Nike enhances VR line with new forged irons

Nike VR Pro Blade irons

Nike VR Pro Blade irons

Nike Golf is introducing two sets of forged VR irons for 2011 – VR Pro Combo and VR Pro – that are slick, eye-catching updates of previous Nike design concepts.

Several companies, including Nike, are focusing much of their product development on consumers who carry low handicaps or dream of doing so. Indeed, it’s a perfect time to be a skilled player.

Nike’s two new forged models, for example, will be followed in the near future by TaylorMade’s introduction of three forged irons. For 2011, it is clear that forged irons are making a comeback.

An even bigger story for Nike, though, is the direction and strategy the company is now following. Many golfers have followed Nike closely in the nine years since the Swoosh first appeared on golf clubs, and what they witnessed at times was a confusing collection of names and models.

Nike’s new game plan is clear enough: VR is aimed at the best players (along with traditionalists); SQ has become Nike’s game-improvement brand (with the high-tech SQ Machspeed appealing to some better players as well); and Slingshot is intended for beginning or less experienced players.

By the time the entire 2011 VR family is unveiled, it will include drivers, fairway woods, hybrids, irons and wedges that fit together in a comprehensive and sensible lineup.

Heading into 2011, Nike faced a big decision – how to present its philosophy and talk about its golf clubs. If we listen carefully to the language, it is clear Nike is adopting a new attitude about golf.

“I think what you will see now is a stronger, meaner, leaner Nike Golf,” said Rob Arluna, Nike’s business director for golf equipment. “We will attack the better player franchise with some amazing clubs. Looking at irons in particular, we will be very aggressive.

“Overall, you are going see us take a real athletic positioning. . . . You will hear us talk in more athletic terms. Our mission statement is to maximize athletic performance.”

Added Gidge Moody, director of product marketing: “In the past, we probably tried to stretch out the SQ brand too far. Since we introduced VR a couple of years ago, we started cleaning up our categories. Now we are completing that transition. All our workable clubs (different flight patterns and trajectories) fall under VR. The help and assistance clubs fall under SQ. Looking ahead to 2011, it will be our big year for VR.”

And so, with stronger, meaner and leaner as a guide, Nike is unveiling the first segment of the new-look VR family with Pro and Pro Combo irons.

First, the grooves: Both the new VR models have what Nike is calling X3X high-frequency grooves.

The 3 in X3X refers to a U.S. Golf Association rule that the space between grooves must be at least three times the width of a single groove. Nike’s goal was to get more grooves on the face, so the new grooves are narrower (which also reduces the space between the grooves).

Each iron has four or five extra grooves, depending on the height of the blade. At impact, at least one extra groove will contact the ball, according to Nike.

The new grooves, which are die-stamped into the face, appear to work exceptionally well. Golfers who switch from old grooves to new grooves are likely to notice no difference on iron shots from the fairway or even from light rough.

As the rough gets higher, thicker or wetter, though, all the new grooves from all the golf club manufacturers will produce less spin than the aggressive old grooves they are replacing. This is a fact of life as golf moves into a new groove era, and manufacturers are prohibited from making the old grooves (as of Dec. 31, 2010).

• • •

VR PRO COMBO

The 2-, 3- and 4-irons have a large pocket cavity in the back, the 5-, 6- and 7-irons have a somewhat smaller split cavity, and the 8-iron, 9-iron and pitching wedge are pure blades (identical to the VR Pro).

Nike’s original Pro Combo set attracted many followers, but this new version likely will have a wider appeal. Why? Because Nike engineers have fine-tuned the long irons and mid irons. They look more pleasing at address, with the top line on the long and mid irons appearing almost identical to the top line on the short irons.

All the irons look exceptionally clean, allowing the entire set to present a more uniform look from top to bottom.

These are designed for individuals who love to hit irons. Sure, they may have a hybrid in the bag somewhere, but VR is now intended to be a password for golfers who want to be known as superb iron players.

The longer irons also seem to produce a slightly higher ball flight than the original Pro Combo long irons. Nike says all irons in the set are designed to achieve the same trajectory (meaning, for most players, higher in the long irons and lower in the short irons). 

• • •

VR PRO

These irons harken back to forged irons of the past, albeit with modern forging and construction techniques that enhance their forgiveness on off-center hits.

Much of the handwork in the forging process has been eliminated, allowing more consistent production. These are beautiful forged irons without any cavity whatsoever.

The VR Pro will replace the VR Forged TW Blade. The new Pro is similar to the TW Blade in size and shape, although the TW logo is nowhere to be found. 

The lofts on the Pro and Pro Combo irons are identical. They may be slightly stronger than forged irons of the 1950s and 1960s, but they are moderately weak by modern standards: pitching wedge/47 degrees, 9-iron/43, 8-iron/39, 7-iron/35, 6-iron/31, 5-iron/27, 4-iron/24, 3-iron/21, 2-iron/18.

The MSRP for either set is $1079.99. This includes eight irons with True Temper Dynamic Gold steel shafts.

The VR Pro Combo and VR Pro are scheduled to be available during the last week of November.

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