Although First Flight, Ram and Royal had wound balls with Surlyn covers, it wasn't until 1971 when Spalding introduced its Top-Flite ball that there was a solid-core, Surlyn-covered offering in the marketplace. The ball promised the longest distance possible based on a driver/5-iron combination and its low spin gave tee shots plenty of roll to help back up that claim. Although some dismissed the ball as a "Rock-Flite" for its hard feel, golfers tired of cutting balata-covered balls after just a few swings, eagerly flocked to it, making it one of the best-selling balls of its time.
Ping Zing irons (1992)
It's impossible to replace a legend like the Ping Eye2 irons, but the buzz surrounding the Ping Zing iron was so great that it was the talk of the 1992 PGA Merchandise Show despite never being seen. In fact, the unusually shaped, oversized club with a dramatic improvement in moment of inertia over its predecessor didn't even make its way on to the PGA Tour until two months later, and wasn't in stores for another month after that. More than 5,000 orders were taken before the company's sales staff had even seen the club. Alas, less than two years later, the odd shape was being tweaked in a Zing2, and Ping, which had been the No. 1-selling iron for 12 straight years, was no longer at the top.
TaylorMade Burner Bubble (1994)
It took nearly a year after it had already won a major for TaylorMade to introduce the driver with the funny-looking shaft and the funnier name. Jose Maria Olazabal used a version of the shaft in his 1994 Masters victory, but the driver didn't arrive on the market until the following year, part of an $18 million marketing campaign behind the Burner Bubble driver. The shaft had a bulge just beyond the grip that pushed more weight toward the middle of the shaft to increase stability while weighing some 20 grams less than typical shafts at the time. The wait was worth it for TaylorMade as initial bookings in January 1995 surpassed all company quarterly sales records, and new order deliveries were pushed back to May. By the end of the year, TaylorMade's sales were up 75 percent.
Callaway Great Big Bertha driver (1995)
When Callaway introduced the Great Big Bertha driver in 1995, it already was the most-talked-about metalwood maker in golf. But it broke ground on several new fronts with the Great Big Bertha: It was 250 cubic centimeters or 25 percent bigger than its Big Bertha driver. It utilized titanium instead of stainless steel, so it was 10 percent lighter than its predecessor. And it retailed for an otherworldly $500. No matter. By the following year, Callaway's sales reached nearly $700 million, or more than 10 times what they had been just five years earlier.
Callaway Rule 35 ball (2000)
Prior to its January 2000 introduction Callaway did everything it could to keep its Rule 35 ball under wraps, while creating a sense of intrigue at the same time. A sign at the company's headquarters, in fact, noted that personal belongings were subject to search in order to prevent the spheres from being seen ahead of time. Commercials leveraging rumors about the ball were aired (remember the one saying it was made out of lizard DNA?). Six names were trademarked: Rule 35, Euphoria, Contact, Utopia, Holy Grail and Shot Euphoria. At the 2000 PGA Merchandise Show the ball was finally unveiled at a glitzy media event. A multilayer offering in two models: Red (firm feel) and Blue (soft feel) in five-ball sleeves. Why five balls? Company research said players lost 4.5 balls per round.
Titleist Pro V1 (2000)
Though solid-core multilayer balls had been having noteworthy success in professional golf for several years (Tiger Woods made the switch to the Nike Tour Accuracy before starting his Tiger Slam with the 2000 U.S. Open), the world was waiting for Titleist, the brand behind the No. 1 ball in professional golf, to join the movement away from wound tour balls. It did so in a big way at the 2000 Invensys Classic in Las Vegas, where a third of the field immediately switched to the Titleist Pro V1, including the winner Billy Andrade. The ball was used by the winner of seven of the first eight events of 2001 before it was even widely available to the public. In the 12 years since its introduction, Titleist has enjoyed more $1 billion in sales of Pro V1 and Pro V1x ball, or about one ball for every man, woman and child in the United States.
Callaway ERC II driver (2001)
Cheating. It's a word that is almost guaranteed to stir emotion in golf. And when word spread in early 2000 that Callaway was considering introducing a "nonconforming" driver called the ERC II, the debate was on. The club, which had a face that was springier than the rules allowed, was positioned by the company (and its pitchman, Arnold Palmer) as an alternative for those who wanted to hit the ball farther and enjoy the game without being hamstrung by the rules. Others felt it went against the very integrity of the game. When the club was formally introduced at an event held at the La Costa resort in California, the debate was on with no shortage of coverage in the media. In the company's 2001 annual report, Ely Callaway was quoted saying, "We launched the most publicized new driver in golf equipment history." Sales, however, did not match the hype as golfers opted to stay within the rules.
TaylorMade r7 Quad driver (2004)
Launched to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the company in May of 2004, the r7 Quad ushered in the idea of mass customization of drivers by a major company. Headed by a campaign that featured a tiny screw-in weight alone on a blank page with the words, "This changes everything," the driver utilized four movable weights to adjust the clubhead's center of gravity to one of six locations to alter ballflight to fight a slice or hook or increase launch angle. By year's end, the driver had won two majors, was the most-played on the PGA, Champions and LPGA tours and despite a price tag of nearly $500 ($100 more than any other leading driver) was the second-highest selling driver on the market.
Nike Sumo2 driver (2007)
Nike's square-headed Sumo2 driver made its debut on tour in October 2006 when K.J. Choi used it at the Funai Classic at Walt Disney World. From that time until the club's formal debut in January 2007, the golf world's fascination with square drivers ran high, leading several retailers to stock and, in some cases, quickly sell out of the clubs. Although Nike's version promised the maximum moment of inertia allowed under the rules, an unappealing sound at impact coupled with a manufacturing issue that led the club to be deemed nonconforming for spring-like effect essentially ended the thought by golfers that it was hip to be square.
TaylorMade R11 driver (2011)
In this era of the Internet and cell phone cameras, keeping a secret is more difficult than ever. The fact TaylorMade was able to keep the wraps on its white R11 driver for as long as it did build up a speculation and anticipation that hadn't been seen for a golf club in some time. When the product debuted in early 2011, the response matched the hype. The club was quickly adopted on tour and had success in the professional ranks as well as at retail, while a wisely-executed marketing campaign (that included tour players hitting balls on the streets of Manhattan and a giant R11 serving as a foul pole in Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres) served to sustain the enthusiasm.