As a guy who grew up playing woods made of a strange substance called wood, I find many of today’s drivers unappealing to the eye. There’s only one form a driver should take, and that’s pear-shaped.
So my heart skipped a beat when I saw Cleveland Golf’s new Classic Driver, due out early next year. Mahogany finish. Brass-colored face “insert” and sole plate. The word “Classic” scrolled on the crown as an alignment aid. Even a black leather head cover in a shape the company calls “RetroBarrel.”
Cue Homer Simpson drooling sound.
In a word, this is one gorgeous golf club. But that’s the end of the Cleveland Classic’s similarities with its ancestors. (You know, the ones made from trees.) The Classic maxes out the USGA volume allowance at 460cc, about three times the size of a persimmon driver head. Its face is massive – the deepest on the market, according to Cleveland. And off-the-rack models are powered by an ultralight Miyazaki graphite shaft.
While it’s not yet for sale to the public, the Classic has already been tested on Tour. In fact, 2011 Rookie of the Year Keegan Bradley used it en route to winning (with Brendan Steele) the Franklin Templeton Shootout last weekend.
Bradley, who strikes me as the traditional type, instantly fell for the club’s old-school aesthetics. “When I looked at the new driver, honestly, I loved it,” he gushed. “I love the gold face on it… You look down at the face and the thing that you focus on is the sweet spot. I think it’s brilliant. I think it’s gonna change the way drivers are made.”
Of course, Callaway, Ping, TaylorMade et al will have something to say about that. In fact, TaylorMade just introduced its new wood lineup, which carries a decidedly non-traditional name: RocketBallz.
May the best club win.
What do you get the golfer who has everything? Something non-golf-related, of course.
Since no actual golfer (except maybe Donald Trump) has literally everything, we’ve prepared a list of holiday gift ideas suitable for just about anyone who plays the game. Our picks cover the budgetary spectrum, from affordable stocking stuffers all the way to “in their dreams.”
Straight from St. Andrews Claus himself, our picks for 2011’s best golf gifts:
Miura Limited Forged Black Blades
Golf vacation of a lifetime: We won’t tell you where to send your favorite golfer; suffice it to say, Scotland, Ireland and Australia/New Zealand merit serious consideration. Your best bet is to book through an experienced, respected golf tour operator like Perry Golf. They’ll take care of every detail, right down to fixing your pitch marks. Price: $1,500 and up. Way up.
An in-home golf simulator: These are all the rage among golfers with the space and disposable income to install one. P3ProSwing is one of the more affordable suppliers, and its packages allow you to “play” famous courses and analyze your swing. Price: Starting at $599; most popular package is $1,228.
Black beauties: Master clubmaker Katsuhiro Miura -- principal of Miura Golf -- is renowned for the look and feel of his luscious forgings, as his Limited Forged Black Blades attest. The appearance is so striking, in fact, your recipient may choose to display them rather than play them. Price: $2,200 (3-iron through PW)
Major ducats: Every golf fan dreams of attending the Masters, but Barack Obama will be elected president of the NRA before you’ll score passes to that event. Your golfer will have to settle for the U.S. Open, played next year at San Francisco’s splendid Olympic Club. The USGA is currently running a holiday special – jump on it before Jan. 2, 2012 to grab some extra goodies. Price: $450 for individual Weekly Grounds Ticket.
Walk this way: We believe the game should be played on foot, and that those feet should be comfortable on their 5-mile journey around the course. Every major manufacturer makes lightweight, comfy shoes these days, so you can’t go wrong with FootJoy, adidas, Ecco, or any of the big brands. But we’re partial to upstart TRUE Linkswear, whose ultra-low-profile, spikeless kicks have made a big impression. Price: Starting at $129.
Cligear golf cart
Push it good: Sticking with the theme, toting a bag over the shoulder for 18 holes can really wear you out. A push cart makes things so much easier. Aficionados adore the folding 3-wheel models made by Clicgear, available in nine colors with a bundle of accessories. Price: $199
Scotland’s Caddies: This charming film, available on DVD, delivers 69 minutes of old-school Scottish loopers spinning yarns about everything and everyone. Caddies from St. Andrews, Troon, Dornoch, Turnberry, Gleneagles and other classic courses tattle on celebrities like Jack Nicholson and Sean Connery. They take on cheaters, too, as well as Americans and the dreaded French. The scenery is spectacular. Price: $19.95
Sock it to ’em: Socks are socks, right? Wrong. Kentwool uses super-fine Merino wool to make a sock so comfortable, the company says it can boost your energy and make you play better. Some sock, huh? Pros like Matt Kuchar and Bubba Watson think so. Price: $24.95 for a pair of Tour Standard models.
Golf gear manufacturers release a lot of new equipment during the year. While the vast majority of offerings are simply updated, tricked-out versions of existing models, interesting stuff does come down the pike every now and then.
Here are a few equipment items that caught our attention in recent weeks.
Bellying up – way up
TaylorMade's Ghost Spider putter.
Every golfer of a certain age remembers Jack Nicklaus’ stunning Masters triumph in 1986. Most have forgotten the explosion of putter sales that followed his win. Specifically, sales of the mammoth-headed MacGregor Response ZT putter Nicklaus used to make all those back-nine bombs.
In the 2 ½ years following Nicklaus’ sixth Masters victory, MacGregor sold an astounding 350,000 Response ZTs. A similar boom is mushrooming now in the belly and long putter market.
Late-season victories by Keegan Bradley, Adam Scott and Webb Simpson put extended flatsticks front and center in the public’s eye. TaylorMade recently tripled fourth-quarter sales expectations for long and belly putters, and accelerated the timeline for launching long versions of its popular Corza Ghost and Ghost Spider models.
Cleveland and Odyssey have reported similar success and product plans.
adidas joins street shoe brigade
Constant innovation is a key benefit of the free-market system. And whenever something original breaks through to a mass audience, copy-cats are sure to follow.
adidas' new adicross golf shoes
Hence, Nirvana begat Bush, the Android rode the iPhone’s coattails, and adidas joined the parade of companies mimicking Ecco’s Street Premiere golf shoes.
The adicross is adidas’ entry into this expanding category, which FootJoy, Nike and startups like Kikkor Golf have joined. (For the record, we consider TRUE Linkswear shoes a somewhat different breed.)
What does adicross offer? Lightweight, full-grain leather, five color combos and, of course, a spikeless sole.
Not to be confused with soul-less tripe. For that, we recommend listening to a Bush album.
Rejoice: Mizuno intros new irons
Few golf brands inspire the loyalty of Mizuno, specifically, the company’s forged irons. (You’ll get my Mizzies when you pry them from my cold, dead hands.)
There’s a new member of the esteemed MP family, the cavity-back MP-59. Like its forebear, the MP-58, the 59 features a hunk of titanium forged into the back of the blade. The company claims a 5-percent larger sweet spot on the MP-59s than the 58s.
Mizuno aims these irons at golfers in the plus-2 to 13 handicap range. In other words, you need to be a decent stick, but not a world-beater, to wield them properly.
For a game that’s been around lo these many centuries, golf continues to evolve at a remarkable pace.
Some changes fall under the everything-old-is-new-again category. (Persimmon woods will soon make a comeback – trust us!) Other times golf adopts ideas from the world at large (see golf shoes, below). And some innovations are simply golf-driven attempts to roust the game from its own inertia. (Anyone “Tee It Forward” this summer?)
Change is good – sometimes. Here are a few examples of golf trends we like.
Brown Is Beautiful
Brown is the new green. Golf goes brown.
Write your own catchphrase, but the fact is a number of factors – economic, environmental and artistic – are pushing American courses to reduce treatment on their fairways and greens. The result is a firmer, faster playing surface reminiscent of the British Isles.
Long enthralled with the Augusta National “green is good” aesthetic, U.S. courses pursued the lushest possible conditions. That meant watering, watering everywhere and applying massive doses of fertilizer. But facing shrinking revenues and stricter regulations, many courses have altered maintenance practices to cut costs, water consumption and pollution.
At the same time, a new breed of old-school architects -- like Tom Doak and the team of Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw – have brought the artistry of the ground game to these shores. Most notably, to the Oregon coast and its incomparable Bandon Dunes Resort.
So brush up your bump-and-run, 21st-century golfers. You’re gonna need it.
Shorter, Faster, Easier
Golf courses continue to get longer in an effort to combat the prodigious distance gains made in recent years. Problem is, the average golfer can’t hit it much farther than he did 10 years ago – yet many insist on playing from tees their skill sets can’t manage.
All that does is make the game less enjoyable and more time-consuming than it should be. This summer, the USGA and PGA of America teamed up to introduce the Tee It Forward campaign, encouraging golfers to play one tee box up from where they’d normally hit.
Depending on whom you ask, the initiative has been a roaring success or just another fizzling attempt to make golf faster and more fun. The Weekend Golf Warrior blog weighed in with some interesting thoughts.
There have been other, similar efforts undertaken recently, including Jack “Cayman Ball” Nicklaus’ 12-hole tourneys with 8-inch cups, and the big PowerPlay Golf rollout.
Here’s hoping something sticks.
Taking It to the Street
Ever wish you could skip the shoe change and head to the first tee in what you’re wearing, but didn’t like the idea of sporting sneakers on the course?
TRUE Linkswear Golf Shoes
Your time has come.
Kick-started by Fred Couple’s 2010 Masters run in Ecco’s uber-casual Street Premiere models, golf shoemakers have gotten hip to the notion of non-formal footwear. Adidas recently hopped on board while new companies including Kikkor and TRUE Linkswear have sprung up to claim a corner of this niche.
The latter has made the biggest strides, thanks to PGA Tour fashion maven Ryan Moore and reams of positive reviews. Like this one from the GolfBlogger.
We haven’t gotten a pair yet ourselves, but we plan to be kickin’ it new school very soon.
Cobra Golf has experienced a rich and at times, famous past. Founded by an amateur Australian golfer in 1973, the company began producing one of the most utilized and complex utility clubs of its day. By the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Cobra began pioneering graphite technology and experimenting with composite metals for its drivers, irons, and putters. In 1991, the Cobra Golf Company and its famed Cobra Golf Irons saw a boost in popularity and performance when legendary golfer, Greg Norman, began endorsing the line of products. By 1992, the King Cobra oversized iron collection became the leading line of irons in he world and the company never looked back.
Today, Cobra’s popularity may have settled, but the company’s past is as much the present and future as can be: remodeling and redesigning lines that made the company successful in the 1990’s have given new life to the Cobra name. Some of the current Cobra Golf Iron lines include Cobra S3 Max, Cobra S3 Iron-Hybrids, and Cobra S2 Forged.
In the Cobra S2 Forged line, golfers are treated to superior control, carbon steel milled grooves, and a cavity optimized for the ideal, center-out weighting. The cost of purchasing this particular set is about $600 USD, but is well worth the investment for it will radically change one’s game for the better. Hybrid models are becoming increasingly popular among amateur and even professional players because of the forgiveness and improvement to a shot that is provided with a hybrid club. In the game of hybrid irons, Cobra may be lesser known, which may be to the fault of buyers themselves. Cobra manufactures several lines that are mixed iron-hybrids and can compete directly with the more famous brands and in some cases outperform them: a reference to one Cobra S3 Max Iron-Hybrid 7 iron versus a Adams IDEA a7. Of course results may very and may not be able to be reproduced, but it only takes one great shot to go from a potential par to the beloved birdie.
Ranging in material, style, shape, and function, what seems to be the only constant across Cobra lines is that each club maintains the signature gold and black color scheme that sets Cobra apart from the other name brands of golf clubs. Another unique quality to Cobra Golf Irons is that both male and female styles are very similar in performance and upon inspection of the Cobra website, each model has an opposite gender counterpart. What this means for players is that no one gender has the advantage over the other and that the quality of the clubs are universally controlled at the manufacturing plant.