It's not like TaylorMade hasn't had a big driver launch before, but the company's latest adjustable driver, the R11, is going one route no one in golf has seen before.
In a scenario usually seen in Apple product launches, video game releases and Harry Potter movie premieres, the R11, a Gold selection in the 2011 Golf Digest Hot List, will be sold in some venues starting tonight at midnight. It will be golf retail's version of Midnight Madness.
"We'll have $50 gift card giveaways for the first 10 customers tonight," said Chris Owen, store manager at the Golf Galaxy in East Hanover, N.J. Most Golf Galaxy stores will be open starting at 12:01 to push sales of TaylorMade's two new white-shaded drivers, the adjustable R11 and the long- and light-shafted Burner SuperFast 2.0, also a Gold selection in the 2011 Golf Digest Hot List.
"I'll be curious to see how many people come in," Owen said. "It's the first time in my seven years that I've seen anything like this."
TaylorMade is the current industry leader in driver sales, but the company broke with the traditional white for reasons that go beyond marketing. Engineers say the contrasting white crown with the black face helps golfers get a better sense of their alignment and aim. It also makes it the most distinctive color in a driver in years, perhaps since TaylorMade introduced copper-colored heads when it launched the Burner Bubble driver in 1995.
Speaking of distinctive, the staff at Morton Golf at Haggin Oaks Golf Complex in Sacramento, Calif., will be dressed in all white when customers come in to look at the new drivers.
Meanwhile, retail giant Golfsmith will open its stores at 8 a.m. to catch the eager audience, and the company is planning a "white-out" event at its New York City store in mid-February that will involve Martin Kaymer and Sergio Garcia and a 120-foot long hitting cage on 54th street in Manhattan.
But those interested buyers likely won't be the first to own the new TaylorMade drivers. Pre-ordered R11 drivers have already been delivered to some customers, and the Roger Dunn Golf Shop in Santa Ana, Calif., says they began selling the driver a few days ago once the delivery arrived in the shop. Those sales come before the much marketed "2.4.11" date that appears on TaylorMade literature and advertising announcing the new product, which debuted to much excitement at the PGA Merchandise Show last week in Orlando, Fla. The R11 driver will sell for $400, while the Burner SuperFast 2.0 will be at $300.
Still, the industry is waiting cautiously to see if a $400 driver can create interest beyond the early adopter stage. According to golf researcher Golf Datatech, sales of drivers retailing for more than $300 represent a fraction of current driver sales. Still, one of the most hottest selling new drivers on the market is the adjustable Titleist 910 D2/D3, which retails for $400 (Gold on the 2011 Golf Digest Hot List). Plus, Callaway's drawing interest with its new RAZR Hawk drivers (Gold on the 2011 Golf Digest Hot List), which Phil Mickelson used this past week at the Farmers Insurance Open. It, too, will sell for $400. Of course, none of those drivers have received the added boost that might be provided by a win on the PGA Tour. The only new driver with a win on the PGA Tour is the Nike VR Pro, a Gold selection on the 2011 Golf Digest Hot List, used by Jhonattan Vegas to win the Bob Hope Classic.
As for how the TaylorMade drivers will do in their after-hours debut tonight, Owen isn't certain there'll be a lot of eager golfers making their way through icy conditions to go to a golf shop in the dead of night.
"It's a different time to introduce a product," he said. "Usually, somebody's going to want to try that driver the day they buy it. They won't be able to do that here unless they hop on a plane."
But Owen is prepared for a big weekend of sales. How prepared?
"I'll be here tonight and all weekend, but first I'm going to go get a nap."