ORLANDO -- Two days into the PGA Show, it's clear that TaylorMade's goal this week is to preach innovation and progression in hopes of sparking new interest in the game. The announcement Tuesday night of Hack Golf -- a forum that invites golfers and non-golfers to share ideas and thoughts about what is holding our game back -- was only the beginning.
The equipment manufacturer has taken one giant, bold step further, and has created a set of oversized, easy-to-hit, non-conforming clubs designed to make golf easier and more attractive.
The set includes four clubs -- driver, iron, wedge and putter -- that are meant to strike a larger-than-normal golf ball, with the end goal of holing the ball inside a 15-inch cup. Benoit Vincent, TaylorMade's Chief Technology Officer, says the company has found 100 courses that are willing to create 15-inch cups on six or eight of their holes and allow play with the non-conforming clubs. Not wanting to scare away traditionalists, or even just the average golfer, those holes will still include the usual 4.25 inch cup.
"This is all just an experiment," said Vincent. "We have no idea what this will lead to, but that's not stopping us from trying it out. The idea is to make golf more fun for more people. Part of the plan is to have people playing only for an hour or 90 minutes at a time, at least at first."
The clubs are designed in a way that makes getting the ball airborne far easier than usual. The faces are large and grooveless and have considerably more loft than what we're all playing now. Each club also includes the type of grip we're used to seeing on a training aid: one that is molded to ensure the proper hand position.
The ball has a diameter of 2 inches, which is about .32 inches bigger than that of a normal ball.
*Don't mind the blacklight. Taylormade's booth is more like a nightclub than an actual booth.
The obvious idea here is to weaken the learning curve required to play golf well and make the gratification of hitting a good shot more immediate. TaylorMade's plan is to get the clubs in the hands of the 100 courses that have agreed to allow play, and to have people rent them on a daily basis.
The type of thinking that led to the creation of these clubs has also led to the design of two more non-conforming clubs: the Mother of All Drivers (MOAD) and the Mother of All Irons (MOAI). For now, these are nothing more than prototypes, but TaylorMade has shown little hesitation in showing them off as if they'll be in play this week at Torrey Pines. Obviously, that's not the case.
The MOAD is designed to correct swing flaws during the swing. The driver head is designed something like a robotic airplane, and includes wings on the top and sides of the clubhead that help guide the club on the correct path during the downswing.
The MOAI is slightly less futuristic looking, but still a bit mind-blowing to behold. The iron has four springs, one in each corner of the clubface, that are designed to create an equal spring-like effect no matter where the ball is struck on the face. Unlike the non-conforming clubs mentioned earlier in this post, MOAD and MOAI are designed to strike actual conforming golf balls.
There's little doubt that the clubs designers at TaylorMade have spent a lot of time and effort thinking WAY outside the box. But according to Vincent, that has given way to a different way of thinking about what they can create that is still within USGA boundaries.
"If you can't think outside the boundaries, then you can't properly design within them," said Vincent. "Some of our best ideas about conforming clubs happened when we were thinking about how to build these clubs of the future."
Will TaylorMade's progressive ideas and actions prove worthwhile? Only time will tell. But with golf in search of a new base of players, it can't hurt to try.