Nike introduces new Covert driver line

The new Nike Covert driver.

Tom Stites, Nike Golf’s director of product innovation, was forced to bite his lip and keep a secret.

It couldn’t have been easy, because Stites had designed what he considers perhaps the best product of his long and celebrated career. Now, finally, the secrecy has been lifted and Stites is free to talk about VR_S Covert.

“I’m excited,” he said. “I think golfers are going to have a lot of fun with these clubs.”

In February, 2013, golfers will see Covert drivers, fairway woods and hybrids in retail outlets. Throughout November, 2012, Nike is staging official introductions of the Covert driver and saving the fairway woods and hybrids for later.

Covert is red. The heads are not fire engine red, but rather a deep, magenta-like red.

Each adjustable Covert head has an extraordinarily wide loft range. For both Covert and Covert Tour drivers, this range is 4 degrees, from 8.5 degrees to 12.5 degrees. What this means is that golf shops will stock one right-handed head and one left-handed head for each model. The challenge for retailers will be to help golfers find the exact loft, along with face angle, to suit their games.

Covert has a hole in the sole. Such a description does not come from Nike, which uses more sophisticated language. Nike calls it High Speed Cavity Back.

Anyway, the essence of Covert is that Stites scooped weight out of the sole and created a horseshoe-looking sole that evokes descriptive terms such as cavity back and perimeter weighted -- the same kind of language used for irons with a big cavity in back and weight redistributed to the lower perimeter of the club.

The Covert cavity cannot be seen from address because Stites covered it with a conventional looking crown. Highly skilled golfers might prefer the classic look of the Covert Tour, with a 430-cubic centimeter, pear-shaped head. The regular Covert is a 460-cc model that shares design and construction concepts with the Covert Tour but has a slightly wider body.

Nike says loft and face angle operate independently in Covert clubs. The company says loft can be decoupled from face angle, allowing golfers to choose different face angles without affecting loft. Nike says this provides 15 combinations of loft and face angle.

“We’ve done it,” said Rob Arluna, Nike Golf’s global golf club business director. “These settings allow golfers to make distinct changes in the golf club and the way it performs.”

How did Stites accomplish this?

The Covert hosel is slightly oversized and contains the hardware that controls loft and face-angle adjustability. It is a very sophisticated design, containing mechanisms that might be compared to gears on a bicycle.

A big part of modern driver design is forgiveness and accuracy. Covert fits neatly into that picture because of its perimeter weighting.

All driver manufacturers are bumping up against the U.S. Golf Association’s ceiling for spring-like effect. This means that driver heads by themselves probably will not generate significant distance gains on center hits.

Offcenter hits can be a different matter. The Holy Grail of modern driver designers is to make a head that produces consistent distance when the ball is struck toward the heel or toe.

“I think you’ll be surprised,” Stites said. “You’re not going to lose a whole lot with this driver (when hit offcenter).”

Extra distance in today’s highly regulated world of golf club design also can come from increased golf swing efficiency or from a more potent relationship of the head and shaft. Message for golfers who want to keep it simple: Find the right shaft.

Nike chose Mitsubishi’s Kuro Kage shaft as the stock offering for both drivers -- 50 grams for Covert (W, A, R, S, X), 60 grams for Covert Tour (R, S, X).

According to Mitsubishi, Kuro Kage is a high-fiber shaft that is made with a lighter, less dense graphite material. The shaft is all about feel as well as performance.

Distance, of course, isn’t everything. Accuracy translates into more fairways. In other words, consistency trumps distance.

Nike will tell consumers a tale of stability, or increased MOI, with the Covert clubs.

Sound and feel are important elements of any driver. Looking at Covert, Stites said, “We got it right. This driver sounds like a driver is supposed to sound.”

Meaning not too loud, not too noisy and not too harsh. Today’s manufacturers generally are looking for a sound that is not so much an explosion as it is a solid thump.

There is a rumor that Stites initially had intended the Covert to be introduced as Nike’s 2014 driver, but that Nike Golf president Cindy Davis saw the club and immediately placed it on a fast track for 2013.

“Well, I’ll just say that we evaluated and reevaluated the driver throughout the whole (design) process,” Stites said. “Cindy really liked it.”

Like the drivers, Covert adjustable fairway woods and hybrids will be available February 8, 2013, in retail outlets. The fairway woods and hybrids will have the same red head and the same scooped-out sole.

Street price for the drivers will be $399 for Covert Tour and $299 for Covert.

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