A Little Piece of Personal Publishing History

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This is the latest cover of Southland Golf, which scored me my first cover story out here, a feature on Callaway Golf Marketing VP Harry Arnett. I’ll get the articles and links posted at the end of the week when the digital issue will hopefully be available.

I started writing for Southland Golf a year ago and this was favorite issue yet for several reasons. I got to work with two of my former mentors at the Golf Academy (Senior Instructor Mike Flanagan and Mark Hayden, now the GM at Eagle Crest) and make two new connections (Harry and Susan Roll of the Carlsbad Golf Center) I’d been wanting to make for a while. 

Hope you enjoy the issue.

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The SLDR Mini Driver: A New Way to Play the Opening Holes at Twin Oaks

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Like all of you, I’ve had my trails playing the tight four-hole opening stretch at Twin Oaks.

I’ve probably played them 20 times or so now, achieving mixed results. Dozens of lost balls have gradually coaxed me into a less aggressive strategy that doesn’t make for as many birdies, but it makes for a lot fewer bogies. I’ve taken a bit of a survivalist mentality about the opening combination of two short par-4s, a long par-5 and a mid-length par-3.

I had a bit of a breakthrough on this stretch, however, two weeks ago thanks for a breakthrough in TaylorMade’s R & D department.

I was carrying TaylorMade’s new SLDR Mini Driver for the first time. The Mini Driver is a club between a driver and a 3-wood. It’s a driver with a 260cc and a Speed Slot, designed to provide the accuracy of a 3-wood off the tee while providing the distance of a driver, or just shy of.

TaylorMade gave me an advance chance to experience the Mini Driver, and I took to it immediately. My first shots on the range were dead straight, and I found I was able to hit it about 260-280 yards, sacrificing only 20-40 yards from my driver.

With this new weapon stashed in my bag, I approached the first tee at Twin Oaks. The opening dogleg doesn’t play to my draw, but I’ve learned to basically get by punching a 3-wood out left, just past the tree. Well, two weeks ago, I pulled the Mini, which is ideal for shorter par-4s, especially tight ones.

In short, I hit my best drive ever on this hole. I took it 280 yards right up the middle, leaving me about 50 yards. Due to a two-putt, birdie eluded me, but I felt like I was onto something.

Unfortunately, I pulled my tee ball OB with the Mini on the difficult par-5 2nd, but I executed the drive on No. 4 to just shy of the two fairway traps to set me up for another par. I got around the opening holes in 2-over, which may or may not be my best, but it felt different. This felt like success I could repeat, and hopefully drop a few putts the next time.

The Mini Driver comes in lofts of 12, 14 and 16 degrees. The lofts are supposed to remove sidespin from the ball to produce straight shots and thus more balls in the fairway.

At a media event for the Mini on Monday at La Costa Resort and Spa, TaylorMade’s Brian Bazzel, Senior Director of Product Creation for Metalwoods, explained the performance benefits of increased loft.

“If you take a player who hits a 10-degree driver and has lots of side spin, look at what happens when they hit a 16-degree driver,” he said. “They square up the face more often and decrease the sidespin by almost half. When you do that, you’re speed goes up, you efficiency goes up and suddenly you’re hitting it farther and hitting more fairways.”

Bazzel says shorter hitters in particular can benefit from increased loft.

“What’s most obvious from the research is the biggest benefit of high launch, low spin is for slow-swing players,” he said. “They already have low spin. We just need to get them to loft up and hit it higher and the yardage gains are there. They’re actually the ones leaving the most yardage on the table right now.”

Putting the Mini in of course means taking a club out. Bazzel says that decision will be different for each player depending largely on what loft their driver is and then gapping appropriately after.

But Bazzel says the evolution of club combinations in golf bags has already begun.

“Throughout every swing speed, you’re going to see a new club combination and bag makeup that utilizes the technology to achieve more distance. The average driver loft on Tour has gone up one degree to 10.5 degrees and several 12 degrees are in play. Their bag has completely changed, just in one year.  The longest iron in the bag now often will be a 5-iron. You’re going to see those changes being reflected in recreational players from what they see on Tour.”

Don’t be surprised if it shows up in a bag of one of your playing partners soon. The club went on sale in May and retails for $279.           The club is designed for enhanced performance off the tee, but can be played from the fairway as well. Bazzel says he’s still discovering the shots that can be hit with it.

As for me, my driver is out and the Mini is in. I’ve been experiencing a bit of the driver doldrums recently and the Mini has proven an excellent remedy.

For more information about the Mini, contact your JC pro and see if it’s a club that fits into your golf bag of the future.

Highlight Hole: No. 8 at Strawberry Farms

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When reviewing golf courses from one golfer to another, we usually first default to brevity and try to capture the course in a word.

For instance, it’s common to describe a given course as “long,” “tough,” “hilly” or, best-case scenario, “fun.”

For Strawberry Farms in Irvine, that word is “tight,” which we all know is golf speak for narrow. That’s partly why I’ve shied away from this course when it has been presented as an option in the past.

Well, last week, there was no option. We had an online deal and this was the course we were playing. So I stocked up on golf balls and pointed my car north prepared to experience a little pain and frustration – & hopefully discover a great golf course along the way.

What I found is a beautiful course with a lot of scenic holes, many of which are, indeed, tight, especially on the back nine. In golf, this is what we call a shot-maker’s course, and you know it’s going to require strategy and to occasionally check your ego on the tee and hit iron.

One of the holes were you could, and probably should, do that is the short par-4 8th … but that’s not what I did. I went for it, and made it, thanks for a weapon in my bag that is more than the point of this post than the course.

As you can see from the photo, No. 8 is one of those diagonal fairways littered by bunkers. Playing it for the first time, it’s nearly impossible to pick the proper aim line because you don’t have any experience with the yardages and the landing area.

Well, the day we played I looked at the green sitting 292 yards out, noticed the wind behind me and decided there’d be no laying up. With that, I reached in my bag and pulled my 14-degree SLDR Mini Driver, the latest club breakthrough from TaylorMade. It’s a driver with a 260cc head that performs more like a 3-wood off the tee in terms of accuracy, but it’s got a Speed Slot so you still get distance. After two weeks of toying with this club, I hit it fairly straight and about 260-280 yards, about 20-40 less than my driver.

It’s ideal for a hole like No. 8, which is usually the type of hole that hands me my lunch because I hit a draw and struggle working the ball left to right. The Mini Driver turned this from a nervous tee shot into a confident one.

I hit a ball high in the wind, aimed at the front left of the green, and it carried the pot bunker in front and settled in some rough near the fringe. I’ve had a few success stories so far with this club, but this was by far the best.

My playing partner took his first swing with it and got similar success, though he was about 10 yards shorter and caught the pot bunker. Still, they were two impressive shots that ultimately produced pars.

You’ll be reading more about the Mini some pieces I’ve got coming up, but I wanted to share this experience because it’s one I’m not using elsewhere and is the example of the perfect shot scenario for this club.

If you try this club, you’ll notice you get a feel for it very quickly. The three people I’ve had try it have been immediately impressed.

With that quick trust in hand, you quickly start get a sense for when to pull this club. I’m using it as my driver right now and haven’t really tried hitting it out of the fairway, though I’m told it works well off the deck, too.

Anyway, if you happen to have a chance to experience this club, I’d appreciate you adding your two cents in the comments. I’m cataloging my Mini Moments as I continue to play with this club, and I’m sure you’ll see future posts here about it. Maybe I can include you.

Stay tuned to your local – heck, global – golf blog for more Mini news to come.

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Tee shots on No. 8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carlsbad: Golf’s Ground Zero

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Editor’s Note: This is the my unpublished draft of the Carlsbad golf industry story you have read in the April issue of Southland Golf. Due to the constraints of traditional publishing (space limits, etc.) a shorter version of this piece ran in the mag. I wanted to post the original because I think it provides a lot of detail that was left out of the printed version. Hope you enjoy.

         Three days after Phil Mickelson’s Gulfstream V touched down in California following his thrilling comeback victory at the British Open in Scotland last July, Mickelson texted Callaway CEO Chip Brewer to ask if it’d be OK for him to drop by the company headquarters in Carlsbad.

Mickelson wanted to personally thank the Callaway team. Oh, and he had a special guest.

That afternoon, Mickelson, dressed California casual in golf shorts and flip-flops, emerged through the glass doors of Callaway clutching the Claret Jug and with bottles of champagne in tow. He was greeted to cheers by many of the 518-person Callaway staff and an impromptu celebration ensued in the lobby, the same space where workers had been greeted by live bagpipe music days before to herald Mickelson’s victory.

The party eventually moved back to R & D and the team Mickelson had worked with closely, especially on his then-custom X Hot 3 Deep 3-wood, the club that produced two now legendary shots on the par-5 17 at Muirfield.

Among those included in the celebration was long-time Callaway club designer Austie Rollinson, the designer of the Odyssey Versa #9 putter Mickelson used to roll in the victory-clinching putt.

“I got to take a sip out of the Claret Jug,” Rollinson says, looking at a photo of the moment captured on his iPhone. “That was pretty cool.”

It was a special day at Callaway, but in the golf industry at large in Carlsbad it was another day.

It’s plausible that in that same week Dustin Johnson had dropped by TaylorMade to again test the limits of the Kingdom’s driving range, or Rickie Fowler had popped into Cobra Puma Golf to check out what vibrant color patterns the company would be dressing him in next. And maybe light up the launch monitor.

Over in Oceanside, on the expansive and lush range of Titleist’s test facility, pros from various pro tours could’ve been putting the next generation of the Pro-V1 into orbit.

Were Carlsbad to make its own version of the “This is ESPN” commercials, this is what they might look like. The difference? Carlsbad wouldn’t be making any of it up.

Welcome to golf’s Ground Zero.

***

         Carlsbad’s tourism moniker is the “The Village by the Sea,” but that hardly captures what actually makes Carlsbad unique – namely, its place in the golf industry.

With a population of just below 110,000, as they say in boxing, Carlsbad punches well above its weight when it comes to influence in the golf equipment world.

The combined operations of Carlsbad-based TaylorMade, Callaway and Cobra Puma are akin to golf’s version of Silicon Valley. (Titleist has a presence here, too, but is actually based in Fairhaven, Mass.)

In terms of product development, R & D and setting golf’s equipment agenda years in advance for North America and the world, Carlsbad is it.

“The music of the golf industry plays through Carlsbad,” says Bob Philion, President of Cobra Puma Golf.

And, increasingly, Carlsbad’s equipment tune is played to the background music of a cash register. The companies combined reportedly amassed about $3 billion in sales in 2013, with TaylorMade, golf’s top brand, pulling in more than half, $1.7 billion.

How big is the golf industry in San Diego? Well, in 2008, an economic impact study pegged its contribution at $2.6 billion, making it larger than the sectors of legal services, agriculture, computer software and even aerospace.

How did Carlsbad become the hub for all of this? A Sports Illustrated/Golf.com piece in February, titled “Golf’s Ultimate Playground,” delved into those origins, relying heavily on an interview with TaylorMade CEO Mark King.

King challenged the local legend that the industry’s establishment in Carlsbad is tied to golf’s common interests with the military in terms of technology and manufacturing (club casting, in particular) needs as equipment transitioned into its current metal-based technology boom away from wooden clubs.

Instead, King said Callaway coming to Carlsbad in 1985 and TaylorMade in 1982, both destined to change golf forever with the first metal woods and drivers, was more happenstance than plan.

“It’s all folklore,” King told SI. “The whole thing was coincidental. After he sold the vineyard, Ely Callaway bought into a little company in Carlsbad that made hickory-shafted golf clubs.

“Gary Adams founded TaylorMade in Chicago but his West Coast (partner) lived in Carlsbad … so the company moved out here, too. It was all a big accident,” King concludes, noting Cobra golf was established in Carlsbad around the same time.

Ely Callaway got into golf when he used the profits from his winery to buy Hickory Sticks, USA, a golf company in Temecula, in 1982. He moved it to Cathedral City, but the lack of a robust labor pool caused him to move the company Carlsbad, where a golf labor pool existed at TaylorMade and Cobra.

Some of those workers became the original Callaway Carlsbad crew, thus beginning the now common experience of people being recruited from one company to another.

While some of the origins of the golf industry in Carlsbad may be in doubt, the impact is not.

The companies not only changed how clubs are made, but how they’re sold and marketed. Austie Rollinson, who joined Callaway as a club designer in 1991, recalls how clubs were largely only sold at golf courses when he started and how Mr. Callaway was the among the first to transition the business into the retail big-box model we see today.

Rollinson arrived as the industry was transitioning from more mom-and-pop into the manufacturing and marketing machine we see today. Rollinson says the companies maintain a friendly competitive balance, but it’s nothing like the stories he’s heard of the camaraderie of the 80s.

“If Callaway was making clubs that day and was out of Dynamic Gold golf shafts, they’d just call Cobra,” Rollinson says. “I couldn’t see that happening now. It was a much more friendly industry back then, but there wasn’t as much at stake and it was as competitive as it is now, either.”

Palomar Airport Road, a major thoroughfare in Carlsbad that leads to all three company’s offices, was a dirt road when Rollinson arrived. It’s now a major six-lane highway.

Jose Miraflor, Director of Product Marketing at Cobra Puma, recalls the dirt-road days as well.

“Now people pass me doing 70 on that thing!” he recalls with a laugh, knowing it’s possibly one of his competitors, whom he sees frequently.

“When you go out to a lunch meeting, if you’re talking products or design, you have to look over your shoulder to see else is (in the restaurant). We’re a big industry in a small community, and you never lose sight of that.”

Strangely, the one answer you don’t hear as to why Carlsbad became the center of the golf equipment universe is the one that seems most obvious – the weather.

Miraflor says that’s the reason he can’t imagine the equipment companies being anywhere else.

“We’re identifying products right now for 2016. To be that far ahead, you need to be hitting prototypes in Jan./Feb., and really the only place to do that is California,” he says.

But access to that perpetual sunshine doesn’t come cheap.

“It’s expensive,” Miraflor says, referring to taxes, real estate, etc. “The operational cost is high, but the advantages, including the weather, can’t be beat.”

***

         If you’re looking for the future of golf, look no further than TaylorMade’s posh fitting center and driving range, The Kingdom.

Situated across the street from the company’s headquarters, it’s where many of its contracted players come to practice, be fitted and hone their games in a high-tech environment.

Like golf courses, The Kingdom has a graduated set of tee boxes. During a visit there last fall, players from three pro tours were hitting, but none from what would be the tips.

I asked Frank Firman, a Category Manager at TaylorMade, where the company’s big hitters, such as Dustin Johnson, hit from when they come to practice.

“We have to ask Dustin to stand over there (pointing to the back right of the box) and hit it over there (pointing to the remote left side of the range),” Firman says. “Otherwise, if he loses it right, it’s look out College Boulevard.”

Translation: While testing clubs, Dustin Johnson is making TaylorMade’s spacious driving range seem obsolete.

More than high-profile faces for the company, its product and its brands, players have a major impact on product testing and development. The rationale largely is that if the product works for the pros, the product – or a version of – will work for every level of player below.

On my visit to Callaway, Rollinson noted how some clubs the pros use, such as the famed Phrankenwood 3-wood Mickelson once carried, don’t ever become retail products, but the technology advance gives birth to the next generation of retail clubs, such as the X Hot 3 Deep.

Rollinson also mentioned how a custom shaft bend requested by a tour player in the last year gave birth to a new Odyssey putter design.

Rollinson says attention to detail is more acute than ever amongst companies looking to make millions off of what can be fractional advantages in innovation. And the scrutiny of the public, between round-the-clock coverage on The Golf Channel and Internet pundits, has never been higher.

“Our products are watched more closely than ever,” he says.

Tens of millions of dollars annually are put into R & D to keep pace with product launch cycle that is no longer seasonal and, as TaylorMade showed last year, can produce two new drivers in the same calendar year.

But Cobra’s Philion says that competitive pressure has more advantages than drawbacks.

“It puts a lot of pressure on R & D to bring something new and better to the market place,” he says. “But it’s exciting for because we can launch more products and enhance our brand experience for the consumer.

“We like that cadence. It allows us to on bringing innovation to the market place every day instead of just pumping out units.”

But the companies do watch other closely and do exhaustive studies of competing technologies to separate the scientific truth from the marketing hype.

And then there’s brand differentiation, which right now at Cobra is summed up in the succinct motto, “Enjoy Golf,” emphasizing the many pleasures of the game aside from just what’s on the scorecard.

Knowing the competition intimately allows for greater ability to separate, Philion says.

“It gives us a chance to differentiate ourselves,” he says. “We like to zig when others zag.”

Philion launched the Puma golf brand and then oversaw its merger with Cobra in 2009. The company started with 28 employees and now has 150 in Carlsbad and 350 worldwide.

In 1998, TaylorMade was purchased by Adidas and has 1,800 employees worldwide, 800 in Carlsbad.

Callaway has gone through some down-sizing and leadership turmoil in recent years, but after hiring CEO Chip Brewer is back on the uptick.

While the balance of power right now is squarely with TaylorMade, things like Mickelson’s victory at the British can be a game-changer, Rollinson says.

Mickelson’s victory wasn’t just a major for him, it was a major for Callaway, too.

“It’s very satisfying when the fruits of your labor pay off like that and you know you got one of the best players in the world to perform at his very best at a crucial moment. It makes you proud,” Rollinson says.

“It’s bolsters you, and it’s great motivation when you get back to work on Monday.”

 

 

 

The Story Behind My Masters Ball

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      Masters fever has officially set in. Seeing as I can’t watch it yet, I can at least write about it, and this will be brief because I’ve only got one story to tell. It’s about the ball pictured above.

      The photo above probably leads you to believe I have been to the Masters. Sadly, I have not. The closest I’ve been is that souvenir ball, which a grateful and generous story subject gave to me after I wrote about his trip to Augusta. The significance of the story was that my friend had gone to the Masters and thus completed his own Grand Slam by having attended all four majors.

      At the time, that made him the coolest person on the planet to me, so I wrote about him for the travel section of the magazine I edited at the time. I now know many people who’ve made the hallowed journey, but at the time, he was about the only one. He told the usual stories about the landscape being so pristine it didn’t seem real, about the iconic Butler Cabin clubhouse and about eating a pimento sandwich. (For the record, that’s now two pimento sandwich references in the blog. Who ever saw that coming?)

      Anyway, the story I remember most is about him attending a day where they had a split start due to weather, meaning one round needed to be finished before the next could begin. He staked out Amen Corner and watched like five or six groups come through, as I recall, and each group had player put a ball in the water on the par-3 12th, where famously Fred Couples’ ball resisted that fate and basic physics during his victory in 2002.

     The detail I recall most is that after the groups came through, prior to the third round, the landscape crews who’d shaved the bank that morning, about 90 minutes after doing so the first time came out and shaved the bank … again. To anyone who knows about course set up, this is rather commonplace, but back then it just seemed a juicy detail and fun and part of the lore of Augusta.

    The story ended with my friend noting a player in each of the first six groups of the next round each went in the water. And that was that. I don’t keep much of my old stuff, but that’s one story I kinda of wish I still had hanging around. Oh, well. I’ve still got the ball. And now a blog post.

     Is it Thursday yet?

I Survived Club Test 2014 – & Here’s What I Learned

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My Southland Golf connection afforded me a unique opportunity last Saturday.

I was one of about 15 or so golfers to participate in a club test for much of the latest equipment by the major manufacturers.

This was conducted at Oak Creek in Irvine, which was holding a huge demo day featuring TaylorMade, Callaway, Nike, Cobra Puma, Ping and Cleveland.

The task was to hit each company’s clubs in four categories (driver, fairway wood, hybrid and irons) and rate each 1-5 (five being the best) on performance in four characteristics – distance, control, feel and look.

If that sounds daunting, it’s because it is. Trying to be fair and thorough, it took me four hours to get through this exercise, which I didn’t completely complete (more on that later).

I’d never had a chance to test clubs en masse like this before, which is why I was eager to participate.

Through my work with Southland and my time at the Golf Academy, I was most familiar with the clubs from TaylorMade and Callaway and least familiar with Nike. I’d never hit one of their clubs before and couldn’t recall playing with even one person who had their driver.

Anyway, since equipment has become a bit of a writing niche for me, I thought this experience was essential to having me be properly knowledgeable.

I’m not going to divulge the results here (you’ll be able to find them in the April issue of Southland Golf), but what I wanted to do with this post is mostly relate the experience and relay some general findings. For now, the blog is going to avoid specific club recommendations/endorsements, but if you email me, I can help you the best I can. I’ve been getting more of these type questions recently as people are pondering purchases.

First, I should give you the set up of my bag, so you know my biases. My clubs have mostly all been fitted for me, and I consider my bag to be settled, save for a potential new driver purchase, although you’ll read later while I’m wavering on that.

So, my bag …

Driver/3-wood – the Stage 2 TaylorMade Rocketballz. Yes, it’s my driver, too, and the rock star of my golf bag. Golf friends of mine actually will get upset with me if I try to hit something else off the tee.

I actually have a Callaway Ignite 10.5 and only old TaylorMade 9.5 Steelhead I carry on occasion, mostly because they hit a straighter ball for me and my RBZ hits a great little draw – and a long way.

Hybrid – Nickent, 19 degree.

Irons – Mizuno JPX-825.

Wedges – Mizuno and Cleveland (56)

Putter – Cleveland blade that I bought used last year and love.

So this was the standard the new clubs were up against. Like I said, I feel this set up works for me and I’ve acquired nearly all of it in the last year, so I don’t feel much impulse to change at the moment.

That said, I was certainly curious to see how the new gear performs, especially after having written and read so much about it recently.

The first challenge I encountered was simply to set up a model for the test. I really wasn’t given one and wanted to come up with a method that was fair.

I decided not to judge a club’s performance until I felt I could hit five consecutive good shots with it. This allowed for some acclimation time with set up, tee height, etc., for various clubs. And of those five shots, save for driver, I wanted to hit some of them off the ground and a few off the tee to somewhat simulate a round.

Some quick math of the information provided will tell you this is a lot of golf swings. Too many, actually. Fatigue was the biggest factor. Figuring on that, I hit the least familiar clubs first, to give them my best shot, and saved the more known products for the back end of my session.

My swing hit the wall at least twice, but at times it was hard to tell if it was me or the clubs. I will say there was one manufacturer whose clubs I couldn’t hit at all, so in that case, I don’t have doubt – it was the clubs. Everything seemed to be off, to my feel and my eye, and I probably spent too much time trying to make their gear work for me.

After 20 minutes of futility, I moved on to more familiar equipment and the ball started jumping again immediately.

I got through three company’s sets and then broke for lunch. I then hit two more and while I was testing a TaylorMade driver, it finally happened – rip. Yep, I ripped open a blister on my pinkie finger. And I can’t remember the last time I got a golf blister.

Being a trooper, I Band-Aided it up and soldiered on, but I shortly thereafter DQ’d myself with one equipment company left to go – one I know well, so I wasn’t too concerned about not finishing.

I learned a lot about equipment and what works for me on Saturday. However, given how different swing profiles are, there’s no guarantee what works for me will work for you.

For instance, I seem to be the only golfer I know who can’t hit the mew Titleist driver. I have several friends who own it and love it. I’ve tried it a number of times now and even under optimal set up conditions on Saturday, I got ordinary results at best. I don’t get it because it feels good to me. I just doesn’t wow me after that. And, as I’ve said, I’m the outlier here.

Truth be told, most of the drivers felt heavy to me. This is partly why I favor my 3-wood. I like the lighter weight. I feel like all I have to do is pull it through and I get effortless distance.

That said, I was very curious to test the other 3-woods against my 3-wood, and I have to say they faired quite well. I was probably most impressed with the across-the-board performance in this category.

And that’s why I’m telling a lot of my friends who are inquiring about drivers, “How about a 3-wood?”

Nearly every one I tested seemed to pack a lot of pop for a smaller club. Actually, probably the longest ball I hit all day came off my first swing of a 3-wood. It launched low and was on the end of the range in a blink.

I would seriously look at this option, for performance reasons and a economic ones, before looking at making a biggest investment in a driver.

The other revelation was in hybrids. This is where I found the greatest disparity in performance, and you can really tell the difference from company to company just be looking at the them. The club head sizes ranged from tiny, and I mean the size of a candy bar, to those that were pretty plump, like a 5-wood almost. The size, for me, translated entirely to confidence in the ability to the hit the club. I couldn’t even get the smallest one off the ground. Some of the others, I hit and got surprising distance from.

If I were to make a change, adding a second hybrid is definitely something I’d consider. And as for purchases, I would definitely take your time with this one since there is such a noticeable disparity in what each company offers.

As for irons, I hit some very goods one – and found I got the best performance often with blades – but I didn’t experience anything that would prompt me to change, though I certainly know my next two preferences would be if I had to.

The only thing we didn’t test was putters, but I had my favorite conversation of the day about putters.

I was talking to a tester from LA who was lamenting not testing putters before concluding, “Ah, I always just go back to my old Ping anyway. I can’t rid of it. The thing makes putts.”

I feel the same way about the Cleveland I acquired last year. I don’t always make them, but putting and chipping are the two things I know I can roll out of bed and do every round.

But the LA tester and I got talking about how personal putters are.

“You have your most personal connection with your putter,” he said, and he’s so right. That prompted me to a realization.

When you hit a bad drive, it’s the club.

When you hit a bad iron or wedge shot, it’s the club.

When you miss a putt … it’s you.

Seriously, how often do you blame your putter. After a miss, it’s the green or the read or the stroke. The last thing it is is your putter’s fault. Maybe this is because putting can be just plain hard, but I think it goes back to bond. Our putter became our putter for a reason – at some point it made putts. Putts we obviously still recall and cherish and have endeared us to the club.

Drivers can be flaky, but for some reason, once we trust a putter, it’s considered to be the model of consistency. When it misses, we’re flawed. Maybe because it’s because we inherently hate change and changing putters is a scary thought for many of us.

Anyway, that probably should’ve been its own post, under “Ode to Putters” or something, but it just shows you that the people who tested Saturday take their equipment seriously.

I can tell you in the brief chat I had with a few other testers, we had fairly uniform consensus, so I suspect the results in the issue with be fairly declarative about what people liked and what they didn’t.

You can look forward to that issue in April, but, like I said, if you have questions feel free to email me and I’ll do my best to give insight.

For now, I can tell you Band-Aid brand is still the No. 1 Band-Aid. I’m typing this pain-free and ready for my rounds this week, same mostly reliable clubs in tow.

JC Golf: What a Ball Fitting Is, and Why You Need One

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Bridgestone Golf will be conducting ball fittings for the first time this year at Golf Fest, March 14th & 15th at Oaks North Golf Course in Rancho Bernardo.

For those unfamiliar with what a ball fitting is and how it can benefit your game, we provide the following interview with Johnny McFarland of Bridgestone, who will be conducting the fittings at Golf Fest.

The reason for a fitting is simply to determine the best ball for your game to maximize distance and precision. People tend to underestimate the impact of the ball in this equation, McFarland says.

The fitting is done on a launch monitor that measures club head speed, ball speed and spin and then derives the best ball to optimize those conditions.

McFarland says the fitting begins with the player hitting a new ball with the brand he or she is currently playing. After five or six swings, the players switches to a comparable Bridgestone ball.

McFarland says that in 75 percent of cases, the Bridgestone ball – one of the eight the company produces – outperformers the players’ current brand.

“In the other cases, the ball is working and we’re happy to tell them that,” he says. “We’d love to have you as a customer, but we can’t improve much on what your ball is doing.”

Since Bridgestone switched from being Precept nine years ago, it has become the No. 2 ball in golf, behind only Titleist.

In that time, McFarland says the company has conducted more than 250,000 live ball fittings.

“We tested everyone from a 15 year old to an 80-year-old woman,” McFarland says, “and across all handicaps.”

That mountain of data is what the company uses today to help match players to their ideal ball, which is rarely Titleist, McFarland says.

“Titleist makes a great ball,” McFarland says, “but it’s not for the average duck. You have to have a swing speed of 104 mph or higher to compress the Pro-V1, and that’s not the average player.

“Yet 50 percent of players play a tour-grade ball.”

While Bridgestone has products to serve the pro player, it’s just as adept at helping the player with the 94 m.p.h. .swing speed, which is the average amateur, McFarland says.

What follows is a Q & A with McFarland about the benefits of ball fitting and what your game might be losing by playing a misfit ball.

Q. Let’s cut to what everyone wants to know: How much of a distance difference can a ball fitting make?

A. It can be as little as four to nine yards, but I’ve often seen it be 10 or more. It’s quite eye-opening when you get on the machine and do a comparison.

But when you’re swinging your own driver and wearing your own golf shoes, there’s no gimmicks. And you can’t deny the data. The results are often dramatic.

Q. How much do people underestimate the impact of the ball when trying to improve their games?

A. People still put a lot of time, money and effort into buying a driver when putting a little more money into the right golf ball is likely to give you more improvement. That’s just the way it is.

But I think people are starting to see the error of their ways.  And I also think they’re getting better at telling the difference in ball performance.

You can put all of our balls on an Iron Byron and they’ll end up about the same distance, but how they’ve gotten there will be totally different. Some will be high or low, or have a little more side spin, and that’s exactly what they’re designed to do.

People are coming around but it’s still very much a one-person-at-a-time education for us.

Q. What’s Bridgestone’s latest product advancement?

A. The newest thing is the B series, which has a rubber core, but in the formulation they inadvertently added water to the mixture and it changed how it reacts. The outer edges are 30 percent firmer and the center is 30 percent softer.

That takes some spin off the ball, which we all know makes it go further.

They’ve just started carrying these in the pro shop, but the pros on Tour already have them. They using will test a ball for two months before adding it to their bag, but they using these within a week. That’s how good it is.

We’re looking forward to a great year.

Q. How long does a ball fitting take? 

A. We can do it in about 10 minutes if it’s a busy day, but we’re happy to spend more time with people if they really want learn.

Q. What’s one of the most valuable things a player can learn?

A. We can tell you what your max drive is, meaning what’s possible for you to achieve with your swing speed.

For instance, I swing it at 92 m.p.h., so I’m never going to drive it 300 yards. We can determine what your max is and then fit you to a ball to help get you there.

That said, hardly anyone achieves their max. (Tour pro) Matt Kuchar’s max is 301 yards and he hits it 299, which is unbelievable.

We’re not so much interested in how far you hit it now but far you could hit and then helping you get as close as we can.

And we’ve done that for a lot of people now. That’s why our retention rate is so high.

Each person who participates in a ball fitting with get a free Bridgestone two-ball pack. For more information about Golf Fest, or to register, go to http://www.jcgolf.com.

Ask The Pro: Rancho Bernardo Inn’s Blake Dodson

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It’s always golf season in California, but for golfers in most of the country, this time of year is when their thoughts turn to their golf gear and making upgrades.

With that in mind, Rancho Bernardo Inn Director of Golf Blake Dodson touches on three equipment areas – driver, hybrid, putter – that deserve your utmost attention this spring due to changes in trends and technology.

How often should you upgrade your driver?

“If you’ve got a driver that’s more than three years old, you’re running on antiquated technology. The technology turns over so fast now that your driver is like your computer.

“For the golfer, life is too short to play bad golf. Get modern technology.

“If you’re a beginning golfer, there’s such a flood of second-hand technology out there that there may be driver a year or two behind that could be a real steal for you.”

How much more prevalent is it becoming to carry multiple hybrids?

“We’ll, I carry two. I used to hit 1-irons and 2-irons, but they don’t make those any more. But I’ve made the transition and you’re seeing people now carrying as many woods and hybrids as you are wedges.

“They’re easier to hit and you get a lot distance out of them.

“When you look at a look of college kids, they’ve been carrying multiple hybrids for years and you’re going to start seeing that evolve through the rest of the game.

“That’s the big shift in the make-up of people’s bags. Three-irons and 4-irons are becoming like the eight-track for a lot of people – outdated.”

The banning of the anchored stroke was the big putting story of 2013, but oversized putter grips seemed to be the next biggest. How much are you seeing this trend reflected in recreational players?

“It’s lighting in a bottle for people. My advice is to use one but to try the different sizes. The size of the grip needs to correlate to the size of your hands.

“It’s all about how the putter rests of your hands, especially if you have larger hands. And for those people, these grips have especially been salvation for them.

“You want to have an oversized putting grip installed professionally, so let your pro help you with sizing and make sure you get into the right equipment.

“The grips helps you have firm wrists and soft hands and takes the play out of your putting stroke, which is what we’re all after.”