Has Buzz Lightyear and his high-tech gizmos taken over the golf industry? Or does good ol' trusty Woody have a chance of holding onto owner loyalty? Well, by the looks of the '96 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, the smart bets seem to be headed in Buzz's direction. Space age materials such as titanium and advanced engineering (not to mention some smart advertising) have increasingly dominated the marketing of the game's latest equipment. Concentrating on the driver market, let's take an abbreviated and certainly selective look at the what's in store for would-be "toy" buyers in '96:
Arnold Palmer Golf Co. -- formerly known as ProGroup--joined the scores of companies introducing titanium drivers at the Show. (Titanium is the hot metal of choice due to the fact its lighter weight allows bigger clubheads while generating more clubhead speed.) Its prized progeny is the Palmer PHD Titanium which features the company's Patented Hosel Design fin which aids in resisting torque and twisting. (To its credit, the company has also licensed this innovative design feature to Cobra for its titanium driver. That's quite a testament to the merits of the design.) Also, in the PHD is the Power Wedge sole which incorporates back weighting to improve forgiveness, increase loft and help close head at impact. It'll be offered in 45-inch Co-wound graphite shafts in Standard, Firm Flex, Tour Firm and Senior Flex by Exel and available in 9, 10.5 and 11.5 degrees. Clay Long is the chief designer and his respected name coupled with the legendary brand appeal of The King could well be the right marquee for a long running hit club.
Atrigon -- this privately-held company has a barrel of investors hoping that a banner year by investor/designer/spokesman Nick Price will catapult Atrigon to the forefront of the lucrative driver market. Price was instrumental in the design of the BlackHawk series of drivers which tout the benefits of a one-piece, Unibody technology. Unibody refers to the use of Gas Injection Molding System (originally designed for helicopters' floor panels) which allows the construction of a single piece unified club in which the hosel area is as strong or stronger than any other point in the shaft. The result, insists Atrigon, is "uninterrupted energy transfer from the hands-to shaft-to clubhead-to ball." In lay terms, this baby should increase clubhead speed while minimizing torque. Meanwhile, the thick steel face on the BlackHawk is enhanced by added layers of graphite. Atrigon has a good-looking club with some proven design features. If Price returns to the winner's circle and starts boasting of the BlackHawk, this company could well break out of the pack.
Black Ice -- is certainly one of the most distinctly named companies this year. Black Ice refers to a patent pending process, developed by President Bob Black, used to harden the hardness of the clubface. The Black Ice facing is a textured, almost sandpapery surface that increases back-spin which in turn results in greater ball flight and longer carry. Again, this process was originally conceived in the aerospace industry. Black Ice also offers a custom fitting program, adjusting loft, lie and swing weights to the specs of the player. This is an attractive driver with a mid-size head and a well-designed trademark of twin mountain peaks on the top of the clubhead. No doubt the facing (which conforms to USGA rules) will be the key to consumer acceptance here. There's something at work for sure here after demo usage; the trick will be if it's a big enough difference for the mid to high handicapper. One more thing: Black Ice also is offering the Black Ice facing as a retrofit to existing clubs.
Callaway -- must never be overlooked although the industry behemoth didn't introduce a new driver in Orlando. Instead, it spotlighted the Great Big Bertha fairway woods sporting Ruger titanium oversized clubhead, War Bird soleplate and Big Bertha Ultra Light graphite shaft. Even with these features, the overall weight is still 10% lighter than the original Big Berthas. Callaway has two new patents pending of note: one, is the internal weighting system and; two, is the enhanced War Bird soleplate. Both will aid in more forgiveness and versatility. One other note in the human dynamics area: Callaway hired noted designer Roger Cleveland to serve as its Golf Club Designer. He joins Kim Carpenter formerly of Aldila as a potent club and shaft design duo. Stay tuned.
Goldwin -- is known for the reputation of its savvy founders Dick De La Cruz and Richard Parenteas as well as consultant Lew Fishman, formerly a technical equipment writer ( hey, sometimes a scribe can make a good club) for Golf Digest. Instead of titanium, Goldwin has relied on its sharp-looking line of milled aluminum metal woods with a new AVDP System. The AVDP System essentially allows for a heavier swing weight in a light as possible golf club at 9.5 ounces. Fishman was quoted as explaining the system as "lowering the balance point five inches and redistributing clubhead weight to the heel to reduce the tendency to slice."
Killer Bee -- is a new driver from Black Rock. It's been endorsed by Senior Tour player Rocky Thompson who's been a long shafted devotee for years. The basic model is a 46" graphite shaft driver that's born to be long off the tee. As with all long-shafted drivers, players will need to adjust to the extra length. Thompson says it took more than 100,000 practice drives before he mastered the special timing required with the long driver. Killer Bees are available in a 42" 7 wood, a 44" three wood and 46" and 48" drivers. All of them are available direct to the consumer at 800-579-9591.
Kunnan -- this company which is a world leader in graphite sports products moved up the charts last year through the merits of its fine fairway wood. Kunnan made a smart move when it hired Quentin Gray as its Senior Tour product representative. Well-liked and carrying a solid product, Gray steadily increased Senior player usage of Kunnan's fairway woods. As a matter of fact, Kunnan ended '95 as the overall leader in fairway wood usage on the Senior Tour according to the Darrel Survey Co. In Orlando, Kunnan introduced its Metal Composite EX series of drivers which combine metal and graphite in the clubhead. The metal face is backed with graphite to create a face that is more than double the thickness of standard oversize woods. According to President Bill Price, "the thicker face benefits the golfer because it reduces the 'flex' action seen in traditional metal woods...and the result is more distance." In a way, Kunnan's clubhead manufacturing is mindful of Atrigon's. Here a metal face, sole, and back plate is joined with a graphite clubhead. Another plus is Kunnan boasts forged titanium which is a first in the industry. It's also a primary manufacturer so it's not dependent on the vagaries of suppliers.
Mizuno -- made a splash with its star performer Nick Faldo singing the praises of its T-Zoid Titanium woods. The T-Zoid (sounds like something out of Jurassic Park) is 240cc clubhead which is almost a quarter bigger than its stainless steel predecessor. the T-Zoid is marked by a bar on the crown on the golf club that enhances the durability of the clubhead; internal sole rails that combined with the bar help to create a lower center of gravity thus producing a better launch angle; and a diamondface punch dot and U-groove design to foster the right rate of spin. Faldo was particularly pleased with how his T-Zoid has added distance so far this year. "I'm getting 5-15 yards extra...because the more penetrating flight is giving me a good first bounce," said Faldo. The drivers are available in 9, 10.5, and 11.5 degree lofts and are fitted with Mizuno's Turbo Lite graphite shaft.
Ram -- introduced "the thousand dollar driver," the Fx Ti-Forged titanium driver. Hey, at that price, every buyer should receive a personal lesson from staff member Tom Watson.
No doubt it can be argued that there's a buyer for every product, but isn't a thousand bucks getting a bit obscene? Ask your pro to justify the price.
Square Two -- known for its emphasis on high quality women's equipment, this company is stepping up to the plate with its 46 inch "Energy Transfer" driver. This E.T. model is powered by "boron thruster rings" that store and release energy and increasing clubhead speed. The E.T. is three inches longer than conventional drivers which will produce a longer and hopefully more powerful swing arc. The added length also leads to a softer flex enabling the shaft to harness and release more energy. All of this should be a high tech recipe for more distance off of the tee.
Titleist -- even though it now owns Cobra Golf don't count out this well-heeled industry leader. Its Titanium Howitzer is still gaining notice after a good introduction last year. In September, Titleist showed off its new line of Howitzers--8, 10, 12 degree and Left-Handed Super Size Titanium drivers. Its features are a 250cc head, Fuse shaft, contoured sole, and an unfoamed clubhead for a louder hit. In demo trial, the 8 degree model delivered on its promise of a lower, more boring trajectory favored by better players. The Fuse shaft also had excellent feel and strength. The Senior 12 degree model was a savvy move by Titleist.
Tommy Armour -- will not be outgunned by its foes so you'll see a titanium Supersize Tommy Gun in pro shops this season. It's 260cc in size and has an ultra-light 45" graphite shaft that spells again more clubhead speed. Unlike some component companies or that teacher down the block who dabbles in clubmaking, the titanium is pure, no composites. The same sound technology found last year is back in '96; the clubhead is cavity balanced. Available in a several lofts and shafts.
Top Flite -- introduced the INTIMIDATOR at the Show although it was seen in Las Vegas in the late summer. Lee Trevino, Top Flite's spokesman, is now featured in TV ads about the new driver. He seems to make a good point when he says that only the clubface hits the ball so that's where the titanium should be. And that's where it is on the INTIMIDATOR -- as an insert on a stainless steel clubhead. Other benefits here include : 1) the high flex zone in the graphite shaft. 2) the titanium face which allows for increased perimeter weighting and reduced spin and 3.) a forward weighted stepped sole for less clubhead deflection. All in all, the INTIMIDATOR is a smart looking weapon. The question is whether or not golfers will prefer a oversized driver with a lighter titanium clubhead. It's the relative lightness of titanium that's started the trend toward the metal in the first place. The club comes in three shafts and two lofts.
Wilson -- is riding the rollercoaster popularity of long-hitting John Daly and his British Open winning bi-metal INVEX driver. Again, Wilson is offering the INVEX in titanium which affords greater size (20% bigger) and greater control over the original bi-metal version. The name INVEX is derived from the club's inverted hosel. The titanium model has an eye-catching "duo-hue" finish that gives the appearance of the clubhead gradually changing its metallic hue in sunlight. However, certain players may find this cosmetic feature too distracting for regular adoption. Buzz Lightyear will be heartened by the news that the INVEX was brought to fruition after years of research by a team of former NASA engineers. Available in 8.5. 9, 10.5 and 12 degree loft and all flexes.
Yonex -- any company that has red-hot Phil Mickelson on staff deserves a keen look at its products. Last year, Yonex got noticed in a big way with its Super A.D.X. line of oversized drivers--the biggest clubhead in golf at 300cc. This year, Yonex is debuting what else? yes, a titanium model of the super A.D.X. At 250 cc, the new driver is made of the finest aircraft quality pure titanium (Buzz would be proud) and cast in Yonex's WideBody design. It will be available in regular and stiff two tone high modulus graphite shafts. Shaft lengths will be 45'' for the driver.