The Next Generation
Titleist balls 2012 - revamped versions (and an all new model) cover all the bases
It’s not often that a company introduces a host of new products with a caveat that, actually, an existing model is really what you need. But Titleist duly prefaced the recent launch of their upgraded NXT and DT Solo series and new Velocity ball with a surprise ‘spoiler’.
“Golfers of all standards will play better golf with a ProV1 or ProV1x because of the combination of long distance off the tee, consistent flight, outstanding short-game spin and control, soft feel and excellent durability,” said Bill Morgan at the Orlando Show, referring to the company’s flagship whose fifth generation has been around for well over a year (an eternity in today’s equipment market). “It’s not just a tour ball, it’s a ball that can help everybody play their best”.
So why all the new 2012 models. Or, indeed, why any alternative ranges of Titleist balls?
The answer, of course, lies in the subtle difference between performance and preference – a very real distinction for many of the thousands of golfers that Titleist consulted during the market research that underlie their product development. By performance, Titleist are not talking about sheer distance alone, but shooting your lowest score. The ProV1 range being deemed to have the edge over even the acknowledged longer balls due to the greater control on approach shots and around the green, which ultimately, are the areas that most influence your score.
And yet not every golfer falls into the ProV1 category for a number of more subjective and practical considerations which the latest Titleist models are directly designed to cater for. “Our research shows the importance of preferences when it comes to ball selection,” explains Morgan. “Feel is a hugely important area – often in the long game as well as the short game. So are colour, cosmetics and even the appearance of the ball in terms of markings, graphics and numbers… And, of course, price.”
Ah, yes. There’s the small matter of ProV1 retailing at £50 per dozen. The pain of knocking a new one OB off the 1st tee is enough for many players to rethink their ‘preferences’ these days.
For all these more subjective issues, Titleist has a ball worth considering. And they’re all a lot easier on the wallet…
In a nutshell, this revamped version of an old favourite offers performance almost comparable with the ProV1 – but with lower spin from the fusablend cover (which is not as responsive as the premium urethane).
The NXT Tour actually has the same 90 compression as ProV1 and now the same spherically-tiled dimple pattern – a highly symmetrical geometric arrangement which provides a very consistent flight, a slightly lower trajectory and more distance than the previous model. Other changes for 2012 are the new dual core: an outer high-energy portion for speed, and a soft inner centre to keep the spin rate down for more distance. 3 to 5 extra yards was the test consensus over the old model. £34 per dozen.
NXT Tour – S
“A lot of golfers are feel-sensitive and commented that the dual core of the NXT Tour feels a bit too hard”, says Morgan referring to the blind test of various prototypes tested by many amateur golfers. “So we attempted to design a ball with similar performance to NXT Tour but with a softer feel. The result is the ball with the same cover and same dimple design but a much lower compression (under 80).”
That means a softer feel for most, but the esoterics of golf ball construction and the subjective feedback from different forces applied by different golfers means that really, you need to try them for yourself.
Performance wise, there’s very little to choose between the two. NXT Tour is perhaps being marginally longer from the slightly higher flight which peaks further ‘down-range’ – but only for the longer hitters. Then again, the NXT Tour-S comes in a rather gorgeous optic yellow (involving three colour shades and various translucent coatings). Which may just swing it for you. Guide: £34 per dozen.
OK, so this one is all new. Indeed, it’s not often we get a new ball franchise from Titleist given how they exploit the ‘equity’ in best sellers (ProV1 is now in its 5th generation). Which makes Velocity among the most exciting ball stories for 2012 – both for the bold promise of its name which, Titleist estimates translates into an extra five yards on an average drive.
And, back with preferences, sheer distance is most definitely a priority for many - even if the inherent lower spin is not necessarily optimal for all approaches. The Velocity caters for that with a new LSX core (Lab Speed Xtreme), a cover blending three grades of Surlyn and an icosohedron dimple pattern that peaks further downrange.
In our impromptu tests, we found the Velocity suitably long - though without the firmer feel associated with pure distance rivals like, say, Pinnacle. In fact, the 90 compression is the same as ProV1.
Meanwhile, the graphics have their own USP with funky orange numbers that are also offered in double digits (11-22-33, etc).
So, if the USGA-approved Velocity “has the fastest core, cover and dimple pattern of any Titleist golf ball – ever,” as claimed, just how close is it to failing the authorities’ Overall Distance Standard?
“All I can tell you is we have been warned!” reveals Morgan, while keeping the numbers confidential. “If there’s a longer ball out there, it’s over the line.”
Guide: £28 per dozen.
Originally dubbed the PTS for the European market, the DT SoLo is now a global franchise with a loyal following given its reputation for good distance and surprisingly good control from the durable Surlyn cover.
This has always been a lower-flying ball ideal for golfers of a moderate swingspeed who like to take advantage of the greater roll for shots off the tee.
The only change for 2012, is a slightly softer feel achieved with a compression now below 70 for what Morgan describes as “the lowest compression of the Titleist family, the softest DT ever and probably the softest ever Titleist ball”. Guide: £21 per dozen.
Ping i20 - classy finish and workability define the Arizona giants’ layesy range
“If they were cars, G20 would be a luxury Sedan while i20 would be a sports car whose steering is more responsive and easier to manipulate,” says Ping’s Senior Design Engineer designer, Marty Jertson, with a colourful analogy that gets to the heart of the company’s two flagship ranges.
Given that he plays his own Ping designs at the handful of tour events (including at last year’s USPGA Championship) for which he qualifies, Jertson is the man to highlight the distinguishing points of i20 which debuted at Orlando, in January, which a full quota of drivers, fairways, hybrids and irons.
Here they are, along with some helpful comparisons with G20 (covered in Issue 105) and the i15 predecessors.
Coming in a stunning matt black finish which absorbs rather than reflects light, i20 is very different from both i15 and the dark grey, gloss gunmetal of G20.
Over 10% of the weight (some 20g) is now in the tungsten weights of the 460cc head, raising the MOI and making it more stable than the i15 driver it replaces. It’s also more aerodynamic, helping to deliver less spin – particularly at high speeds. It comes with Ping’s proprietary TFC 707 graphite shaft for a lower ball flight, or the 10g lighter Grafalloy Project X offering a livelier feel. “i20 is a forgiving, low-spinning driver that will particularly benefit faster swingers or those who spin the ball too much. But if you have a higher dispersion pattern or you need a little bit more spin to maintain lift, or if you want the benefits of distance from the high balance point shaft, you probably need G20,” advises Jertson.
i20 fairways and hybrids
With the driver being almost as stable as G20, it’s the fairways, hybrids and irons that are most relevant to Jertson’s car analogy. “i20 offers more workability and versatility. You can shape shots and work your way out of difficult lies more easily,” says Jertson, explaining that the key is the lower Moment Of Inertia – not across the blade at impact – but of the head around the hosel axis as it rotates through impact. We discussed this vital distinction when covering Titleist’s new AP range (see Gi 106). Meanwhile, the metals share the same great anti-glare paint as the driver with no bright spots or reflection. We notice the slightly deeper face as an evolution from i15, that would make the fairways more playable off the tee; while we find the new hybrid more inviting than both i15 and G20 in terms of finish and shape (especially the square leading edge which aids alignment).
A lower-spinning, flatter trajectory compared is the main performance difference to G20 while better players will also appreciate the extra sole camber when ‘working’ the face angle. Guide: Fairways £200, hybrids £160.
“Hitting your long irons higher and your short irons lower is the key to good scoring. That’s what we’ve built into the i20 irons through a progressive set design,” says Jertson, referring to the change from longer heel-to-toe dimensions, thicker top lines and more pronounced offset in the long irons, towards shorter more compact blade lengths with cleaner toplines as you move up through the set.
While Mark Wilson won on the PGA tour with i20 in January, Jertson is keen to point out the impressive forgiveness from the weight placed high and low in the toe and also in the hosel (which features a ferrule - surprisingly traditional for Ping).
Fitted standard with Ping’s CFS (Control, Feel, Stability) shaft noted for its firmer tip in Stiff and X, and more ‘active’ tip in the Regular and Soft R to help get he ball up in the air.
“The i20 could suit any golfer who already gets the ball up in the air easily but wants a bit more versatility and workability. The slightly shorter blade lengths [relative to G20] will also help execute shots from courses with a lot of rough,” summarises Jertson. “In comparison, the G20 irons offer a higher flight and a bit more distance from the thinner face.” Guide: £90/£110 per club.
SkyCaddie SGXw GPS - online data access transformed by wifi
One of the main conclusions of our in-depth guide to Distance Measuring Devices last year (see Issue 104) was that the best golfing GPS systems are not merely rangefinders but also, in effect, course management tools.
Sure, they deliver yardages to the front, middle and back of the green (and even to the pin in some cases – see below) and to various hazards along the way. That’s obviously their main role. But as the technology improves (along with the designers’ imagination) so new functions and add-ons are revolutionising the interactive potential of such devices.
A good example is the SkyCaddie SGX handheld unit which brings new dimension to GPS ‘functionality’ both on and off the course. Its HoleVue and IntelliGreen features allow you to view and plot your way along an entire hole and home in on the nuances of the green, respectively. After your round, their ClubSG Beta portal provides the opportunity to download and number-crunch your scores while interacting with others in a brave new world of online community.
Both functions are made a lot easier in the new SGXw model which, along with a new GPS engine (much faster than the original) and upgraded software, contains an integrated wif-fi that allows the user to log-in to the company’s website for wireless access to all download and upload operations.
The SGXw works on both open and secure wireless networks (I connected it to my private home broadband within five minutes by following the quick start guide and entering my network name and password). Incidentally, the new optical track pad (that you roll your finger over as on a BlackBerry) is another improvement on the joystick on the original.
Of course, with SkyCaddie there is the inevitable debate over their membership structure which requires owners to pay for an annual plan – not merely to access various advanced features but even to retain, beyond the first 30 days, the ‘basic front, middle and back’ figures for the 30,000 preloaded courses.
Bearing in mind that rivals offer pre-loaded data with no further fees, it’s a fair point of controversy and one that centres, firstly, on the differences in SkyCaddie’s course data. While most rivals ‘map’ their courses through existing satellite photography, SkyCaddie employs teams of mappers to walk every golf course, using high-tech equipment that log key reference points on every hole.
They argue that this is the only way to reduce the potential errors from both antiquated aerial images and pixel problems that can lead to significant distance distortions, while also missing key data from overhanging trees masking fairway borders, hazards and green extremities.
Certainly in theory their data is technically more reliable though, in practice, it is not always possible to discern differences as we found in our test.
Nevertheless, the way that SkyCaddie accommodates data revisions is another important USP and one that reinforces the wi-fi feature.
“As well as mapping new golf courses we are regularly updating our existing course data. Our team of mappers revisit hundreds of courses a year, to take account of any recent changes such as new tee positions, greens and hazards,” SkyCaddie’s UK Managing Director, Jacqui Hitchcock, told Gi. “If you don’t have the latest data, you’re not going to have a good experience.” In this sense, the membership fee is an insurance policy against out-of-date data – but there are several other benefits to the scheme.
Starting with the Advanced Feature course maps that be downloaded for 50 of your favourite courses. Along with full-hole details mentioned earlier many mapped courses also include IntelliGreen Pro with yardages to any notable ridges and tiers within the green These are displayed on screen with exact contouring of the green’s aerial ‘footprint’ (rather than just a generic green shape).
The latest concept is PinPoint technology which recognizes the various green ‘zones’ used in rotation for pin placements, in effect allowing you to input the daily pin sheet to your hand-held unit. While this latter technology is so far only applicable to a relatively small number of courses, suddenly the gap between laser and GPS in terms of distances to the nearest yard of the pin is narrowing. Meanwhile membership is the only route to the Club SG Beta community and the digital world of personalized performance profiling and online interaction which one day may well extend to equipment custom fitting.
The key to that is the forthcoming, highly ingenious Smart Club technology which, via a tiny ‘intelligent’ chip-equipped disc inserted in the top of the grip, allows each of the golf clubs in your bag to interact with the unit. This allows it to gather data on when, where, and how far you hit each club, gradually compiling a profile of your game.
The concept is still in development but we hope to bring you more news later in the year.
The SGXw is priced £329.99.