2002: Privately, Ping unveils i3+

By GENE YASUDA

With no henpecking shareholders or Wall Street analysts to deal with, privately held Ping is a rarity among major equipment manufacturers: It can pretty much do as it pleases.

Nowhere is this unalterable attitude more noticeable than in the company’s fall 2002 product introductions.

Though many companies rapidly debut new clubs or dramatically alter existing lines nearly every year to pump up sales, Ping has taken a minimalist approach with its new i3+ model, the company’s first iron offering since it unveiled the original i3s nearly three years ago.

Ping officials maintain that key engineering improvements designed to enhance the performance of the i3s were added to the i3+ version, including “thinning” the clubhead’s leading edge to promote better ball contact, and incorporating the new CS Lite as the club’s stock steel shaft, which is 10 grams lighter than its predecessor.

But much of the aesthetics introduced in the popular i3 has been preserved in the i3+, which could serve as a commercial blessing – or curse.

While it is possible Ping loyalists will upgrade to the new version, it is conceivable that others will be reluctant to pay $115 per iron(suggested retail/steel shaft) for new clubs that don’t appear distinctly different from their current set.

Ping chairman John A. Solheim, however, is hardly concerned.

He concedes his newest offering likely will not produce a huge spike in sales as did the i3. But he expects the i3+ to gain a sizable following over time as word of its performance benefits wins converts from existing i3 users and new Ping customers alike.

Perhaps, more important, Solheim said the company introduced the i3+ to further validate the original i3 design and make the i3 and i3+ tandem an enduring franchise much like the vaunted Ping Eye 2, which still records healthy sales.

Ping officials said the i3s are demonstrating their longevity, and cited as evidence their recent use by both the U.S. Amateur champion, Ricky Barnes, and runner-up, Hunter Mahan.

“If you have a product that’s as good as the i3, you don’t want to completely overhaul it,” said Ping club designer Mike Nicolette.

In addition to the irons, Ping unveiled an array of products, including:

M/B wedges: The traditional-looking line features a cavity for weight adjustability and forgiveness, according to Solheim. The wedges, which feature large U-shaped grooves designed to optimize spin and lift, are available in six lofts: 48, 52, 54, 56, 58 and 60 degrees.

JAS putter: The forged titanium putters take heel-to-toe perimeter weighting to the extreme, Ping officials said. Resistance to twisting on off-center hits has been improved 40 percent as a result of the lightweight titanium head and heavy tungsten inserts brazed into the heel and toe.

Bags: Five new carry models range in weight from 5.4 pounds to 1.2 pounds.

The lineup includes the newest iteration of the popular Hoofer model, the Hoofer 3.

This premium carry bag also is available in a left-handed version featuring reversed pocket positions – which Ping claims is an industry first. Two cart-specific bags, the Frontier and Lady Frontier, feature a user-friendly design: all of their pockets are easily accessible when the bags are strapped onto a golf cart.





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