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TRIED & TESTED: Battle of the Big Sticks
December 2011
Carly Frost

This month sees the start of a new era of testing for Golf Today. Our aim is to give you impartial product opinion and buying advice, by getting real golfers like you to hit the latest product that's just come out and give us their feedback.

We've chosen Pachesham Golf Centre in Surrey as our test centre as it offers extremely comprehensive practice facilities. As well as a fantastic driving range, Pachesham is home to the Mark Roe short game academy and boasts an amazing short game area plus a high-tech indoor Sam Putt Lab.

There's also state-of-the-art equipment available to analyse your long game too including a high-tech Flightscope room - the same machine that can track the flight of a missile with absolute precision! So to get started we've chosen to test the most fun club of all - the driver!

Andrea Timms at work in the Pachesham Fitting Centre
Andrea Timms at work in the Pachesham Fitting Centre

JUST LAUNCHED!
It's that time of year again when all the big brand equipment manufacturers are revealing their new product line-up for 2012 and there's one club that always gets us excited - yes you've guessed it - the driver!

There's nothing more rewarding than putting a new big stick in the bag and smashing it another 20 yards further and hopefully 20 yards straighter than your old driver. Golf Today's Carly Frost managed to get her hands on a selection of the best new driver launches for next year ahead of them hitting our shops, from the budget offerings right through to the money-is-no-object big brand drivers. With the help of three eager testers of varying handicaps here she reveals the verdicts...

THE TESTERS

CARLY FROST
Handicap: (1.5) 2

Current driver: TaylorMade R11, 9 ° cranked to 10° for improved launch, fitted with an Aldila NV regular flex shaft . I only switched to it three months ago but it was an instant hit.

Golfing background: I've been playing golf since I was 13 and have played county golf for nearly 20 years. I've always been an incredibly consistent driver of the ball, rarely missing fairways, however in the last few years I've been searching for those elusive few extra yards off the tee. As driver technology has improved for some reason I've not got any longer and I've been left behind the big-hitting young guns, maybe one of these drivers has the key?

ANDY DIXON
Handicap:
(6.5) 7

Current driver : TaylorMade Burner, 9.5 °, stiff flex. I've been using this driver about 6 months I bought it second hand off a mate who switched to the new R11 and I'm happy with the performance so far.

Golfing background: I'm fortunate to be self-employed so I can play and practice my golf as much as I want and I love the game. I've been playing for 26 years and I'm at my lowest handicap ever currently but I have ambitions to get even lower. I'm not the longest driver but I'm pretty consistent off the tee. My bad shot is just the occasional high block out to the right. I try to avoid paying the hefty prices for the latest driver so tend to switch to last season's model or before so I'm eager to test the latest drivers coming out to see if I am missing a trick!

CHARLIE KEMPF
Handicap:
(11.7) 12

Current driver: Titleist 909D, 9° X-Stiff Flex. I've been playing this driver a couple of seasons but I am not getting on with it fantastically well and I am looking to buy a new driver now so I'm excited to be testing the latest drivers coming out.


Golfing background: I've been playing golf for 30 years but I'm very much a casual golfer who only gets to play at weekends. I'm one of the longest hitters among the group of regular golfers I tee up with but I'm definitely not one of the straightest! Good shots draw powerfully down the fairway but bad shots hook wildly!

GARY CUMMINS
Handicap:
(25.2) 25

Current driver: King Cobra SS Series, 10° A-Flex. I've had the same driver for about five years and it goes in and out of favour, at the moment it's in the bad books!

Golfing background: I've been playing golf since I was a junior but I tend to only play at weekends and have little time for practice. I'm planning to put more effort into my golf next year when I retire and take regular lessons so hopefully I'll become a lot more consistent off the tee. At the moment my driving is best described as erratic - the occasional great shot but on the whole a mixed bag. I'm conscious that I've not changed driver for years so I'm hoping that technology has moved on so much that these latest drivers can help to straighten me out.

BATTLE OF THE BIG STICKS: How we tested...
To make our driver test comprehensive we tested the new drivers in three environments. Firstly they were hit indoors on the Flightscope, a state-of-the-art ball flight tracking radar that showed us how far we were hitting each driver and how straight. We then took the drivers onto the driving range to hit them and see the ball flight for real and finally we took them to the course to hit under real conditions. Each golfer was then asked to give feedback on the drivers and select their favourites. Here are the results...

THE RESULTS

BENROSS QUAD DRIVER

Contact: 01932 821200 or www.benrossgolf.com
Price: £129.99
Options: 10 ° , 12 ° & 14 ° , regular and stiff flex men's right hand only
They say: The ultimate stability driver. By introducing exaggerated corner weighting and utilising the most stable shaft in golf, the QUAD Driver maximizes the power and accuracy golfers deliver to every drive. A popular 460cc traditional round head shape is teamed with a wide modern footprint, exaggerating a low centre of gravity, which ultimately translates into high, powerful, long carrying and accurate drives. Simply put the most forgiving Benross driver ever! 

Our verdict:
Carly Frost:
Benross might be a budget brand but they have used high quality components to make this driver. I love the Aldila Voodoo shaft which is designed to launch the ball high and does just that. The white grip is right on trend at the moment too and gives that great feel of traction when you grip the club.
Andy Dixon: This driver looks a bit too gimmicky for me so I wouldn't automatically pick it up. I'm not keen on the look behind the ball either - it sits like it is going to launch the ball into orbit. I can see the benefit for the higher handicapper who needs that helping hand but I'm looking for a driver that's going to drive the ball forward rather than up.
Charlie Kempf : I'm not instantly drawn to this driver, it just look a bit cheap to me, I'm also a fan of the big brands so I'd automatically pick a brand I recognise. That said the performance is reasonable, but not spectacular. I hit my drives a decent distance but not as far as some of the other brands.
Gary Cummins : I don't particularly like the look of this driver but I have to say I hit it really well. I found it really forgiving and quite powerful. My drives certainly went a lot straighter than I am used to so I could overlook the design for the performance in this case.

PING G20
Price
: £255
Options: 8.5°, 9.5°, 10.5° & 12° lofts; L, Soft R, R, S and X flexes and TFC 169D Tour (R, S and X flexes)
Contact: www.ping.com
They say
: For all ability levels, the external weighting of the large, forgiving G20 driver helps launch the ball high with low spin for maximum distance and accuracy by optimising the CG location. PING's proprietary high-balance-point TFC 169D shaft enables the golfer to swing a clubhead with more mass at the same speed, creating a higher MOI and generating faster ball speeds for long, straight drives. A large, variable-thickness face generates faster ball speeds and increases MOI across the hitting surface for power and forgiveness. The 460cc clubhead is made from Ti 8-1-1, a lighter, lower-density alloy. Ti 8-1-1's high strength-to-weight ratio allowed for additional weight to be strategically placed, increasing the MOI on both the vertical and horizontal axes.
Our verdict:
Carly Frost:
The G20 had one of the loudest impact noises of any of the drivers - a real firecracker snap! I have to say the sound was a little off-putting but I can see how it will appeal the exhibitionists who like to show off with their new driver to their mates. The overall performance was excellent, my drives flew longer and straighter and I really like the classical look of the club.
Andy Dixon: The first thing that struck me was how easy the headcover was to take off, I really like the easy grab design. Then what an enormous clubhead shape underneath, a bit too bulbous for my eye but nevertheless it looks like you simply couldn't miss a tee shot! I love the fact that this driver sits nice and square behind the ball and it seems to drive the ball forward on a great penetrating flight too. So a good performance all round.

Charlie Kempf: I love the look of this driver it has great shelf appeal. In terms of how it performed it was an instant hit quite literally. As soon as I struck my first drive away it immediately jumped into my favourites list, and has a very good chance of being the winner for me. The Flightscope statistics back this up, I added 20 yards to my tee shots and my bad shots were certainly less wayward. I want one please!
Gary Cummins:
There's nothing particularly fancy to look at with this driver but that actually does appeal to me as I found the weighted clubs a little more complex and unnecessary. The club looks great and it outperformed others I hit. It wasn't the longest I hit by the stats but it did offer a high level of forgiveness. I'd definitely recommend other high handicappers give this one a go.

YONEX E-ZONE SD
Price:
£199
Contact:
www.yonex.com
Options:
9 ° , 10.5 ° & 12 ° (LH 10.5 degree)
They say:
Formidable and forgiving: Developed in Japan and a direct result of the latest technical advances, Core Centre of Gravity technology has the capacity to further a player's game in any direction he or she wishes to take it. By micro-adjusting the centre of gravity YONEX has achieved a unique and unprecedented expansion of the sweetspot covering more of the club face. This provides players with new, maximised levels of power and control.
Our verdict:
Carly Frost:
This driver looks like it has been made really well and has expensive components. It's just the subtle differences that give that away like the barely visible carbon graphic effect on the clubhead and the high quality shaft. Everything is curved, from the very rounded shape of the clubhead to the blend line between clubhead and clubface, there are no harsh lines. It sounds very powerful when you hit it and the Flightscope results do back that up, with the ball flying on a good all-round ball flight trajectory.
Andy Dixon: This driver felt noticeably lighter than others when I picked it up but actually when I hit it the clubhead felt weighty and solid. It's a smart-looking club that will stand out in shops. I was a little disappointed with my results, I felt as though this club had a few extra yards in it that I didn't manage to squeeze out.

Charlie Kempf: A great-sounding club that gives you confidence the moment you pick it up and hit it. It's not the most stylish in my books but it sits nice and neatly behind the ball and does offer a decent ball flight. I would have liked the club to feel a little heavier but that's just my personal preference.
Gary Cummins : A pretty decent club. I didn't hit it as far or as straight as some of the other drivers but I did like the feel off the face, it certainly gave the impression (and the sound) of a very powerful club. The styling was simple but suited my eye.

JOHN LETTERS T9+
Price:
£149
Contact:
www.johnletters.com
Options:
They say:
The T9+ is the most powerful and forgiving driver that John Letters has ever made thanks to an intoxicating blend of super lightweight Titanium and discretional weighting technology. This state-of-the-art technology places more weight in the heel and toe areas for maximum forgiveness and stability on off-centre strikes. 'Feel Cell' technology in the sole of the clubhead helps to disperse vibrations at impact giving an improve sound and solid feel.
Our verdict:
Carly Frost:
This is the sort of driver you'll either love or you'll hate. The blue and white colours are bold and brass and make it stand out from all the others on test. The graphics on the sole of the club and headcover are a little too big and bold for my liking. The club feels very different to hold as it has soft Winn grip, but I know from experience of having put one of these on a driver in the past they do tend to slip when they get wet in the rain. The performance was very decent for the price.
Andy Dixon:
I have to be honest, I'd never heard of John Letters before this test, but this driver did surprise me. It doesn't look like anything special but it really does launch the ball with a great flight. It sits well behind the ball too. I particularly like the feel of the grip as I have big hands and it offered great comfort.

Charlie Kempf: Like Andy I hadn't actually come across any John Letters products before so this was a new brand to me and I have to say I quite liked it. The blue and white colours were a bit bold for me but I did hit this driver a long way and that was echoed by the rather loud impact sound. I would definitely consider buying this driver for no other reason than it is half the price of others on test and flew just as well.
Gary Cummins: Well what can I say? This is a dream driver for an Everton fan like me! Great choice of colours, blue and white, it was though it was made for the Toffies. Aside from loving the looks I can honestly say I was pleased with the overall performance of this club - my drives flew a long way. The only slight downside was that I wasn't as accurate with this club as others I hit.

NIKE VR PRO Limited Edition
Price:
£299.95
Contact:
www.nikegolf.com
Options:
8.5 ° (RH); 9.5 ° (RH/LH); 10.5 ° (RH/LH); All available in: X, S, and R
They say:
From the concept to the course, the new VR Pro Limited Edition Forged driver was made with and for the sports' very best. Already in the bag of Nike Golf athletes Paul Casey and Anthony Kim the VR Pro delivers Tour-level distance with maximum workability and performance. The Tour-driven pear shaped head design is 430cc and made of a forged construction that gives great feel, ultimate control and maximum workability. The driver also utilises Nike's NexCOR face technology which maximises distance for the widest range of players through a new speed-expanding multi face thickness design. Other features include variable Compression Channel technology which extends the entire length of the sole and helps to increase speed at impact at more spots on the club face. This along with the variation in the thickness in specific locations, allows the consumer to generate more ball speed which translates to greater distance.
Our verdict:
Carly Frost:
This driver is a real connoisseur's club. You can see why it has instant appeal to a Tour professional seeking a sleek, stylish driver that really performs. The clubface is deep and looks impossible to miss. I'm not a fan of the NexCOR emblem Nike have placed in the centre of the face I think this cheapens what is otherwise a very stylish club. I struggled a little bit with the forgiveness of this driver, I think it will suit a stronger golfer than me who wants to really control their ball flight.
Andy Dixon : I love the look of this club, it has a great clubhead shape and sits smart and square behind the ball. The ball flight was strong and drove my drives forward on a fantastic penetrating trajectory. The sound was unique and distinctive, it reminded me of an old Cobra driver I used that used to turn heads.

Charlie Kempf: For some reason my drives just didn't spring off the clubface, it felt harder and less responsive than others and my distance stats backed that up as they were down a little. I thought the look of the club was very good and I particularly like the Fubuki shaft, that oozes quality and reminds me of shafts I've seen played out on Tour.
Gary Cummins:
I really struggled with this club. I can see how it will appeal to the low handicapper/better player but it simply didn't have enough forgiveness for me and as I result I was hitting it wildly on the course. The looks are very simple but I can see how that will appeal to the mass market.

CLEVELAND GOLF CG BLACK
Price:
£329
Contact:
www.clevelandgolf.com
Options:
9 ° , 10.5 ° (RH & LH) & 12 ° (RH only)
They say:
The CG Black driver weighs in at only 265 grams, which makes it the lightest driver on the market to help players generate measurable increases in swing speed and distance with the same swing effort.  The advanced aerodynamics found in the driver's Speed Crown Design - an innovative, teardrop-inspired crown profile - maximize distance by reducing drag at all angles of airflow during the swing.  MaxCOR2Variable Face Thickness Technology reduces face weight and increases trampoline effect on off-centre hits, meaning higher ball speed and more distance on off-centre hits.  Plus, a high-density weight screw at the rear of the sole plate positions the centre of gravity lower and deeper to promote a high, draw-biased trajectory with optimal launch conditions for effortless distance.  The CG Black driver also features a Miyazaki C. Kua 39 Limited Edition graphite shaft - from the worldwide leader in ultralite graphite shaft technology - as well as a lightweight Golf Pride® Tour 25 grip, a combination that decreases overall club weight for faster swing speed.  
Our verdict:
Carly Frost:
The moment I hit the Cleveland CG Black it felt really different, much lighter and yet more powerful. I really felt as though I could pick up more clubhead speed and my distance statistics did increase which was pleasing to see. I love the fact that the CG Black is fitted with a limited edition Miyazaki shaft - as we all know the shaft is really the engine behind the club and having something really premium powering the driver definitely makes a difference. As for the black finish - I think it looks very sleek, it's not particularly feminine but I still like it.
Andy Dixon:
This driver is right up my street. It's like a brand new BMW 330, it looks fantastic and it's a pleasure to drive. You can definitely feel the difference in the weight of the club, the shaft is obviously working, but the shaft/clubhead combine to make sure you really do boost your distance off the tee.

Charlie Kempf: I like what Cleveland has done with the dark black finish, it looks like something that belongs in Star Wars as a weapon on mass destruction. As for the destruction it did out on the course, that was pretty decent too! My drives went a long way and in a straight line with less of those nasty hooks, so something was working. It definitely gets the thumbs up from me.
Gary Cummins:
This driver has quite a shallow clubface profile so didn't look as forgiving to me at address but I was surprised at how easy it was to hit. The ball launched a bit higher which made for a better flight trajectory. However the lightweight shaft made me feel a little out of control at times, I guess I'd have to throttle back a little bit if I played this club rather than always trying to give it a welly!

CALLAWAY RAZR FIT
Price:
£329
Contact:
www.callawaygolf.com
Options:
8.5 ° , 9.5 ° , 10.5 ° , 11.5 ° (LH 9.5 ° , 10.5 ° )
They say:
The combination of Forged Composite and OptiFit Technology makes Callaway's first driver featuring adjustability the performance leader. Golfers can dial in their ideal settings and hit drives with distance and accuracy like never before. OptiFit Technology allows the driver's weight and face angle to be adjusted. The OptiFit Hosel adjusts the face angle to Open, Square or Closed positions at address to improve accuracy and trajectory. OptiFit weights (12 & 2 grams) shift the club's centre of gravity to promote either a draw or neutral ball flights. Other features include a Forged Composite Crown and Speed Frame Face Technology that combine to increase ball speeds and forgiveness across the face.

Our verdict:
Carly Frost: I got a sneak peek of this driver being smashed out of sight by the longest driver on the European Tour, Alvaro Quiros, a few weeks ago and I've been eager to hit it ever since. I have to say the performance does live up to the hype. After tinkering with the weights a little bit I found a setting that seemed to offer me a very easy launching long ball flight. I've always been a fan of Callaway drivers and this one would certainly go straight in the bag with ease.
Andy Dixon : I'm a bit of a purist at heart so that thought of having to use a screwdriver to alter the settings of this driver puts me off. I'd rather set it to neutral and have the satisfaction of knowing that my technique has flushed it straight down the middle rather than having a helping hand from the club. That said it was easy to use and looks very smart sat behind the ball. I drove the ball very powerfully and with great accuracy too.

Charlie Kempf : This was the first time that I've tried an adjustable driver and I like the concept. I think it would be a handy club to own if you play a course where there is a predominant trend to the doglegs as you can really get the shape of your shots going. As I often hit a hook there was no need for me to stack the weight to the draw bias so I left it on neutral but I did notice a decent increase in distance and the club was very forgiving. As for whether it's worth the £329 price tag, yes I think so.
Gary Cummins: This driver was a revelation, set on draw it really did straighten out my horrible slice and that was something I simply wasn't expecting. I've now realised how much benefit these modern clubs do have and what I've been missing out on using a driver that's over five years old. The Razr looks great too, so it gets the big thumbs up from me.

TAYLORMADE R11
Price:
£329
Contact:
www.taylormadegolf.com
Options:
8 ° 9°, 10.5° & 12° (LH 9° & 10.5°)
They say:
Only the R11 can activate the three dimensions to distance: loft, face angle and flight path. Golfers can adjust the face angle with new Adjustable Sole Plate Technology (ASP), adjust the loft with Flight Control Technology (FCT) and adjust the CG location with Movable Weight Technology (MWT). These three adjustments allow for up to 100 yards of side-to-side trajectory change and +/- 1,000RPM backspin change. A new aerodynamic shape promotes faster speed for more distance and a white non-glare crown and black clubface makes alignment easier. "I've never been so dialled in on the tee box," said PGA Tour professional Dustin Johnson. "The fitting was quick and simple: three steps and the R11 was totally customised to my swing."
Our verdict:
Carly Frost:
I loved the R11 from the moment I first hit it last August. I was forced to switch driver as my clubs didn't arrive in Ireland off a flight and borrowing this club off the Tour van was the best thing that happened to me. I shot 65 that day and didn't miss a fairway. It' no longer than my old driver but it's 10 times more consistent. The ball flight is fantastic and it just sounds great. My only criticism is that four months in the pure white finish is beginning to look a little dirty. Can they invent something that will clean it please?
Andy Dixon:
I've got a few mates who have bought this driver just because they've seen Dustin Johnson smashing it miles on TV. I'm not one of those golfers myself who will switch to a club because it's a trend on Tour. To be honest with you I don't care if it's black, white or yellow, it's all about performance and how I hit the ball with it. Yet again the R11 is adjustable, but I left it set to neutral which was a good all-round performance for me.
Charlie Kempf: It takes a bit of getting used to looking at a white driver, I wasn't sure it I liked it or not at first, but after a few hits you forget about the colour and start to focus on what are very good results. I definitely added distance to my tee shots and my dispersion really improved when I switched the weights around. I can see why the R11 has been so popular and I would instantly put one in the bag.
Gary Cummins: The white finish looks a bit gimmicky to me, as is the screwdriver and cranking the weights. I thought when adjustable drivers first came in that they would be a passing fad but there does seem to be a lot of merit in the performance as yet again I hit the ball straighter and longer than my own driver.

The Verdict:
Our favourite drivers

Carly Frost: It has to be the TaylorMade R11 as I've been hitting it so consistently but I'd be tempted to try the Cleveland Golf CG Black out a few times on the course as I'm convinced that could add a lot more distance to my drives.
Andy Dixon: Definitely the Cleveland CG Black, but the Nike VR Pro would be a close second, it's just a bit less forgiving and although I'm good, I'm not quite that good yet. If money were an issue I'd opt for the John Letters T9+, that's a fantastic club for £150.
Charlie Kempf: From the moment I hit it I loved the Ping G20 and I'm definitely going out to buy one. The Callaway Razr Fit would be my second choice as this was also a very easy club to use.
Gary Cummins:
If money was no object the Callaway Razr Fit would happily go straight into my bag I hit it so well. But from a budget point of view you can't go wrong with the John Letters T9+. I think this was the surprise club of the test for us all as we all thought the performance was excellent for the £150 price tag, oh and they've designed it in blue and white too!

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine






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