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In Search of Magic - the 2010 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando

While the leading new clubs for 2010 are showcased elsewhere in these pages (see below), Dominic Pedler sets the scene here for the latest equipment developments with his highlights from the annual PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando.

Part 1 - Irons & Wedges
Part 2 - Drivers & Fairway Woods
Part 3 - Putters

The new Harry Potter theme park at the sprawling Universal complex in Orlando is set to be the biggest Florida attraction of 2010 (if you don’t count the now notorious Blue Martini Lounge), complete with a replica Hogwarts Castle rising incongruously from the flat landscape.

But barely a mile away it was golf, rather than quidditch, that captivated the 40,000 industry visitors to the annual PGA Merchandise Show, in January, showcasing the very latest equipment for the current season.

The 2010 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando

This year, the equally labyrinthine Orange County Convention Centre housed some 1,000 exhibitors, lining 10 miles of aisles. No Nimbus 2000, admittedly, just thousands of elaborate golf clubs, balls and gadgets all promising to put somemagic into your game.

The Adams Speedline Fast 10 driver
Adams has scored a big hit with its latest Speedline Fast 10 driver, as used by 53-year-old Bobby Wilson in winning the ReMAX world long-drive title

Best of all, the delegates get to try and test themat the Demo Day where on a 40-hectare circular practice ground, a mile in circumference, some 250,000 balls were apparently hit that day. 7,721 of them by 34-yearold Nigel Magan of Piranha Golf when setting a new world record for the most golf balls hit in a 12-hour period, with officials from the Guinness Book Of Records on hand to log every last hack.

While Magan’s balls only had to travel a 100 yards to count, over at the Adams tent the new ReMAX world long-drive champion, Bobby Wilson, was giving a masterclass in awesome driving while promoting the latest Adams Speedline Fast 10 drivers. With his TrackMan-measured ballspeeds approaching 200mph (Tigermanages about 170mph),Wilson was knocking his 47-inch shafted big stick some 350 yards without breaking sweat. And he’s 53 years of age.

Marketing is the name of the game at the Orlando show and a smattering of stars were on hand to guarantee some glitz. Justin Leonard and Suzann Petersen did a nifty clinic for Nike while, back at the main indoor show, Greg Norman, Tom Watson and Tony Jacklin were among the legends patiently signing autographs.

While the rumours are that equipment sales are off as much as 30 per cent, some companies have clearly weathered the storm better than others. Callaway has even made a big-name signing in the form of shortgame legend Dave Pelz to their highly successful Odyssey putter business.

Short game legend Dave Pelz has signed with Callaway to develop the Odyssey putter range

“My whole life has been about helping golfers to score better with their short game and I’m very happy to be involved with the best putter company who base their product research and testing on science,” said Pelz, who as an independent, first designed the famous 2Ball putter before selling the rights to Odyssey. Pelz’ debut line will be the highly novel, rear-shafted BackStryke putters that encourage the correct hand position and shoulder action.

Similarly radical is The Heavy Wedge from the Boccieri company that brought you The Heavy Putter. The latter, remember, adopted both an unusually heavy head and an additional weight in the butt-end of the shaft to eliminate excessive wrist action while encouraging the desired ‘rocking shoulder’ motion.

“Tour players were telling me that, while they liked the theory of The Heavy Putter, they had an even greater need to control their chip shots around the green,” company chief, Stephen Boccierri, told me. “The idea of The Heavy wedge is that the higher balance point quietens the hands on short chips while, on long shots, it makes you set the hands quicker and hold the correct shaft angle for longer.”

It’s certainly worth a try, but with a 65-gramme butt weight raising the balance point almost 40% up the shaft, the resulting low swingweight does alter the feel. We’ll follow Boccieri’s progress with interest - especially if he ever decides to extend the concept through the set (I gently reminded him of the Wilson High Fulcrum model of the early 1990s).

Rather more conventional was the mouth watering limited edition Seve Ballesteros 25th Anniversary signature set, lovingly crafted by MD Golf.

MD Golf's Seve Ballesteros 25th Anniversary signature set

The eight irons are modern-day reproductions of those used by the Spaniard when winning the 1984 Open at St Andrews; only 276 sets have been made, representing his 72-hole winning score that year. Signed by the great man himself and packaged in a special oak presentation case, the lavish memento will set you back a cool £5,000. No sign of the recession there.

Incidentally, the Seve clubs are fitted with leather kangaroo skin grips fromrising Australian specialists, Grip Master. Their exotic range of colours and textures also includes a satisfyingly tacky (the feel rather than the look!) Cowhide; and an outrageous faux rattlesnake putter grip.

Grips were a very much a story of the show, especially the trend towards unusual new colours. It appears white is the new black in 2010, led by Golf Pride’s TourWrap 2G, a softer, simulated leather compound with even greater tackiness and durability than high-tack rubber. “It’s the first time we’ve done an all-white grip,” explained Connor Dillon, of Golf Pride. “But we noted the huge success of our black & white Multi-Compound grip, and have extended the concept. We think it will catch on with the young generation, in particular. But there are also red and black options.”

The Softspikes Black Widow grip Golf Pride and Grip Master grips
Grips were very much the talk of the show. Softspikes launched its all-new Black Widow range while Golf Pride and Australian leather brand Grip Master also revealed new product.

Lamkin’s vibration-dampening Performance Plus 3GEN, andWinn’s Lite grip have also gone all-white, the latter endorsed by Butch Harmon, who explained that – at half the weight of a conventional grip – the new model is actually designed to reduce the overall club weight for a faster swing speed and more distance. Meanwhile, Softspikes have diversified from their best-selling synthetic cleats to debut their Black Widow grips, a super snazzy black & white design (no doubt inspired by Golf Pride’s Multi Compound) featuring Halloween-style spider graphics.

The real industry cognoscenti here to try the very latest high-end shafts were immediately greeted by the huge, zeppelin-style balloon flying high over the Demo Day advertising the launch of the Japanese Miyazaki company. The Srixon-owned outfit duly impressed the experts for the way every shaft is accuratelymeasured at the factory for the flex bend profile across four zones of the shafts, leading to highly accurate customfitting.While they won’t be officially launched in the UK just yet, a few of our top independent fitters have already got their hands on them.

Shaft geeksmight also want to check out the Nunchuck by Nventix, with its unusual mix of super firm butt and flexible mid section; the ATTAS by UST (as played by Open champion Stewart Cink); and the Tour AD Deep Impact by Graphite Design, already making a deep impact on the pro tours.

The Mizuno Shaft Optimiser

Talking of custom fitting, Mizuno retail fitters will make the task dramatically quicker and more efficiently for you in 2010 using the Mizuno Shaft Optimiser (right). Simply take a few swings with a special 6-iron, whose shaft is fitted with strain gauges, accelerometers and microprocessors that measure five key parameters of your swing that go far beyond just basic clubhead speed.

These include your tempo, your ‘lead lag’ and ‘toe up/toe-down’ bend and, crucially, the point of your maximum shaft release which is now seen as an increasingly important determinant.

Within seconds the software yields the top two shaft recommendations for your swing, having automatically scanned a databank of shafts on the market, each pre-measured for weight, flex, torque and bend profile.

“The technology allows us to measure each person’s individual swing DNA, as we like to call it,” explained Bill Price as he demo’d the system for us. “We still need to confirm the correct fit with the golfer, according to his ball flight requirements. But, in conjunction with our custom-fitting system of interchangeable heads and shafts, it dramatically improves the efficiency of the fitting process for both golfer and clubfitter”.

Talking of technology, the iPod generation will notice the growing amount of golf gear that comes with a (presumably Apple-inspired) ‘i’ prefix or suffix. Ping themselves have the i15 range of clubs, and the iN and iWi putters. Yonex raise the stakes with the Nanopseed 3i series;Maruman have a new iDriver while the iGolf company provides GPS content for the golfing sector. Callaway were among the first to grasp the marketing potential with their FT-i family of Fusion clubs and duly keep their ‘i’ on the ball in 2010 with their four piece Tour iZ and Tour iS golf balls.

The Callaway Tour FTiz driver The Callaway Tour iS ball
Callaway were among the first of the major names to grasp the marketing power of the 'i' prefix or – in the case of the FTi – suffix. This has been extended to their latest line of tour-premium ball, the Tour iZ and Tour iS

The company claims the Tour iZ is the fastest tour ball they’ve ever made, due to revised aerodynamics, a more resilient core and a more durable and responsive Hyper-Urethane cover. In contrast, the Tour iS stresses the wide ‘spin separation’ resulting from its low compression inner, and high compression outer, core. The new buzz-phrase refers to the difference between the spin generated fromthe driver (the lower the better, for most of us) and the spin from the wedges (the higher the better).

Ernie Els was the first to rave about the radically new feel of the Tour iS when debuting it with a hole-in-one and a 63 on his way to a second place finish at the HSBC Champions, last Autumn.

Elsewhere, ball market leaders Titleist have a new NXT Tour, NXT and DT SoLo to join their Pro V1 family. At £7-a-sleeve, the NXT Tour is essentially a budget version of the Pro V1 – but if anything is slightly longer, while the thin Fusablend cover is not far behind in terms of greenside control. The NXT (£6-a-sleeve) is targeted to those who generate too much wayward side spin, especially off the tee, thanks to the two-piece construction and more durable Surlyn cover.

Titleist NXT Tour Titleist DT SoLo
Ball market leaders Titleist have simplified their range with the launch of
a new NXT Tour and DT SoLo

Finally, the DT SoLo simplifies the two discontinued Titleist PTS Carry and Roll options into a single ‘value’ ball (£20 per dozen) offering decent distance and surprisingly good control from the thinner (but still cut-proof) cover.

The SkyCaddie SGC - the next generation GPS rangefinder
Srixon's all-new 3-piece Trispeed ball is the result of engineers solving the conundrum of combining distance with feel

Srixon’s star continues to rise – and not merely with Miguel Angel Jimenez winning in Dubai with the Z-Star ball that’s also now being played by Shane Lowery and Japanese star, Ryo Ishikawa.

The company’s new 3-piece TriSpeed is a great example of how ball companies are cracking the conundrum of combining distance with feel.

Here it’s down to a soft mid-layer, a resilient Energy Gradient Core and a 324 dimple pattern newly configured for a high, low-spinning launch angle; while an ionomeric cover infused with Rabalon HR+ provides the feel and response (£34.99 a dozen).

Finally, Orlando is the place for golfing gadgets, with three products immediately grabbing my attention.

Zenio has a portable putting analysis device that cleverly clips onto your putter shaft and accurately measures your clubface/ball impact point, the tempo of your swing and the face angle and swing path of your stroke. For hands-free freaks, the sensor sends the data by Bluetooth to your laptop – or even amobile phone – for a highly practical, instant analysis. You can even e-mail the session to your pro.

The home training trend continues with David Leadbetter’s special coaching programme for Nintendo Wii, that takes you far beyond the Tiger Woods 2010 game. The system makes full use of the Wii’s Motion Plus technology to track your swing plane, tempo and weight shift (if you have the balance board). We’ll certainly give it a full workout when it ships in March.

The SkyCaddie SGX GPS includes a 'Smart Club' system
One handy gadget: the latest features on the SkyCaddie SGX GPS include a 'Smart Club' system that enables you to gather data on your performance with every club in the bag - maybe too much information!

Still, for sheer technical novelty, nothing quite beats the latest features on the new SkyCaddie SGX GPS rangefinder. The new model comes with approach yardages for 30,000 courses ‘out of the box’, with the ability to download full details of your 50 favourites via subscription.

Slick upgrades for 2010 include enriched colour graphics, a green image that rotates to match your angle of approach and which (for the first time) can include distances to important mid-green contours.

But the kicker is the Smart Club technology that allows each of the golf clubs in your bag to interact with your unit via a small ‘intelligent’ disc that you insert in the grips. This allows the £329 SGX to gather data on when, and how far, you hit each club thereby gradually compiling a complete statistical profile of your game.

In doing, so the SGX can actually make course management and club selection recommendations for you as you check the yardages in the normal GPS way.

Best of all, the same technology recognises when you’ve left your sand iron by the last green, and activates a warning signal. Now that’s what I call progress.

Then again, golf gadgets at Orlando go all the way up to $80,000 (for the AboutGolf simulator that comes with realistic visuals on three sides) suggesting that the golf industry can’t be all that depressed.

Indeed, the only evidence of belt tightening we saw was over on the Druh Belts booth, busy shifting loads of the latest must-have leather accessory that is storming not only the pro tours (John Daly, Robert Karlsson, Shane Lowery, David Howell, etc) but also the celebrity scene (Ronan Keating, Rebecca Hudson, Lee Sharpe, Alan Shearer, etc).

Well, you’ve got to look the part at the Blue Martini Lounge.

February 2010

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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