Expert Panel: Our 2014 Equipment Predictions

A group of employees from GlobalGolf.com gathered one morning and discussed what we’re excited about seeing in 2014, some issues golf manufacturers are dealing with and what we would like to see happen in the golf industry. Our panel included five employees from different areas of the GlobalGolf.com operations, and four of the are PGA Professionals. Here is a list of who participated in the discussion:

  • Zack Veasey, PGA Professional; Vice President – Chief Merchandising Officer
  • Todd Benware, PGA Professional; Director of Golf
  • Ryan Spaziani, PGA Professional; Customer Service Representative
  • Alan Unruh, PGA Professional; Brand Ambassador
  • Josh Alexander; Purchasing Manager

Below, we’ve transcribed the entire discussion for those that aren’t able to view the video. Don’t forget to tell us what you thought and what you’d like to see in the future at the bottom of the page!

Zack Veasey: Well good morning and welcome to the GlobalGolf.com chat. We’re going to discuss some golf topics today and before we get doing that we’ll introduce everybody involved. I’m Zack Veasey, the Chief Merchandising Officer here at GlobalGolf and to my left is some of the team. Introduce yourself guys.

Todd Benware: Good morning Zack. Todd Benware, Director of Golf. Glad to be here.

Ryan Spaziani: Good morning. Ryan Spaziani, Customer Service Representative. Happy to be here as well.

Alan Unruh: Good morning guys. Alan Unruh, Brand Ambassador here at GlobalGolf and I’m excited about this.

Josh Alexander: Good morning. I’m Josh Alexander, the Purchasing Manager here at GlobalGolf.

Zack Veasey: Three out of the four guys that we have with us today are PGA golf Professionals. So, they have extensive background, as does Josh who has been in the golf business for quite some time. So, this will be a fun discussion. We’re going to toss out the first topic of discussion today and that’s golf equipment. 2013 proved to be an interesting year in golf equipment. There are many of us around here that believe it was a bit of a flat year due to maybe some less than advanced technological advancement. We look for 2014 to be a bit better. I’d like to start off with some discussion about 2013 product and maybe where we are headed with 2014. So, Josh I’ll open that up to you, since you’re our purchasing manager and what you believe 2014 looks like with respect to equipment. And that could be, doesn’t necessarily have to be clubs. It could be balls or anything else you’d like to talk about.

Josh Alexander: 2013 was a pretty flat year for equipment. I’m excited in 2014 for the golf ball category. I think that a couple of our major vendors are concentrating in 2014 on customizing the golf ball for a particular swing speed. For instance, Callaway has got the Speed Regime line coming out, which includes three golf balls. The SR1 which is 90 mph and below for your swing speed, the SR2 which is 90 to 105, and the SR3, which is more of a tour ball, which you would need a 105 or higher swing speed for that. Nike is also coming out with their RZN line. I think their 20XI line, as I said earlier, was a bit flat. And their RZN line, with their new RZN core is going to be really good for 2014. They’ve got four new golf balls: the RZN Black, which is more of a tour ball as well for a higher swing speed, RZN Platinum, RZN Red and a RZN White. The RZN Black and Platinum are both four piece golf balls, and the RZN Red and White are both three piece golf balls.

Zack Veasey: Josh, is there a new Pro V1?

Josh Alexander: Not that I am aware of right now.

Zack Veasey: Ok. Todd, I’d like to ask you a question as it relates to golf balls, using my dad as an example. Good player, low clubhead/swing speed, he plays a Srixon ladies golf ball. Can you comment as to why that is something he would want to do? Other than his affection for pink.

(Laughter)

Todd Benware: Well, it goes to say that the softer the core of the golf ball is, the less you get spin wise from a standpoint of side spin. It also happens too, that you get a little less backspin. You’re talking about someone who doesn’t create a lot of clubhead speed to begin with. You’ll see the migration to a softer core golf ball. What happens is the cover tends to be a little bit harder, once again for spin element. Was it twelve years ago that the PGA pro in Colorado played the lady, the Precept Lady?

Zack Veasey: Yeah, that’s what kind of first started it off.

Todd Benware: And it’s blossomed since then. You’re seeing a lot of that diversification, which Josh was talking about. Now, Bridgestone originally had that idea with the RX and now you’re seeing a tremendous branching out of swing by clubhead speed as far as how it relates to the golf ball. I think its way behind, as far as the technology. The golf ball companies haven’t had to with Titleist being out in front. They’ve done so well in the golf ball category and these other companies are trying to get into and dig in their territory. And they are. Judging by Nike, also with Callaway and now with Bridgestone. It’s great, it’s good to see and definitely there is a big market.

Alan Unruh: I think it’ll be interesting to. Bridgestone, they were the first ones to break out and do the balls for swing speeds. They found their niche. And because of that rose, I think, to maybe the number two golf ball category. And now with all these other ones coming in and doing the same thing. It will be interesting to see who gravitates towards what ball now. I think it will be very interesting to see.

Zack Veasey: Yeah. Let’s switch the conversation a bit to sticks. TaylorMade launched the SLDR driver back in late summer, early fall of this year. That driver has some advancements to it, some movability there. Certainly under the impression that in 2014 there’s going to be additional launches. Before we get into that, let’s talk about the SLDR. Why don’t one of you jump in on what’s happening with that driver and why players need more loft on that product. That can be anybody.

Ryan Spaziani: From what I’ve researched on the TaylorMade SLDR driver, and I’ve actually hit it myself as well. The first thing I noticed was that traditional feel that TaylorMade was always known for throughout the years seemed like they lost that over the last couple of years, but they have now gotten back to that more traditional smooth feel. As far as technology with the adjustable weight sliding and moving on the back of the club. It gives the player more usability; to change from a draw to a fade bias club it is making it easier in that aspect. But, also with regards to more loft, they said by moving the center of gravity closer to the face and higher is now supposed to be launching the club a little bit lower with a little less spin, hence the need for more loft to get that ball at the optimal trajectory and obviously get you optimal distance as well. That’s where they’ve noticed the need for increase in loft.

Josh Alexander: They’re actually coming out with a fourteen degree SLDR. For instance, Carl Petterson, who was with Nike in 2013 is now a TaylorMade ambassador for 2014. He moved from a nine degree Nike Covert to a twelve degree SLDR.

Zack Veasey: Wow. As past and current teachers, do you guys believe it’s difficult to have a player accept the fact that they need a driver with that much loft?

Ryan Spaziani: I would definitely say the ego gets in the way for sure.

Zack Veasey: No question about that.

Ryan Spaziani: I think results will speak for themselves during a fitting. Sometimes don’t even tell the player what loft they are hitting, just hand them the club. Without them looking at it and let them just hit it.

Zack Veasey: Yeah, because everybody we’ve ever taught hits it 265.

Alan Unruh: At least!

(Laughter)

Todd Benware: I think one thing too, with TaylorMade’s vision; you can listen to Sean Toulon who is in their development. TaylorMade is heading in a direction where they want to launch the ball at seventeen degrees and spin it at 1700 RPM. What that does, one with that effective loft being that high you do diminish side spin there is no question about it. The sale for them will be interesting, as we are talking about it, how do you get somebody in that loft? How do you convince somebody to go that high up? It’s going to have to be backed up by technology. Technology is going to have to show the customers and folks that are buying these products that this works. They’ll have to prove that.

Zack Veasey: So 2014 is going to prove to be interesting I believe from a couple respects. As we’ve discussed amongst ourselves the Callaway brand seems to be making a bit of a turn around. I’d like to discuss that as well. Let’s talk about their product line as specifically as it relates to the drivers that they have coming out and price points associated with those.

Ryan Spaziani: I’ve been doing a little bit of research on the new Big Bertha line that is coming out. First and foremost they are coming back with the Big Bertha name, which is exciting people already.

Zack Veasey: There is a whole generation of people who like that name.

Ryan Spaziani: Right, there are already people who love that name and they are going to gravitate towards that. And with their Big Bertha Alpha driver, which is supposed to be their flagship driver for 2014, adding in a new gravity control technology. Which what it’s doing is it’s actually a portion on the bottom of the golf club, called the gravity core. This is basically a cylinder, probably about a quarter inch in diameter, I haven’t found out how long it is. I’m interested to see.

Todd Benware: It’s about three to four inches, the depth of the face. It goes from the top of the crown to the bottom. It’s like an apple core.

Alan Unruh: It flips.

Todd Benware: Like Sir Isaac Newton, you can see it flips down and hits him on the head.

(Laughter)

Ryan Spaziani: The interesting thing about that is that now it’s going to be the first time through adjustable drivers, that you’ll be able to adjust spin independent from launch angles. If you are someone who struggling to get the right spin. Similar to what you were saying, TaylorMade is trying to get that launch angle, this is the way Callaway is doing it by changing the gravity core. Maybe, you need a lower center of gravity to give you your launch angle but you don’t want to sacrifice spin by increasing loft on the head. It’s certainly a revolutionary technology that I’m excited to see in 2014 and see how it really does perform.

Zack Veasey: I think we’ve seen the product here. Has anyone hit it?

Todd Benware: We’ve seen the product as far as the metals go. Alan and I have hit the Apex

Alan Unruh: Oh, the irons. Yes.

Zack Veasey: What did you guys think of those?

Todd Benware: I thought it was great.

Alan Unruh: They were awesome and great.

Todd Benware: What did you think as far as the Pro and the Forged?

Alan Unruh: The Pro and the Forged…The Pro set-up like your typical thin top-line, very good looking. The better player is going to gravitate towards it. But the Apex Forged, I think a lot of people are going to benefit from that. It still has the amazing feel because it’s a forged face with a steel cavity. You getting the benefits, you’re going to get the feel but you’re still going to get the distance that a lot of those people need. Your ball speed is going to be higher, that’s where they are going to get that. They’ve also included a new shaft, a graphite shaft, the Recoil. That was very interesting. Like you said, mind over matter like a lot of people are going to need more loft in their drivers. When I think of graphite shafts in my irons, I’m like “No, I’m better than that. I don’t need that.” But, it was awesome. The technology that has gone into the shafts is great for better players now. There are already players out on tour playing that stuff. Kuchar, Snedeker just to name a couple I can think of, are playing that type of shaft. The feel is amazing and the flight, I noticed is some much tighter. The control is just awesome. So, I think that club going to be awesome, it’s going to appeal to a broader range of players that couldn’t fit into a better type of club.

Josh Alexander: It helps a player like me as well, that used to play a lot and still want a forged feel of the iron. For somebody that maybe plays ten times a year, I can still have that feel and still be a forgiving golf club. Like Alan said, it’s for more people.

Zack Veasey: Right. You know it’s interesting. Many people don’t know, probably, that Callaway bought the Ben Hogan Company. They have not produced products with the Ben Hogan name. But, they’ve used those names such as Apex. It interesting that they reached back and are pulling out the name Apex and throwing out the name Big Bertha. There are a lot of people, especially older guys like myself who go back to those brand names and really associate that. It will be interesting to see.

Josh Alexander: I think it will be interesting to see too. They can’t just put a driver out there and slap the Big Bertha name on it. The Big Bertha originally performed, it was revolutionary in the golf business. They understand that in order to attach the Big Bertha name to the product, it’s got to be a good product. And I think they’ve found it.

Zack Veasey: Let’s switch the conversation over to putters, as is well documented that 2016 is the end of anchoring as we know it, as ruled by the USGA. Manufacturers are now really trying to understand how it is they are going to build putters, based off what may yet to become a methodologist for putting. Obviously, Kutchar’s putting, anchoring below the arm. Which has been ruled legal. Then there are some other putters that are out there as well, that is trying to at least give the feel that is similar to that of anchoring. Let’s talk about that for a minute. Both from the standpoint of philosophically how putting may evolve and then how equipment may evolve with that.

Ryan Spaziani: As far as equipment, companies are already looking to the Matt Kutchar style, the arm lock putter. You’ve seen TaylorMade put out a couple different versions as well as Odyssey. As you see Kutchar, you are able to lock it right in underneath the elbow joint. What’s happened with that design though, they have noticed they have actually had to increase loft. Typically a putter loft is anywhere from four to five degrees of loft. Now you are looking at anywhere from seven to nine degrees depending on the head style. The reason being is since you have that on your forward arm, your left or your right depending on what side you play from, you’re actually creating a lot of forward press. And they were noticing with standard loft you were now making the four degrees of loft almost zero. This obviously is not going to give you much of a roll out. Certainly changing the aspects of putting design with different way moving away from the anchoring.

Todd Benware: Another thing too. I think we need to paint this what it really is. We’re talking about Matt Kutchar, Ernie Els, Carl Petterson, Webb Simpson….

Zack Veasey: Adam Scott.

Todd Benware: There is five people. Every week one hundred and forty people tee it up and one hundred and thirty five of them are not using an anchored putter.

Zack Veasey: Makes you wonder why it was outlawed to begin with.

Todd Benware: That’s my point exactly. I’m not sure what we’re going to see from the manufacturers themselves but, if they go into it big time I think they are doing themselves a disservice. The large segment of the market is for the standard putter, with three degrees of loft. You’re seeing a lot of counter-balancing. The big grip was huge this year. I think you are going to see the grip companies really chime in with different colors, different sizes, different schemes. The putter market itself is huge, but from a sales standpoint I don’t know. Maybe Josh can talk more about this. From a sales standpoint I don’t know how much people really get excited about, this is a new putter. It really comes down to technique. For being able to use it, but it’s a real small segment as far as this whole bifurcation. I don’t know if you want to talk about it from that stand point.

Josh Alexander: From a sales side, I think whatever is hot at the moment is going to sale. I think the counter-balance idea or concept, right now and for the last half of 2013, was in the media and it’s been a pretty hot topic and I think that has translated into sales for us. You mentioned larger grips. I know Odyssey will release a couple putters in January that will come with a Super Stroke grip. They manufacturers are getting in on that business as well.

Zack Veasey: Josh, fill in on that comment as well, about the counter balance putters. Talk about a few of those models that are out there.

Josh Alexander: Odyssey has the Tank. They have a couple different head styles for the tank. TaylorMade has the Spider. They have a Spider Blade that is a counter-balance as well. Nike will introduce a Method counter-balance in February. The manufacturers are seeing that there is a want or need for them. I think they are just going to introduce them in limited quantities.

Zack Veasey: You know we touched on a couple time throughout this conversation the USGA, golf equipment being banned and those types of things. Todd, you even touched on it for a moment with respects to the USGA and its place in the game and what’s happening to equipment. I’d like to ask you all a question, especially you three PGA members and Josh you are welcome to chime in as well. If manufacturers, let me go back for just a minute. How many of you were in the golf business in 2000? You two guys might still have been in high school.

(Laughter)

Ryan Spaziani: That’s correct.

(Laughter)

Zack Veasey: In 2000 those of us who were in the golf business remember a golf product by the name of ERC. ERC was a golf club that at the time the coefficient of restitution, was what was being measured. It was hot, it was too hot. It was actually being played in Canada and I would buy it out of Canada and sell it in the United States to players who just wanted to be longer. Now it’s pretty silly. Those products then, the ball speed as its being played today, is much hotter than what was allowed at that time. But I can imagine, I don’t know this for a fact, that manufacturers may begin to launch product that does not meet USGA specifications. As golf professionals, PGA members, we are here to up-hold the game and to be stewards of the USGA rules. I’d like to understand what you guys think about that. If product comes out that’s non-conforming for players. We’ll sell it. But, what do you think about that from the point of a golf professional.

Todd Benware: I’ll jump right in on that. The USGA is in a precarious position. It’s is sort of like, we say jump. You say, how high? From the bifurcation, as far as anchoring and wedge grooves from two, three years ago. They have had issues in the past from setting standards for some reason, and I can’t understand why. From a philosophical stand point, I’m all about continuing the game. The USGA standpoint, they are trying to protect their rule base. I got that. From the PGA standpoint, we’re trying to increase numbers. We’re losing a million golfers a year. We have been for quite some time. This to me, when you’re talking about anchoring putters and wedges, this is great for the pros to be able to maybe real them in. But the average golfer is getting left out. The average golfer is not being able to enjoy the game like they can. They are not being able to use equipment that may give them more distance. There is a market out there for those kinds of things, for illegal drivers, wedges, irons. There is regulating bodies out there that can rein all that in. But for the average person who wants to go out and play golf, which is the majority of golfers. They’re going in and having to re-vamp their game. When the wedge groove came out, it was great for pros. They just trade in their old wedges and get new ones. It didn’t cost them a dime. But now, the amateur goes out and has to replace all three wedges. It is going to cost them $300 – $400. They are going to have to figure out different ways to spin the ball around the green. It’s a mess. Those are my thoughts.

Ryan Spaziani: Just to kind of touch on, as I am the PGA customer service representative in our customer service department, I’m getting those calls for those old grooves more than anything. Are these the old grooves? I don’t want the new conforming grooves, I want the old grooves. I wish I had them, and come soon you’re never going to be able to find those anymore. As of January 1, 2014 those are going to be obsolete pretty much everywhere. I agree with Todd one thousand percent as PGA members we are here to uphold the rules but we want to grow the game as well. That’s what we feel is the most important aspect. Speaking for myself, as a PGA member, I want to grow the game. I can’t do that if I’ve got a high handicapper that can’t spin his wedge from seventy yards. How is he going to expect to get any better? I can teach him how to hit the ball perfect but if he doesn’t have a high enough swing speed to generate that spin. He isn’t going to enjoy himself around the greens.

Alan Unruh: I agree. I think my big thing as a PGA Professional; I want to increase the people playing the game. Bring more people into the game. It is a life-long sport. It is meant for people to enjoy. Yes, there is a fine line with the rules, and I get that. I think there is a place for that and I think it is becoming more geared towards those highly skilled players, professionals and top amateurs. Tournaments of that nature, I one hundred percent think they need those rules in place. But for the big population that plays golf, I want them to enjoy the game. And it is tough and getting tougher to increase the participation now. You’re taking away things from the people that are enjoying the game. Like I said, I think the bigger population is out there just to play the game. They don’t go out, the guys that are teeing it up on Saturdays. We could go out and make a tee time Saturday and go play, we are not playing for a million dollars. We’re just going out to enjoy it.

Zack Veasey: I wouldn’t play you for five.

(Laughter)

Alan Unruh: We are going out to enjoy the game. To me that is what it is all about. Right now we need to increase participation. If we can get more people, no matter where they come from; old, women and juniors. No matter where, just increase the game as much as we can. Then we can take care of those rules, down the line, for the people that need those rules. There’s a time and a place for them.

Zack Veasey: Josh you are not a golf professional, but a very accomplished, good amateur player. Who like many of us, don’t play as much as we used to. How would you feel about that type of golf equipment?

Josh Alexander: For me, it’s all about having fun. It’s not my lively-hood. I think the more fun we can make it, or manufacturers can make it for the average amateur golfer the more they are going to play. These guys mentioned growing the game and that is the only way we are going to grow the game, if it’s more fun. You’re not going to go out there if you are miserable, and struggling with distance or putting spin on the golf ball. I think it’s about having more fun, and as a retailer it allows us to sell to two different segments of golfers and allows us to sell more equipment. I think it allows amateurs to have more fun and the more fun you have the more often you are going to do something.

Ryan Spaziani: I’ve got one last little thing. We keep saying we want to make the game more fun. How do we quantify fun? Let’s take us, being PGA Professionals, out of it. As golfers, how do we quantify fun? Hitting long drives, spinning wedge shots and making putts. And that’s what they are changing.

Zack Veasey: Yeah. It’s been a while for me.

(Laughter)

Zack Veasey: Well we’ll end this gentleman. It’s been great. We’ll end it on this provocative question. I enjoyed being with you today and we’ve enjoyed being with you all as well. We’ll be back to you as soon as we can with some more topics here at GlobalGolf.com.

Alan Unruh, PGA

Alan Unruh is a Class “A” member of the PGA of America. He has a profound passion for the game of golf along with extensive experience and knowledge regarding golf operations, rules of golf, tournament operations and golf swing fundamentals. Alan has also played a crucial role helping manage multiple tournaments throughout his career including the 2002 USGA Women’s U.S. Open, PGA and LPGA Tour events, and multiple NCAA and AJGA events.

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