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Nicklaus’ new line of golf balls leaves something to be desired

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Jack Nicklaus is entering the golf ball industry. Chalk that up as a headline I didn’t expect to see.

Before we get into the apparent hypocrisy of Nicklaus getting into the business he has so long derided for its overemphasis on distance technology, let’s first look at the line he produced and assess what type of golfers they might appeal to.

The main thing to know about the Nicklaus line of balls is that they are rooted in simplicity. The balls, which are produced by Bridgestone, will come in three different variations: “White,” “Blue” and “Black” that are meant to correspond with the color tee box that you would typically play, white for front tees, blue for middle, and black for the tips. The central philosophy behind the Nicklaus color-coding system is that most people don’t know what type of ball they should be playing and while they may be confused by the myriad of choices in the pro shop, everyone knows what tees they typically play so this system will make their decision that much easier.

As Nicklaus’ business partner, Howard Milstein, the current Chairman and CEO of New York Private Bank and Trust, puts it:

“The beauty of these balls is they solve the golfers’ dilemma of which ball to play — all you need to know is the tee you play from — and no matter what your skill level, you know we’ve designed the highest-quality golf ball best suited to your game.”

Besides the line’s simplistic style, the other main feature you should know about Nicklaus’ latest venture is its connection with charitable giving. There will be two ways to purchase the new Nicklaus line of balls and both will result in a portion of the profits being donated to the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation. The balls can be purchased at the pro shop for one of the more than 200 Nicklaus designed courses in the United States, where the “Black” version will retail for $50 per dozen, while the “Blue” and “White” versions will sell for $46 per dozen with a portion of those proceeds going to the charity.

The other way you can buy the balls is by visiting Nicklaus.com where they have set up an intriguing new way of promoting charitable donations. On the website, a dozen of the “Black” version will be offered for $30 and the “Blue” and “White” will sell for $26, however when you purchase any version of the ball there will be the option to make a voluntarily donation to the charity of up to $20 per dozen.

This is what the order screen will look like on Nicklaus.com:

Screen Shot 2013-10-02 at 10.46.17 PM

Now that the details are out of the way, let’s take a closer look at how the market might shape up for these balls and what type of consumer might purchase them.

First of all, I don’t see the Nicklaus line making any sort of noticeable dent in the current marketplace that is dominated by the likes of Titleist, Callaway, Srixon, Bridgestone, Nike etc. Rather, the line’s simplistic nature leads me to believe that they will end up being more of a novelty item that will be purchased because you’re either a big fan of the Golden Bear, you happen to be playing one of his courses and you’ve run out of balls/want a souvenir from the trip, or maybe you just feel like donating to charity will help offset the sting of donating another ball to the woods on the left-side of No. 8. Whatever the rationale may be, I certainly can see a marketplace for this line albeit a pretty small one.

While I laud Nicklaus and his team for coming up with a way to creative way to both simplify the game and give back to his foundation in the process, I do have several critiques about this line as well.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, there is the obvious elephant in the room about how Nicklaus has taken such a staunch stance against advancements in golf ball technology, and yet here he is slapping his brand on a ball that claims to use the same “cutting-edge technology” that he has incessantly rallied against. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one befuddled by this issue as Nicklaus himself recently responded to the immediate claims of hypocrisy in Golf Digest:

“For years, I have been very vocal about the golf ball. What people don’t understand is that my philosophy has always been to maximize the impact the ball can have on playability and enjoyment for the majority of golfers. My biggest concern has been golf at the highest level, and the need to put some limiting specs on the ball used by Tour players — who make up only .08 percent of those who play the game — because golf courses are often negatively impacted by the need to lengthen courses to accommodate their length. But for the majority of golfers, I want the ball to go as far as it possibly can, and even more important, with consistency.”

Reading between the lines here it appears to me that Nicklaus is advocating a stance of bi-furcation, a term we’ve previously come across during the anchored putter debate. For those who aren’t familiar with the word, “bi-furcation” literally means the process of splitting something into two parts or two branches and in this case it refers to the notion that there should be two sets of rules, one for the pros and one for amateurs. The problem I have with Nicklaus’ stance here has nothing to do with the idea of “bi-furcation” itself, in fact I think it’s a good idea, rather it’s that it seems to be at odds with his previous statements on the issue when he wasn’t yet in the business of selling distance-maximizing golf balls.

Here is an excerpt from the March 2007 edition of Golf Digest entitled “I’ve been thinking…” where Nicklaus speaks at length about the issue of golf ball technology and its affect on the modern game:

“Although my main problem with the modern golf ball is what it’s doing to the game at the highest level of competition, I still don’t believe in instituting two sets of equipment rules: one for the elite player, and another for everyone else. From a practical perspective, such a structure would be very difficult to administrate. Perhaps more important, the notion that the rules are the same no matter what the skill level is as old as golf. It might be an illusion — the difference between the equipment pros use and what’s best for amateurs is increasing all the time — but it would be dangerous to tinker with such a fundamental tradition.”

Here is where my confusion lies. In the first quote, where Nicklaus is promoting his new line of balls, he specifically says, “for the MAJORITY of golfers, I want the ball to go as far as it possible can.” Which I believe we can take to mean that he thinks the non-majority, the “.08 percent” of golfers that are tour players, should not be afforded the same luxury of using a ball that utilizes the same distance-enhancing technology. However, when he was asked the same question seven years ago, when he wasn’t in the business of selling these balls, he very clearly states that he doesn’t believe in two distinct sets of rules, he doesn’t believe in bi-furcation and even goes as far to say that it would be “DANGEROUS to tinker with such a fundamental tradition.”

Listen, maybe I am nitpicking here, maybe it’s not that big of a deal and maybe Nicklaus, whom I have the utmost respect for as a legend of the game, simply changed his mind. But the incongruity is so obvious and so spelled out even in his own words that I would be remiss to leave it out. I would love to see someone like Jim Nantz or Dan Hicks ask him to clarify these statements so we could gain some insight on his perspective.

At the end of the day I wish that Nicklaus had stayed true to his convictions if he felt so strongly about them. I would have loved to see him come out with a ball that didn’t advertise it’s “cutting-edge technology” and instead marketed itself as the ball “Jack wants you to play.” I wish he had flipped the script on the whole golf ball industry and actually introduced a “new” ball that adhered to his calls for a rollback. Sure it would be a nearly impossible sell to the average golfer:

“Here buy these! You’ll hit them 20 yards shorter! Your banana slices will now go 40 yards to right instead of 15!”

But at least they would be intriguing, at least they would continue the conversation that he started, heck it could even be marketed in conjunction with the other cause that Nicklaus staunchly supports, the “Tee It Forward” campaign.

In my perfect world the Nicklaus line would be one ball not three, it wouldn’t have that big, bulky Golden Bear brand stamped on the front of it, instead it would simply say “Nicklaus” in cursive (much like the old Nicklaus or Hogan ball), it would be scaled back to Jack’s desired specifications and it would thus force you to “Tee It Forward” and play from the front tees. It would symbolize all the Jack stands for in the game of golf, it could still have the charitable component, but most importantly it would be unique. Instead we are left with more of the same, another dimple-faced rocket lost amid an already overflowing armory of them.

Nicklaus is a much smarter businessman than I and he’s forgotten more about the game of golf than I’ll ever learn.  Maybe his new line will be a rousing success (and for the charity’s sake I hope it is), but I can’t help but feel that so much more could have been done.

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Jack McAuliffe is an aspiring golf everything: writer, agent, marketer, even player…really he just needs a job. He also runs TheGolfDog.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @ElNino22.

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26 Comments

26 Comments

  1. Brittany

    Jun 27, 2015 at 7:14 pm

    Was interested in finding out more about these balls. Here is an actual review describing how the ball plays: http://www.clubupgolf.com/2015/06/27/nicklaus-golf-balls-review/

  2. gorden

    Feb 26, 2015 at 6:52 pm

    Played the Blue ball the last two days (same ball 36 holes) after about 5 holes I got it through my head the ball was not going to stop or spin back at all, just like any “distance first” golf ball you can play well with it as long as you figure in the extra roll etc. Ball worked fine for what it does, if hit perfect with irons you may be suprised at distance I was.

  3. Rick Means

    Apr 9, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    The article was a total waste of my time! Nothing at all about how the golf ball plays!! The writer claims to respect Nicklaus but spends the article trying to trip him up. What drivel. Find another job…..

  4. John

    Feb 2, 2014 at 9:41 am

    Review the ball please, not your opinions on bi-furcation.

  5. Pingback: Jack Nicklaus is 74 today and making more money than ever – CBSSports.com | Healthy Eating

  6. Gary Simons

    Dec 13, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    Is the cover urethane? Most distance balls are surlyn type.some balls say something different, like ionomer or whatever. If it doesn’t say urethane cover, I don’t buy them.

  7. Scratch kelly

    Oct 20, 2013 at 10:13 pm

    I would preferred to see jack go the bi-furcation but not in the way you would like. I’d rather have them go
    300 yards for. 90 yr old!! See them go straight even with a pull hack slice!!! Let the pros do what pros do. They’re amazing super men in spikes. Let the average guy or gal hit something easier to hit and farther!!!!! And straighter. Who cares if my 90 yr old shoots 69
    Everyday. He’s spending money and playing golf. ThAts what I want at 90 more than anything!!!

  8. Regis

    Oct 9, 2013 at 7:56 pm

    I do feel the article lacks substance. As to Jack when he was head of MacGregor they had the best forged irons (IMHO)ever made and the Nicklaus 100 compression balata ball was the sweetest feeling ball I’ve ever played. Only problem was if you cut it it would put a smile on it that you could plant corn in, and if you were having a bad day you could blow 8 a round easy.

  9. chris franklin

    Oct 8, 2013 at 4:41 am

    Agree with Desmond,an inability to understand Jack’s comments have lead to your confusion,give up writing articles and get a proper job to match your iq,maybe stacking shelves in a supermarket?

    • Fred

      Dec 11, 2013 at 11:40 pm

      Well, I got my dozen balls – finally. Due to what they said was an “overwhelming” demand for them, it took me two extra weeks to get them. Once in the tee box, I found them to be very hard compared to the B330RX I normally use. I totally agree with Regis – the Nicklaus 100 compression balata ball was sweet and felt so good when hit well. And, cosmetically, I agree with Joe – the bear looks gaudy on the ball. I may keep a few for posterity, but will end up giving most of them away.

  10. Desmond

    Oct 6, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    I really don’t care about your confusion … what I do care about is how these ball perform. And all I hear is “crickets.”

    Why write the article?

    Useless.

    • John

      Feb 2, 2014 at 9:35 am

      Desmond, I totally agree, I read this article hoping for some feedback on performance, and what I got was an opinion on bi-bifurcation along with a definition and critique on the decision to sell the ball.

  11. Heavybladed

    Oct 6, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    Can you go buy a 500cc driver? Yes.
    Does it conform to USGA conditions of competition? No.
    Can you still but a 500cc driver? Yes.

    Regulating the golf balls that Tour Pro’s can use in Tournament Play is no different than regulating the grooves they can use, or how long a club can be, or any other portion of the USGAs condition of competition. Maybe you like Jacks offering, maybe you don’t. But I think you are just perpetuating the hot topic of bifurcation. It already exists.

  12. Joe Golfer

    Oct 6, 2013 at 1:26 am

    At that price point, they are likely similar to the “e” series of Bridgestone golfballs.
    All the RX series have urethane covers, while 2 of the 3 e series balls have surlyn and one has urethane.

    I don’t see these being big sellers either, though some folks may buy them and play some, hold a few for display when they stop making them.
    The author of the article is correct about the graphics on the ball.
    A simple cursive “Nicklaus” would have looked much classier than that Golden Bear symbol, even if that is what Jack was known as.

  13. Chris S

    Oct 5, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    I love Jack! He sure knows how to design courses.

    In other areas of marketing and merchandising I’m not so sure.

    I was at the Memorial last year (probably my 8th PGA event) and couldn’t find a single decent looking shirt in the merch tent. For that matter, I couldn’t find anything to buy other than a chair. Everything looked like it was out of the 70’s. That’s what this ball reminds me of.

  14. Fred

    Oct 4, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    Just ordered a dozen – out of curiosity more than anything else. Will be interesting to see how the blues compare to my Bridgestone 330RX. Who knows, if they’re made by Bridgestone, they may be just one of the Bridgestone balls with a different name on them. I was told the balls will be available in sleeves in November sometime.

  15. Chuck

    Oct 4, 2013 at 11:41 am

    I don’t understand any notion of “hypocrisy” in this context.

    Jack has made it clear — admirably so, in my view — that he blames modern golf ball technology for large distance increases that distort classic golf course designs and the game of golf in general. I think Nicklaus is exactly right about that. I don’t see any reason for him to change his mind.

    Having raised that complaint, I wouldn’t expect Jack to compete with substandard equipment. Not on the golf course, nor in business in a pro shop. I wouldn’t want to compete with deliberately de-tuned equipment. And yet I support a general rollback on balls.

    No one in their right mind would unilaterally roll back their equipment performance. But that is where the USGA comes in. The USGA should do it, for the good of the game. And if they did, I expect that Jack would be delighted, and would enthusiastically lend his name to new balls for that purpose.

    In the meantime, we have what we have. And balls will be made as hot as the rules allow.

    In summary, just because I advocate for a rollback in golf balls, doesn’t mean that I will handicap myself with rolled back balls on my own without any change in the rules.

    If others want to charge that this is a novelty ball, and a promotional gimmick in connection with a charity, I’d say, “Probably is.” And in that regard, the “hypocrisy” charge is even less appropriate. Because at that point it is about the charity, and note even about selling a profitable golf ball.

  16. Steve

    Oct 4, 2013 at 9:26 am

    I agree with Fatz. Most golfers already don’t play the right tee. Now, with this “system,” they are going to play the wrong ball too. Either way, it looks more like a novelty ball to me than anything else.

  17. Jack

    Oct 3, 2013 at 10:04 pm

    I wonder what these balls really are. 30 dollars for the top tier ball is cheaper than the bridgestone top tier balls. That would have been the interesting article, not the author comparing quotes spread 7 years apart.

  18. cody

    Oct 3, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    Ouch!! Price is pretty steep. Like someone else said. Lower the margin and sell them at 40 dollars. Really make it a charitable donation. Not ” I make my profit, then kick some down to charity”

    • Joe Golfer

      Oct 6, 2013 at 1:19 am

      You read only the price that they sell for at Nicklaus resort golf courses. The price is actually very reasonable at $30, $26, and $26.
      You don’t have to give the $20 charitable donation, as you can give whatever you want to that aspect, whether it be zero dollars or more than $20 dollars.

  19. OVER THE TOP GOLF

    Oct 3, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    Arnold Palmer’s sell out in the Dick’s commercial -“Swing your swing?” give me (us) a break, King, is no worse that Jack’s turnabout is fair play move pushing added-distance golf balls after deriding them for years. There are very few stars who stand for something pure out there my friends.

  20. Drew

    Oct 3, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    Something left to be desired is a better description of the article, not the ball itself.
    I’m kind of disappointed with this. The title surely makes it look like the new ball is not of good quality, when in fact the article has nothing to do with performance. If the ball is made by Bridgestone and can be had for $30, something tells me that this might be news.

    This article is more of a crazy dream than anything else. Nobody would buy a ball that knowingly puts you at a disadvantage. It wouldn’t make any sense to do that! Applaud the guy for trying to raise money for charity.
    Though, I find the way he’s doing it to be rather ineffective and showy. If he really cared about the charity aspect he’d sell the balls for $40 and donate $10 on each sale to charity. As is, I doubt more than 2 or 3% of orders will opt for the $20 donation to charity.

  21. DIRK

    Oct 3, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    Jack, last paragraph–you’re missing an “of” between game and golf.

    I found this interesting but don’t really understand why you’re making such a fuss over this. It seems like you’re so ready to spring the trap on Nicklaus for his previous comments, but who really cares?

    Jack probably is quoted about fifty times a week. I would imagine that some of these quotes contradict each other based on a number of factors (including context, which we don’t get in the excerpts you included in your well-written piece). The guy’s not running for office. He’s just making golf balls and trying to raise some money for charity. Report on the aesthetics and performance: that’s enough.

  22. FATZ

    Oct 3, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    Great. Now people will buy the Black ones and feel entitled to back tips because their ball is meant to hang with the tips. LOL.

    Also, no lists of construction or materials. At that price?

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Whats in the Bag

Austin Cook’s Winning WITB: The 2017 RSM Classic

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Driver: Ping G400 LST (8.5 Degrees)
Shaft: Fujikura Speeder 661 Evolution TX-Flex

3 Wood: Ping G400 Stretch (13 Degrees)
Shaft: Fujifuke Motore Speeder VC 7.2 TX-Flex

Hybrid: Ping G400 3 Hybrid (19 Degrees)
Shaft: Matrix Ozik Altus Tour H8 91X

Hybrid: Ping G400 4 Hybrid (22 Degrees)
Shaft: Matrix Ozik Altus Tour H8 91 X

Irons: Ping S55 Orange Dot (5-PW)
Shafts: KBS Tour S-Flex

Wedges: Ping Glide 2.0 SS (50-12, 56-12), Ping Glide 2.0 WS (60)
Shaft: True Temper Dynamic Gold S400 Tour Issue

Putter: Ping Sigma G Tyne 
Grip: SuperStroke Mid-Slim 2.0

Golf Ball: Titleist Pro V1

5095fce33e880406a172796becbc64f8 6900daf1b0d2a2751ffa5557ac3865f7 2340677acd0b3c6d0f53ae8fa46c2024 80f602716821fd9518f148951913c9c0 4df372aac347ad61f031f519a1fd1edb 48039d9dfced6272ba047b51e6265d03 6fecf1d551cb1559587f1f17392ba7c8 0519679f5fdaaae2ffbaf2d97c0def72 5445ea5d9987cddfda04efba5d2f1efd

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Whats in the Bag

Jon Rahm’s Winning WITB: 2017 DP World Tour Championship

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Driver: TaylorMade M2 2017 (10.5 degrees)
Shaft: Aldila Tour Green 75X

3 Wood: TaylorMade M1 2017 (15 degrees)
Shaft: Aldila Tour Green 75TX

5 Wood: TaylorMade M1 2017 (19 degrees)
Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD-DI 8X

Irons: TaylorMade P-750 (4-PW)
Shafts: Project X 6.5

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52 and 56 degrees), TaylorMade “Hi-Toe” (60 degrees)
Shafts: Project X 6.5

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Golf Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Equipment

See what GolfWRX Members are saying about Mizuno’s new ST-180 driver

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Mizuno has recently released a new ST-180 driver that we spotted on Tour at the 2017 RSM Classic. The company’s “wave sole” technology makes an appearance for the first time in a Mizuno driver; the design is used to push weight low and forward to reduce spin rates, and the construction contracts and expands during impact to increase energy into the golf ball. The result is a lower-spinning driver, especially for those who hit down on the golf ball, and increased ball speeds across the face.

The ST-180 drivers have a new Forged SP700 Titanium face insert that allows the faces to be made thinner — saving weight from the face while increasing ball speeds — and they feature what the company calls a “Internal Waffle Crown” that saves weight to help shift CG (center of gravity) low and forward in the head.

There’s a slew of custom shafts available for no upcharge. The stock grip is Golf Pride’s M31 360, and the drivers are selling for $399.99, available in stores now.

Below is a collection of early feedback from GolfWRX members, and make sure to join the full discussion. See more photos of the ST-180 driver here.

Note: The posts below have been minimally edited for grammar and brevity.

GolfWRX Members comment on the new Mizuno ST-180 driver

TeeGolf: I’ve seen the ST180 driver [in person] and it looks like it sits perfectly square to me. And this is coming from someone who has been playing a Titleist driver set 1-degree open for the past 3 years. It doesn’t look closed at all. 

trhode: I’ve been playing the M2 all year. In comparison at address, the ST is very closed. I had 3 customers look at it yesterday too and they all had the same reaction: closed. That being said, I did play 18 on the simulator and hit some monster drives. The head, with the Raijin shaft, seems to be just a little lower spin than my TaylorMade M2. The blue finish doesn’t bother me either. 

akjell: Hit this yesterday at the Mizuno demo day yesterday at Eagle Ridge in Gilroy, CA. Far from a hook machine but definitely a bomber. The Mizuno’s reps put me in a Mitsubishi Tensei White 70X and I could hit this this driver on a string possibly a bit better than my M1. Of the Mizuno drivers of late, this has to be the best one.

odshot68: Ordering it today. Was fit and played a round with it. Optimal launch and spin. Tensei Blue 70x at 9.5 degrees. This is definitely not left bias; first Mizzy driver ever.

nmorton: Hit this today and it’s going in the bag. Just a classic head shape that suits my eye. Been messing around with a number of drivers over the past year and haven’t singled one out. Last long term driver I had was the 850. The ST checks all of the boxes for me…looks great down by the ball, sounds solid and performs as good as any other. What really sold me was how well slight mis-hits performed. I had the 12.5 dialed down so it definitely sat open a bit. Didn’t hit the fairway but it looks sharp as well. 

evoviiiyou: Had a chance to test the driver with a couple shafts last night. The head is definitely deeper than the JPX900 and the footprint seems bigger from he set up position, very confidence inspiring like the JPX900 but a little improved. Finish and graphics are very similar to the 900 which is very nice if you like the satin Mizuno blue and I do love it just like the satin black I recently had done to my JPX driver and 3 metal. 

regiwstruk: My current gamer is a Titleist 917D3, and this is definitely replacing that. I used a JPX 900 from November 2016 through June 2017 — biggest differences are the sound and that the distance is up there with at least one of the leaders in the market. Anxious to see how it does on the course! 

Paul065: It is high launch, low spin yes but I wouldn’t say it was targeted at the average golfer. It’s basically their version of Callaway Epic Sub Zero. Rory used the Sub Zero. 

Tommyj: I went down to Carls yesterday specifically to look at the ST180. I’ve read some comments that the face looks closed. When I picked it up it was in the 10.5D position and did look slightly closed but then looked perfectly square at 9.5D and also square at 10.5D which seemed sort of odd. The shape is not for me, I had a Cobra F6 and while the ST180 footprint isn’t that big its still substantial. I like blue on drivers and the ST180 has a real quality look to it with the matte finish, having said that I’m not sure I’d want to be looking at that shade of blue all the time. The sound was an absolute killer for me, it was completely unexpected because I always associate Mizuno with being traditional and understated… ST180 launch was lower than G400 in the neutral setting, about the same when I lofted the Ping down.  ST180 was noticeably lower than D2. Longest driver of the three was G400, followed by ST180 then D2. For me the ST180 had the widest dispersion with G400 being the most accurate (by a wide margin).

Discussion: Read more comments about the ST-180 driver here

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