot in the sole of the 3- through 7-irons) that enables the face to flex at impact. The result is a faster ball speed with a higher launch. The clubs boast a satin nickel chrome plating with a dark smoke satin ion plating.

TaylorMadeGolf.com.com

BAG ROOM

The clubs Jim Furyk used to birdie his final hole and shoot 59 during the second round of the BMW Championship have a story. Playing the 405-yard, par-4 ninth hole (he started on the 10th), Furyk struck a perfect tee shot with a Callaway FT Optiforce 440 driver he put in play at the RBC Canadian Open. The approach from 103 yards that settled three feet from the hole was with a Callaway X Forged 50-degree wedge that Furyk asked for with plenty of offset -- an unusual request for most tour players but something the 2003 U.S. Open champion has employed for some time. Finally, the putt was made with an Odyssey Versa #1W that Furyk first used at Oak Hill CC during the PGA Championship. Furyk had used a similar model earlier in the year, but this putter had a single-bend shaft (instead of a double-bend) and was a half-inch longer at 35.5 inches. ... Strong-lofted irons were in the bags of some players to combat the winds at Conway Farms. Patrick Reed once again had a pair of Callaway X Forged 2-irons, one of them bent to 1-iron loft. Kevin Stadler used Ping's prototype Rapture driving iron at 2-iron loft while Brendan Steele employed Titleist's 712U 2-utility iron.


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