Cobra Puma making its name known

I remain fascinated by Puma’s 2010 acquisition of Cobra. The big question: Can the shoe and apparel giant move gracefully into golf?

I don’t see Puma tripping on its shoe laces, but obviously there are challenges along the road to success. The golf business is fiercely competitive. It is crucial for any brand to establish its own identity, and this is why TaylorMade, for example, has decided to sell all its R11 and Burner SuperFast 2.0 drivers, fairway woods and hybrids with distinctive white heads.

So what is Cobra Puma doing to reinforce its own identity in the minds of consumers?

For starters, there will be no trace of the Puma name on Cobra golf clubs. The name of the company may be Cobra Puma, but the name of the golf equipment is Cobra – has been for nearly 40 years and will continue to be.

Next, Cobra is trying to infuse the spirit of Cobra founder Tom Crow back into the company. Crow, a former Australian Amateur champion who officially founded Cobra in 1978 but was running the company as a small independent clubmaker before that, has long been a bold, passionate, innovative, forward-thinking spokesman for the game of golf.

Crow recently visited Cobra headquarters in Carlsbad, Calif., and I am guessing we will hear more from Crow, who built Cobra on the strength of products such as the famous Baffler utility club and the popular King Cobra iron, the first oversized iron from a major golf equipment company.

“I can tell you this,” said Cobra general manager Brian Zender, a veteran of 15 years at Callaway. “It’s been fun waking up every day. Cobra Puma Golf is a separate division within the Puma family. We have a large degree of autonomy.”

Cobra's playing staff includes Ian Poulter, Jason Gore and Lexi Thompson. Carrying the Puma brand on the PGA Tour has been young Rickie Fowler, who made the U.S. Ryder Cup team as a PGA Tour rookie in 2010.

"He certainly has helped Puma gain acceptance as a brand (within golf)," said Zender, "and Puma is now in the golf space. All of us are looking forward to the future.”

For 2011, Cobra has a new line of clubs. With the name S3, the company is introducing drivers, fairway woods, hybrids and irons that represent Cobra’s progression.

Golfers who like the Cobra ZL driver, which is still in the Cobra line, should check out the S3 driver. These classic, pear-shaped drivers have clean lines and better sound. Gone is the high-pitched metallic clang that characterized some Cobra drivers of the past decade.

Both the ZL and S3 feature what Cobra calls Adjustable Flight Technology, meaning the drivers have three face angle settings (neutral, open and closed).

Another Cobra driver, called S3 Max, has an offset hosel for golfers who want help with slices, fades and pushes. Both the S3 and S3 Max have new Blur shafts from Fujikura.

I believe Cobra’s S3 irons are one of golf’s best examples of multi-material irons that look good and, at the same time, take advantage of modern materials and technology. The S3 irons represent an evolution of the S2, and the biggest difference can be seen in the short irons, which have a more-traditional look and less offset than the S2. The gapping has been improved, and the S3 profile will please even a traditionalist at address.

Multi-material, in this case, means hyper steel, stainless steel, polymer and thermoplastic urethane.

Other S3 irons include S3 Max (more offset), S3 Pro (forged 1025 carbon steel) and two different combo sets with irons and hybrids.

Even when Cobra was part of the Acushnet Co., before Puma entered the picture, Cobra had its own team of designers. The rumor that Cobra and Titleist shared golf club designers under the Acushnet umbrella was simply not true.

Tom Preece, vice president of research and development, leads the design team, and he has been a busy man.

Street prices for Cobra drivers: $299 for S3 and $249 for S3 Max. Prices for eight S3 irons: $699 (graphite shafts) and $599 (steel shafts). Eight S3 Max irons will sell for $499 (graphite) and $399 (steel).

The S3 family is priced right and designed right. Cobra, while embracing its rich history, appears to be pushing forward aggressively under Puma ownership.

What more can we say? How about this: Look better, feel better, play better.

Some of us would like to accomplish the first part of that equation, content to work on the other two parts.

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