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GolfWRX goes inside ‘The Oven:’ Nike Golf R&D

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There’s barbed wire on the fences that surround “The Oven,” the research and development center for Nike Golf – one of hardest-to-visit places in the golf industry. But that’s just to keep the cows off the driving range, because they’re everywhere in Fort Worth, Texas.

As exclusive as The Oven is – other than Nike Staff, only a select amount of professional golfers, top amateurs and teaching professionals are allowed to visit – it couldn’t be located in a more average location.

The Oven was built beside a public driving range where average golfers who dream of hitting just one shot as well as Rory and Tiger dig their swings out of the dirt. If those golfers didn’t look carefully, they’d likely miss the nondescript signage and the perfectly maintained grass. They’d have no idea that both Tiger and Rory could actually be hitting balls less than a lob wedge away from them.

During the week of the PGA Tour’s 2013 Crowne Plaza Invitational, which is held just a few miles away from The Oven at Colonial Country Club, five lucky GolfWRX Members visited The Oven for a once-in-a-lifetime golf trip. They were told to bring their full set of golf clubs, but not so they could play a round of golf. Those clubs were to be analyzed in The Oven’s lab and on the range. At the end of the trip, all five members would be sent a full set of Nike Golf clubs that were hopefully better than their gamers.

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Click here to read more about the trip in the forums. 

It’s important to note that these were five GolfWRX members. If golf IQ was calculated by rounds logged, time spent reading about golf equipment and dollars spent tinkering with new clubs, these guys were full-fledged golf Einsteins. But unlike a lot of serious golfers, they weren’t closed off to the idea that clubs from Nike, a relative newcomer to the golf equipment industry, could beat the more established names in their bags.

Game on

After all five members (and three GolfWRX Staff members, including myself) landed in Fort Worth and checked into the Sheraton, we went to a more traditional Nike sports event – a Texas Rangers baseball game at the Ballpark at Arlington.

If Nike Golf’s PR Specialist Gretchen Wilhelm wanted us to watch the game, she made a mistake by inviting Nike Golf’s entire staff to come with us. The fittings and tour were supposed to take place on Tuesday morning, but started a day early – at least in spirit. We made our way around Nike’s two-room suite in left field and began asking the Nike team every question we could think of about Nike Golf clubs and the company.

“Where is Tiger on the Covert driver?”

“What was it like to sign Rory?”

“What do you guys think of (insert club) in (insert shaft) if I (insert trajectory problem)?”

Several drinks and barbeque-stained paper plates later, the game was over, and the anticipation of the next day’s fittings larger. In only a few short hours, the members would be testing their clubs against the Swoosh, and they couldn’t wait.

Oven Time

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The worst part about the trip to The Oven was the weeks spent waiting for it. That eagerness had to be at its worst when we first arrived on site and were told that our first stop would be a presentation. We were teased by a trophy cased filled with memorabilia from Tiger Woods’ most memorable wins on the way to an auditorium without a golf club in site.

Was it interesting to hear firsthand about Nike’s process for attracting the best athletes, creating products to enhance their greatness and delivering them to consumers in a delicious marketing sandwich? Absolutely. But the range was so close, and the R&D labs were right around the corner!

The Fittings

I’d always snickered at Nike’s habit of calling its golfers “athletes.” Was there something I didn’t know, like that Seung Yul Noh could reverse dunk or that Suzann Petterson was a former Olympic gymnast? Aren’t we talking about a game where it’s not too far-fetched to birdie a six-pack and six holes at the same time?

Click here to read more about the trip in the forums.

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If you take a look through the roster of Nike Golf athletes, it’s obvious that Nike takes the term “athlete” to heart with its signings. With the exception of a few, the Nike Golf Staff could alternate photo shoots at Golf Digest and Men’s Fitness. But according to Nike Golf Global Director of Communications, Beth Gast, the reason for the term goes deeper than that.

Gast says that Nike calls its golfers athletes because of the support the company gives them. Like Nike’s athletes in most other sports, Nike’s golfers are part of a team. That team — the engineers in R&D, the fitters and club builders at The Oven and the Nike staff that travels the on the PGA Tour — creates clubs, balls, shoes and clothes with the sole purpose of making its team of athletes better.

What the GolfWRX members probably didn’t expect was that for a day, they would become part of that team. They were about to go through an extensive fitting that went above and beyond what they’d ever done anywhere else: four stations (woods, irons, wedges and putters) that would tune each club to their habits and preferences.

I won’t bore you with the details of each members fitting, but here are the highlights:

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Tai (member name Pure745), a plus-handicap from California who is legendary for his custom-club habit, spent thousands of dollars on top driver heads and shafts for a launch monitor shootout, but he didn’t include Nike drivers in his testing. Nike’s VR_S Covert Tour driver beat his gamer in ball speed. Click here to read more about the fitting results from each player in the forums.

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George (member name MNNikeGuy) loved his Nike VR Pro Limited Edition driver, but found way more distance and consistency with a Nike VR_S Covert Performance driver with a UST Mamiya Pro Force VTS Red shaft.

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Ryan (member name swanry30) decided to part ways with his TaylorMade RocketBladez Tour irons for a set of Nike Pro Combo irons. The new irons and True Temper Project X iron shafts gave him more distances due to less spin, and a more penetrating ball flight that resulted in a tighter dispersion.

Click here to read more about the trip in the forums.

Scott (member name scotvw13) worked with Nike Golf’s College/Amateur Golf Manager Marlin “Cricket” Musch and has left his old wedges behind for a set of Nike new VR Forged wedges, which he was able to open up for high, soft shots around the green without fear of blading his shots.

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Shane (member name shakey) found that his Nike Method Midnight 006 putter was good, but he could do better. David Franklin, Nike’s putter guru who invented the Method putter, fit Shane into a Method Core MC11W putter that was an inch shorter and 1 degree more upright than his gamer. The results were a shorter skid and more consistent direction.

The Tour

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Rory McIlroy’s prototype Nike wedges, which received finishing touches on the grinding wheel before being sent off for testing. 

I thought the excitement level would drop off after the fittings, but I didn’t anticipate what was in store for us during the tour of The Oven’s R&D faculties.

Inside The Oven, we saw equipment that only a small percentage of golfers see (or care to see, really). We saw golf balls hurling toward club heads at speeds that are impossible for the average golfer to create (Nike calls it durability testing). We also saw how the acronyms that have come to define advances in the golf industry – COR, MOI, CG – are actually measured.

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In the “Grind Shop,” we saw a set of Tiger’s game-used Nike blade irons and sand wedge. If the members weren’t sold on the performance of the Nike clubs in their fittings, they were likely swayed by the awesomeness of being able to leave fingerprints on Woods’ clubs.

Click here to read more about the trip in the forums.

tiger woods nike equipment

Above: A photo of a Tiger Woods unfinished 60-degree wedge. Nike Master Model Maker Mike Taylor and his staff grind these raw wedge into the exact form of Tiger’s previous wedges using templets and models for comparison.

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Above: Photos of a Tiger Woods 56-degree wedge that he gamed and returned to the Oven. It has a moderate amount of bounce (10 to 14 degrees) and a blunted leading edge. The added bounce and blunted leading edge allow Tiger to get agressive with his wedge shots without fear of chunking it. 

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Above: Photos of Woods’ 7 iron (you can click to enlarge). The team at Nike Golf asked Tiger to send back one of his favorite set of gamer irons for research. When I asked Mike Taylor what he was looking for, he said: “Everything.”

Click here to read more about the trip in the forums.

Party

Like many great days, the night ended with a party. Kyle Stanley and Jhonattan Vegas joined us for a Q&A session, as well as some friendly competition where we tried to hit it inside Stanley’s wedge shots, and out putt Mr. Vegas.

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Above: Jhonny Vegas takes on a GolfWRXer in a putting contest.

There was food and drink as well – Chef Tim Love of the Lonesome Dove Western Bistro in Fort Worth created dishes that were much better than they sounded – Rattlesnake and Rabbit Sausage, Elk Burgers and Jalapeno Cucumber Margaritas.

Exotic food is good jumping off point to say this: things are not always as they seem. To paraphrase the five members I spoke to about the trip:

“It was even better than I expected it would be.”

The funny thing is, I feel the same way.

In the days since the trip, I’ve thought about how a trip to The Oven could be better than a group of golf junkies thought it could be. Just like the five members, I had a chance to test my golf clubs against Nike gear the next day, and think a few of them could beat the ones in my bag. But that’s not what made it great.

I’ll never forget the chills that ran through my body when I set up to a pretend golf ball in The Grind Shop with Tiger Woods’ 3 iron. It also was an honor to hit wedges and putts with Stanley and Vegas. But it wasn’t any of those things that made the trip better than I expected.

The trip was awesome because I got the feeling that there was a team of people working with me to learn new things and go new places with my game. The gear I’ll receive will simply be a reminder of my trip, and will hopefully give me a little extra confidence over my shots. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the golf industry, it’s that new models will be released next year. And we’ll be told that we need to have those clubs to play our best.

What won’t be replaced in the retail cycle is the feeling the trip gave me. For one day, I wasn’t just a golfer. I was an athlete with a whole team behind me. In a lonely game that is so dependent on confidence, that means a lot.

Click here to read more about the trip in the forums. 

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Thom

    Aug 19, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    they are getting better but I think a bit more history and accumulated knowledge will make them a bit more “everyman” friendly. But I have to say they have come quite a way since ’99.

  2. Scott

    Jun 3, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    Other than Tiger has anyone won anything major playing with Nike clubs? You could put a set of Walmart clubs in Tigers hands and it wouldnt make a difference. Their not serious clubs. Clothes yes, clubs no. Rory hasnt won anything since switching to Nike and I believe he tried going back to his Cameron putter not too long ago.

    • peter

      Jun 4, 2013 at 7:18 pm

      @Scott: your first question disqualifies you from commenting – Duval, Immelman, Casey, Choi, Cink, Leonard, Ames, Schwartzel… just to start the list

  3. Swooshmeup

    Jun 2, 2013 at 1:55 am

    Solid… Nike rocks!

  4. Rj

    May 29, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    Hope it was great! Looked like a group of nike fan boys with their clothes.

  5. Ken

    May 29, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    You can have all the fittings in the world but until you take the junk out and try it seriously it ain’t nothing but metal. I spent over $2K doing all this great stuff and ebayed it after 1 month. I know it wasn’t me because I am a low single digit and have been playing golf for 42 years including some national amateur events. This is not knocking NIKE but fairways, greens and the environment we play in are never the same. I use different wedges depending on the course because bounce is everything and courses play differently. These guys were fit for that day at that NIKE driving range and practice area and that is it. I would be curious to know of the 5, who is still gaming what NIKE fit them with? Would you use the same driver in Texas in the summer you use in Florida in the summer, I would hope not, at least not the same loft because the ball gets zero roll in Florida in the summer. I guarantee that wedge you play on muni’s is not the same wedge to play at some exclusive private enclave. Do you use the same putter for a 7 stimper and a 12 stimp green or for bermuda versus bent. Don’t think for a second the pros use the same clubs every tournament and that is why shotmaking is not what it used to be 40 years ago either.

  6. Ryan Tracy

    May 27, 2013 at 11:21 pm

    Wow, that must have been an awesome experience! I enjoyed reading all of the blog entries and I wish I had been able to go!

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Equipment

Making golf easier: Single length vs hybrid irons? – GolfWRXers discuss

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single length irons

In our forums, our members have been discussing directions to take to make golf as easy as possible. WRXer ‘SugarLandGolfer’ kicks off the discussion, saying:

“I see two paths to make the game easier:

1) Hybrid irons with shafts to keep the flight down

2) Single length irons

I did a demo day with Cleveland recent and tried the launchers with i95 steelfiber shafts, and they felt amazing. Only hit the 8 iron, and it felt like hitting the ball with a sledgehammer. However, I’m still concerned about the longer clubs. Hence single length.

If you were making the easiest to play set, which direction would you go, and why?”

And our members have been having their say on the matter in our forums.

Here are a few posts from the thread, but make sure to check out the entire discussion and have your say at the link below.

  • NoTalentLefty: “Lessons for sure, but there are a few ways to do it. Hybrids for the 3 thru 5 6 or 7 irons is also a way. Offset in irons and hybrids, fairway woods, etc. Single length, as you say. It’s a great thought, but the only way the game got easier for me was golfing a lot. Then as I got older and was familiar with the swing, I filled in what clubs to play. I’m 60+ now and the only club I never Been comfortable with since the advent of the 400+ CC head Is the driver. Godspeed on your search.”
  • dlygrisse: “I like the idea of going shorter steps between clubs, say 1 /4 to 3/8”. I believe some custom fitters think this is the way to go. I’ve also seen sets where the short irons are say 8-LW at 36” than the 5-7 are 37” and the long irons or hybrids are 38”. I’ve always wanted to try a similar set.”
  • jomatty: “If you wanted something super easy but not hybrids, I would look at the Cleveland uhx. I’ve got a 20 degree 4 iron, and it is very easy to hit. Going to a Cleveland launcher style club does make it a lot easier t9 hit the ball in the air and make solid contact. It has really helped my wife and is something I would consider.”
  • pinestreetgolf: “Neither one. It’s like asking us which is easier to put on, a small shirt or an XXL shirt? Well, it kinda matters what size you are. Your swing determines which is “easier”. The question itself belies a fundamental misunderstanding about how to shoot a low score, and that is correlating golf and golf swing. Your basic question is “which of these clubs makes playing golf swing easier” when that has relatively little to do with your score. Golf is a game of decisions. It is much closer to chess than tennis. You score lower when you make better decisions. Mechanics and equipment help (a lot) but they do it inside the context of an overall game and the way you swing. There is no objective answer to getting better except figuring out how to get the ball in the hole in fewer strokes. There is no answer to this question.”

Entire Thread: “Making golf easier: Single length vs hybrid irons?”

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Equipment

What GolfWRXers are saying about the single best piece of equipment they’ve found lately

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In our forums, our members have been discussing their latest great find in the equipment department. WRXer ‘Double Dodger’ kicks off the thread with his choice of The Grip Master’s perforated leather grips, saying:

“They are amazing! I play without a glove and have psoriatic arthritis and have never felt a grip like this before. No issues whatsoever with slipping. No issues with harshness.

I have played about 30 rounds and see absolutely no wear at all, and the tackiness is unbelievable.”

And our members have been discussing the piece of equipment they’ve found in the last year that has changed their game.

Here are a few posts from the thread, but make sure to check out the entire discussion and have your say at the link below.

  • uglande: “Ventus Blue shafts.”
  • NoTalentLefty: “The Callaway B21 Fairway woods. Got the 3 and is it easy to hit.”
  • spring7: “I am not sure I have been happier with more clubs in my bag at any single time, and I have been doing this a long time! Cobra Speedzone Extreme Yellow HzDRUS Smoke – Longer and straighter than anything I have hit! TEE EXS Pro 15* Tensi Orange- Still honeymooning, but amazing off the tee and fairway, bad swings are punished though. Callaway MD5 Jaws 54 X Grind, perfection every way.”
  • Pepperturbo: “My most exciting find has been 620MB’s irons, specifically PW, 9i but 7i at 150yds uphill. It’s like aiming and shooting at a target and the ball sticks. Second best has been Ventus Velocore shafts. They be keeping this ole man in the game.”
  • mizunotps: “G410 plus driver. Really easy to hit.”

Entire Thread: “Single best piece of equipment you’ve found lately?”

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Equipment

GolfWRX Classifieds (9/30/20): Miura heads, Cobra combo set, Odyssey Triple Track Ten

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At GolfWRX, we love golf equipment plain and simple.

We are a community of like-minded individuals that all experience and express our enjoyment for the game in many ways. It’s that sense of community that drives day-to-day interactions in the forums on topics that range from best driver to what marker you use to mark your ball, it even allows us to share another thing – the equipment itself.

One of the best ways to enjoy equipment is to experiment and whether you are looking to buy-sell-or trade (as the name suggests) you can find almost anything in the GolfWRX BST Forum. From one-off custom Scotty Cameron Circle T putters, to iron sets, wedges, and barely hit drivers, you can find it all in our constantly updated marketplace.

These are some of the latest cool finds from the GolfWRX BST, and if you are curious about the rules to participate in the BST Forum you can check them out here: GolfWRX BST Rules

Member Pit – Cobra forged combo set

Be the King of your next foursome with a sweet new set of Cobra King forged combo irons.

To see the full listing and additional pictures check out the link here: King forged combo

Member Davo32683 – Miura TC201 heads

For all you club builders out there, here is your chance to build your very own set of Miura irons, and if you are in need of some shafts, this listing has those too!

To see the full listing and additional pictures check out the link here: Miura Heads

Member RFC – Odyssey Triple Track TEN putter

If you struggle with alignment, this is your ticket! The Odyssey Triple Track has a proven “track record” (yeah, I went there) of helping golfers line up better and sink more putts.

To see the full listing and additional pictures check out the link here: Triple Track putter 

Remember that you can always browse the GolfWRX Classifieds any time here in our forums: GolfWRX Classifieds

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