2005: For your game - New toys abound in every category

Orlando, Fla.

It was a wonderful PGA Merchandise Show. It was upbeat and full of optimism. It was as if the world of golf woke one morning and declared, “Enough of these menacing predictions about the game. Enough of the no-growth and slow-growth scenarios. Enough of the caution and skepticism.”

During the extravaganza’s four-day run, I continually

saw creativity and innovation on display.

It was difficult to view everything at the PGA Show. Undoubtedly I missed some items. Regardless, I will stick my neck in the proverbial noose by nominating a handful of products as the most noteworthy of the show.

This is a casual awards ceremony. There are no tuxedos, no Oscars, no victory speeches. Perhaps I should take a pie in the face for displaying personal preferences.

For example, I am a sucker for forged irons. This was a dream show for forgings.

Callaway introduced its long-awaited X-Tour forged iron, designed by Roger Cleveland. This iron looks traditional from the address position, but features a substantial undercut cavity on the back. Callaway is able to do this with a sophisticated welding technique that joins two pieces of forged carbon steel.

Srixon’s I-302 and Wilson’s Fi5 are two more beautiful forged irons that combine traditional appearance and modern technology.

Cleveland’s CG2 iron, made of the company’s proprietary super-soft carbon metal matrix material, made its debut as well. The new iron replaces the TA2 in the Cleveland lineup.

I have long believed that Mizuno has the brightest, most consistent history of designing and producing premium forged irons. I still think so. Mizuno’s new MP-32 is a thoroughbred iron, and Mizuno engineers have employed all kinds of design tricks (including variable length hosels) to make sure the sweet

spot is located in precisely the same location in each iron.

That said, here are some products that demanded attention during the show.

Forged irons: Bridgestone J33 Forged Combo. These irons are sensational. To achieve a higher trajectory, the 2-iron through 5-iron contain cavity backs with tungsten inserts. The 6-iron and 7-iron have the cavity back but no tungsten. The 8-iron, 9-iron and pitching wedge are traditional muscle-back irons.

Today’s forged irons boast better sole designs than their ancestors. Bridgestone uses what it calls a “double cut” design on the sole, and it really is easier to hit from a variety of lies.

Cast irons: Yonex Cyberstar VX. Many golfers have remained Yonex fans since the company invented the graphite-headed driver market 15 years ago. The new Cyberstar VX features a combination of graphite and stainless steel. Inside the stainless steel clubhead is a layer of graphite along with a hollow area.

The Cyberstar VX and the Callaway Fusion are golf’s two most complex iron designs, and both offer an exceptionally soft feel.

Furthermore, Yonex claims that the ultra-thin face (1.2 millimeters) of the VX produces a trampoline effect that results in additional distance.

Another cast iron, the new Tommy Armour Morph, is unique in controlling trajectory with three different clubheads (deep cavity, mid cavity and blade) with three different Rifle Flighted shafts.

Drivers: Srixon W-403AD. This 420cc driver looks good and performs even better. My advice: Don’t listen to company rhetoric about the ball remaining longer on the clubface. Just hit the club. The sound and feel of the W-403AD are extremely solid. During informal testing by Golfweek, balls hit with this driver were rolling substantial distances.

Bumping up against the U.S. Golf Association maximum size limit, the resurgent Nike Ignite 460 has gained more attention now that Tiger Woods, Stewart Cink and other PGA Tour players are using the club, which was introduced in 2004.

The Callaway Big Bertha 454, used to win the 2004 World Long Drive Championship, is another driver that has appealed to golfers of diverse abilities.

Fairway woods:

For years, Callaway has dominated fairway wood usage on the pro tours and fairway wood sales

among consumers.

The stainless steel Big Bertha fairway wood, available in 11 lofts, has been a magnet for golfers since its

2004 release.

Among show introductions, MacGregor’s MacTec 3-wood already has a reputation as one of the longest fairway woods. It uses something called cup-face technology.

Hybrid clubs: Tour Edge Houdini. I don’t believe any company in golf can surpass Sonartec for quality in hybrids, but the new Tour Edge Houdini (available in 3, 5 and 7) is a fascinating club. It comes with a longer shaft than most hybrids, so getting the ball in the air is not a problem. In addition, it has an extremely pleasing sound – more of a bass sound that says, “I can do whatever you want.”

Another favorite was the new Cleveland Halo, available in 16, 19, 22 and 25 degrees. The Halo has a terrific rocker sole that allows the club to be hit from a variety of good and bad lies.

Wedges: I kept looking for wedges that attracted more attention than Cleveland year-old CG10. I couldn’t find them.

Wedges from Feel Golf, a small company in Monterey, Calif., are being discovered by more golfers. The two best 64-degree wedges are the Feel 64 and the Cleveland 588.

Putters: Aserta Monster by Rich Parente. Aserta is trying hard to become the leader of high CG (center of gravity) technology in putter design. High CG produces more overspin.

Parente, something of a legend in golf club design, reappears with this large-headed putter. My experience: This may be the best-feeling putter you will ever hit.

The 2005 Merchandise Show spotlighted the best collection of putters in years. The Heavy Putter, with adjustable weights in the clubhead and substantial backweights in the grip end of the

shaft, drew overflow crowds. The C-Groove putter from Yes! Golf received a lot of attention. The SeeMore putter, which largely disappeared after being used by Payne Stewart in his 1999 U.S. Open victory, surged back with a new model called SeeMore Money.

Women’s clubs: Vulcan LUV System 54. Vulcan is a creative clubmaker, and this set of nine clubs is typical of the company’s unique designs. The set includes five hybrid irons (with pitching wedge and sand wedge hybrids) and four woods.

If a female golfer can’t hit these clubs, she ought to take up tennis.

Senior clubs: Bobby Jones by Jesse Ortiz. Respected club designer Ortiz, the brains behind the Orlimar TriMetal, has come up with a revolutionary wood design that is used in senior and women’s clubs by Bobby Jones.

At address, the clubhead looks more triangular than pear-shaped. The effect, though, is that a closed clubface actually looks open.

In the name of playability, a Bobby Jones nine-club set includes four woods, two hybrids and three irons.

Golf balls: Ben Hogan Tour Deep. This is an odd-looking golf ball that is the first blockbuster ball to come from the combined efforts of Top-Flite and Callaway. The ball has six dimples that are deeper than the other 376 dimples. These dimples are a product of the process used to produce what is being labeled the thinnest cover in golf (made of thermoset urethane).

Coincidentally, it was later discovered that the dimples also improve the rollout of the ball, according to Ben Hogan officials. They say it rolls a few yards farther because of the aerodynamic patterns caused by the six dimples.

Golf bag: Burton Club-Lok. This is the best anti-theft bag ever produced. With 14 individual compartments, the clubs lock in place and the bag can be tethered to a rack or post.

Stationary swing training: The Explanar (www.explanar.com). The home version costs $995, but there seems to be something almost magical about a golfer’s transition from this circular device to the golf course.

At two demo days in Florida, I watched golfer after golfer report improved ball striking after using the Explanar.

The plane of the circle can be adjusted, and the device comes with an ingenious foot mat to help achieve the proper stance. The inventor is respected English teaching professional

Luther Blacklock.

Portable swing training: GolfGym (www.golfgym.com). This simple but effective

kit comes with a stretchable cable (with a choice of tensions), an exercise handle and enough guidance to simulate just about every move in the golf swing.

Travel category: AutoLinx. Don’t have room for your golf clubs in your vehicle? This eye-catching, $295 travel case (www.drivelikeapro.com) hooks into a trailer hitch at the back of a car or truck. A golf bag goes inside the case.

Inventor Ron Hesmer of Wilmington, N.C., says he is approached by golfers everywhere he drives.

I believe him.

Finally, there should be an award for the golf company that displayed the most impressive overall lineup of new products.

The winner is MacGregor, edging out Bridgestone.

MacGregor designers must have locked themselves in a laboratory and thrown away the key. New at the show: a driver, fairway woods, two sets of irons and wedges.

The MacTec driver and fairways woods are wildly contemporary.

The irons, though, are my favorites. The V-Foil M565 and M675 compliment the M455 that already was in the line. These three irons now progress from offset (M455) to slightly offset (M565) to blade (M675).

If these aren’t the hottest irons in golf, they are close.











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