A shoe design ought to begin with the foot in mind. Sounds obvious, right? ECCO’s founder didn’t think it was obvious to shoemakers in the 1960s. In the golf sphere, too, form seemed be trumping function in the late 2000s when ECCO decided to take golf shoes in a totally new direction, offering golfers spikeless, comfortable shoes that could be worn on the course, in the clubhouse and on the street.
Karl Toosbuy founded ECCO in 1963, and the company has been pushing innovation in footwear in general, and golf footwear in particular, ever since. Toosbuy, an accomplished shoemaker, was driven to own and operate his own business. He left a manager position at a shoe factory in Copenhagen to start his own outfit guided by a unique philosophy.
The idea that the shoes should be designed primarily with the foot in mind led to the creation of shoes that were supremely comfortable and functional. A commitment to quality, comfort and innovation lie at the heart of Toosbuy’s dream, and those principles are foundational to ECCO’s newest golf shoe: the BIOM Hybrid2.
The Danish company produced its first pair of golf shoes in 1996. Since then, ECCO has signed the likes of Thomas Bjorn, Fred Couples, and Graeme McDowell. Perhaps most notably, the company pioneered the spikeless golf shoe revolution (ECCO calls them “hybrids”) with the launch of the original Golf Street shoe Fred Couples wore at the 2010 Masters.
ECCO launched BIOM Golf in 2011 and produced the first golf shoe to utilize the company’s revolutionary Natural Motion technology. They followed up a year later with the BIOMHybrid and then the Tour Hybrid in 2013, which features a high-performance outer and classic-looking upper.
Continuing the evolution of the BIOM technology in the golf shoe, ECCO is introducing the BIOM Hybrid 2 this season. It’s lighter and thinner than the existing BIOM Hybrid, which is presently one of the most popular golf shoes on the market.
I had a chance to speak with David Helter, ECCO USA’s Specialty Sales Director about the ECCO BIOM Hybrid 2, some of its component technology and the ECCO brand in general.
Check out the Q&A below.
BA: What about ECCO technology in shoe construction makes it different from its competitors?
DH: ECCO is one of the only major shoe manufacturers that own the entire production process. Producing our leathers and golf footwear exclusively in ECCO owned and operated factories allows for complete oversight of design and quality control.
Since its founding in 1963, ECCO has dedicated itself to the study of the human foot and has developed several unique technologies, most notably being our Direct Inject Process (DIP). Rather than using cement, like many manufacturers, each ECCO upper is placed in a mold where the polyurethane (PU) midsole is shot around it in liquid form creating a chemical bond. Not only does this process create an unbreakable, water-tight seal, it also reduces the overall weight of the shoe. As an alternative to the common EVA foam of other brands, PU is also highly flexible and resists breakdown for out-of-the-box comfort that lasts season after season.
Additional innovations include the ECCO Dynamic Traction System (E-DTS) outsole on our hybrid shoes that provides more than 800 traction angles and our HYDROMAX weatherproofing treatment to our leathers.
BA: Tell me about the leathers that ECCO uses in its shoes. What makes them so special?
DH: ECCO is the fifth-largest tannery in the world. In addition to producing all of our own, we provide leathers to many of the world’s leading luxury brands. More than 200 pairs of hands touch each piece of leather before it leaves our facilities, so ECCO customers can rest assured they are wearing only the best. Our vertical integration allows us to develop many specialty leathers for our golf collection, including highly-durable Yak and Camel along with traditional cowhide. In addition to world-class quality, all ECCO Golf leathers are treated with HYDROMAX for superb protection from the elements.
BA: Fred Couples and ECCO launched the spikeless shoe craze in 2010. What made the company’s spikeless shoes so popular?
DH: Couples brought hybrid golf footwear to global attention when he climbed the leaderboard in ECCO Golf Street at the 2010 Masters. Prior to that, no Tour players were competing in hybrid shoes, primarily because the materials couldn’t perform at that level. The ECCO E-DTS outsole – made from the same durable material as luggage wheels – changed that by offering more than 800 points of traction. It resists off-course wear and prevents on-course slippage despite Tour-level swing speeds. Golfers can travel seamlessly from car to course to other activities without changing shoes and enjoy a stylish, street-inspired aesthetic.
According to Golf Datatech statistics, in 2014, hybrid footwear now represents more than 45 percent of all golf footwear sales and ECCO leads the premium market in this category. ECCO remains at the forefront of the hybrid concept, now offering a diverse selection of hybrid product styles for golfers of all tastes.
BA: How has the BIOM Hybrid been received?
DH: BIOM Hybrid is a perfect example of how ECCO incorporates its extensive research into the human foot. It is built on the BIOM anatomical last which was created using data gathered after scanning more than 2,500 pairs of feet. It encourages the foot’s natural motion and brings it closer to the ground for increased feel while offering extreme flexibility and torsion. The result is BIOM Hybrid becoming the leading premium hybrid style in the golf market.
BA: So what’s next?
DH: In addition to BIOM Hybrid 2, ECCO will be launching several other new products this year including new Tour Hybrid and Street EVO One models that incorporate even more exotic leathers and lifestyle-driven aesthetics. There might be a few surprises as well. We are always looking for ways to incorporate fashion-forward upper designs with our E-DTS outsole to marry everyday style and superb on-course performance.
Jimmy Walker WITB 2020
- Equipment accurate as of the Farmers Insurance Open
Driver: Titleist TS3 (8.5 degrees @ 7.75, C1 SureFit setting)
Shaft: Fujikura Ventus Blue 6 X
Fairway wood: Titleist TS3 (18 degrees @ 17.25, C1 SureFit setting)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro Blue 90 TX
Irons: Titleist 620 CB (3), Titleist 620 MB (4-PW)
Shafts: True Temper AMT Tour White X100
Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM8 WedgeWorks (54-M, 60-04L), Titleist Vokey Design SM8 (64 degrees)
Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100
Putter: L.A.B. Directed Force 2.1T
Grips: Golf Pride Tour Velvet
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x
What It’s Like: TaylorMade Golf’s “The Kingdom”
One of the best parts of this job, beyond the people we get to meet, is the facilities. All of the core OEMs have a “place” that is exclusive, away from anything normal, and you gotta know someone to get a ticket in.
That’s what the “What It’s Like” series is about. Those certain OEM places with no doors open to the public. Those places that if you happened to sneak in, there is no way you can Fletch your way around into two steak sandwiches and a bloody mary.
I never admit this, but I used to manage a night club in Los Angeles called Les Deux (it was cool for a minute). It was a fun although soul-sucking endeavor but the thing that made the experience stick out was the exclusivity of it. If you got in by knowing someone, greased the door guy (me), or got invited, it was four hours of awesome. Yes, it’s a lame example, but there is, unfortunately, something about getting to the other side of a closed door that is just awesome.
TaylorMade Golf’s Kingdom is location No. 1, and as you would expect, it’s nothing short of pure golf ecstasy.
I have been to TaylorMade HQ quite a number of times, and typically those visits involve time at what I call the gear junkie mecca (short of Tiger Woods’ garage or the Nike Oven graveyard now called Artisan) AKA The Kingdom.
The coolest thing about it is how subtle the location is. Located just steps away from the front door of TM HQ (and a very random corporate basketball hoop) sits a small-yet-elegant building that if you didn’t know was there, you would fly past it. Once you pull into the side parking lot, unload your sticks, and head to the door, there is still that feeling of “will they actually let me in?”
Here’s the thing. The best (all of them) have been in here. To test, practice, hang out, get fit, get wowed to potentially be on staff and everything in-between. A schmuck like me should get nervous, but then it happens, the door opens and you are not only let in but you are greeted by the master of ceremonies and a man I truly adore Tom “TK” Kroll.
With the passion to match not only yours but anyone else who walks in, he makes sure every nuance is seen and experienced. From the lobby with current TM athletes on the wall to the locker room with your custom locker that sits next to an exact replica of Tiger’s bag. There are snacks, extras shoes, gloves, swag, coffee, beer, and all your wildest dreams…and we are barely in the facility.
From a 35,000 foot view, The Kingdom has everything a golfer would ever want, need, or wish for. Starting with Duane Anderson’s putter studio that has tested thousands of strokes from players ranging from a 20 handicap to Rory McIlroy. The data compiled in this room is staggering. We did a video (link below) that gives you the full rundown.
There are three (one with an Iron Byron for testing) main inside hitting bays with all the bells and whistles you would assume. TrackMans, cameras, big screens, fresh gloves hanging on the wall, and a club fitting matrix with every TM combination you could think of.
The outside hitting area is heaven on earth. There is no other way to describe. Huge hitting area with multiple styles of grass, lies, pins, etc. Any shot you would need to hit can be recreated here on grass with a ball flying into the air and not into a screen. My favorite area is the Flick Tee. In honor of the great teacher and longtime TM staffer Jim Flick. Its tucked up high and privately in the corner of the range under a tree and this may sound ridiculous but you can almost feel Mr. Flick standing there with you as you look out onto the facility. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.
As mentioned, the man who manages your experience is Tom Kroll. He’s about as respected and beloved as anyone in the industry and for good reason. You combine passion with service you get an awesome human to hang out with. Everyone that has been through these doors has a TK story, which includes a chuckle and a smile.
I chatted with him recently about The Kingdom, and this is what he had to say.
JW: Walk me through how The Kingdom came to be what it is now? Basically origin to current day…
TK: Back in 1994, I was in R&D, running player testing, and we needed to find our own testing range. We built our headquarters in Carlsbad in the 1990s and added the range in 1998. Only robot, cannon and player testing were done at the start. Once in a while, a tour or staff pro would come out and test, but it was all operated from one building. At the time, what’s currently the clubhouse at The Kingdom was actually a maintenance building. But in 2010, The Kingdom was reimagined to the layout we have now.
Over the last three years I’ve been at The Kingdom, we’ve added GEARS, Quintic high-speed cameras, and a Foresight simulator bay. We transformed the putting lab with a Perfection Platforms articulating floor and SAM technology. Last year we resurfaced the main tee, redesigned and dedicated the Flick Tee, underwent a complete renovation of the short game area with new bunker complexes, redesigned the targeting downrange, and developed a par-3 routing. We partnered with Kurt Bowman Design, a longtime designer under Jack Nicklaus.
Our superintendent Mark Warren and his crew have done incredible work with our current maintenance equipment, and I can’t wait to see the conditions after we deliver a brand new fleet of brand new Toro equipment. We structured a long-term partnership with Toro and Turf Star Western.
JW: What is the simple function of The Kingdom?
TK: We still have the robot bay and R&D does development work almost every day. We are mostly a resource for the entire company: Global Sports Marketing (Tour), developmental pros and ams, AJGA standouts, our Crusaders (club professionals), and commercial teams. We host pre-lines to introduce new product to our at-large teams and training events. We’re even a PR resource, hosting media, social influencers, celebrities, and professional athletes.
We also act as a hub for our Crusaders. They send their members to us, and we wholesale back to the staff account. I’ll do a significant amount of corporate events, charity events and have had “Flicks at The Kingdom” where we set up a giant projector and our employees bring their kids, beach chairs and blankets to watch a movie out on the range. Really a fun and cool event.
JW: Give me three awesome stories or experiences from your time there that you are cool sharing.
TK: It’s tough to only pick three! From Reggie Jackson stopping by to Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, Jake Arrieta, Zack Greinke, President Bush. Those may be the most haughty name drops of all time! What can I say, it is beyond the coolest job I have ever had! It’s truly tough to pick, but here are my three…
Story 1: Tiger was preparing to make his first PGA Tour start after fusion surgery and he just spends the day grinding out here. He was testing an early proto of the TW irons and to see how much speed he still had. There’s a sound that only he and maybe two or three others make when they center it up. That sound is something that goes through your body, I can still hear it. It sticks with you.
He’s playing old school lofts, which are three degrees weaker than any other tour pro, but the carry distances were still there, the windows he hits it through, holding it against the wind, flighting a 6-iron even ripping a 5-wood 275 yards. His feedback and ability to discern the most minute details working with the advanced teams developing the irons was fantastic to witness.
To come full circle, I played with him in the Southern Cal Amateur when he was 16-years-old and had a front-row to his 62 at Hacienda, I was keeping his scorecard so he has my autograph. To again be standing three feet from him while he goes through the process is just special.
Story 2: I’m going to put two guys in the same bucket (because The Kingdom is so magical, I hope the golf gods are okay with it). Rory now spends a day out here the week of Farmers–he has for the last two years, and with the U.S. Open there 2021, I think he’s a lock for the next few. He went through two sets of irons in a wind quartering off the right at 20-25 mph. The consistency of launch, speed and spin were shockingly close! It was one of the greatest ball-striking exhibitions I’ve ever witnessed. We handpicked the range after his day, it took us 10 minutes He’s also the most gracious, down to earth person.
Jon Rahm stops by five or six times a year. To watch his sessions in the putting lab, to see Duane show him what’s changing and getting Jon back to baseline and see his confidence, to the 4-iron flop shots after we tell our Seve stories. Jon is part of the family. His brother and dad came out before Jon and Kelly’s wedding. He’s one of the two or three others where the sound goes through you.
Story 3: Has to be Operation Game On (OGO). We have partnered with Tony Perez for over 15 years, we are the cherry on top of a 6-10 week program where wounded veterans take lessons and the graduation is a fitting at The Kingdom. I had a dear friend, Joe Horowitz, who’s a golfer and a musician, here late one day and I mentioned the OGO guys were coming the next day. It’s Veteran’s Day and the Marine Corps Birthday. Not to mention Jon Rahm would be here for a last tweak before he left for Dubai. Joe shows me a video of him singing the national anthem at the Jaguars game a few weeks before, and we both say let’s do that for the OGO guys. I get in early and send an email to all employees to be on the tee at 9 a.m. sharp. We have the OGO guys arrive and Jon is hanging in the locker room. I’m stalling to get all the employees onto the tee through the side gate, I walk the boys into the bay and hit the roll up door. Outside are 250 employees cheering these guys on! Joe sings the anthem (goose bumps every time), then happy birthday to Jon and the marine corps. There’s fittings, a pizza truck, Jon Rahm signed U.S. Open staff bags for the OGO boys. Then, get this, Jon goes on and wins that week in Dubai!
JW: If you could change anything about the property or the experience what would it be?
TK: At TaylorMade, the relentless pursuit of improving is in our DNA. The Kingdom is no different. We’re constantly innovating and reimagining the downrange experience. From targeting, to conditions and turf types, we’re always nuancing and squeaking out ways to be better. One example, we’re designing each of our targets with a specific purpose. When players are testing at The Kingdom, we want them to feel that every shot has a consequence. So, we want to deliver a real-world experience in every testing situation. We went through a massive redesign last fall and are currently still working with the advanced research team on new ways to enhance our testing and fitting experiences to meet the way that players perform in competition.
When it comes to the overall experience, The Kingdom has transformed from a predominantly R&D and fitting facility to the most capable environment to test, measure and understand how equipment performs and how golfers interact with their equipment. I call it the ultimate truth machine. We help golfers at every level uncover the insights they need to improve. After each session, we’re going to know everything about the club, the player and the ball flight.
So we came from a place where we were mainly focused on research, fitting, and selling. Our goals have changed. Now we obsess over how to help golfers get better.
What would I change? If you’re curious and passionate about making change, the answers are out there. The first thing we do is listen. We’re going to change everything that needs to be changed in order to meet our goals. I have an incredible focus group to bounce ideas off of. To ask our tour pros, club professionals, and teachers for feedback on the design ideas and what they like and prefer is fortunate. We’re constantly learning, we’re constantly improving, and if there’s a better way do something, then we’re going to figure it out and do it.
JW: What does the kingdom look like in 10 years?
TK: We have a lot of incredible plans for new targeting, bunker complexes, and refining the purposeful design of the range and short game area. Beyond that, we have designs for new teeing areas, a new short game complex, adding another GEARS system and Foresight Simulator, along with other new technologies. I can’t disclose all we do, since the R&D guys get a bit jumpy when I start going on about all the cool stuff and high science! I don’t know exactly what The Kingdom looks like in 10 years as technologies and our understanding continue to improve, but I do know give me six months, and we’ll have done something new. Always grinding to get better!
JW: Tell me a little bit about your career at TaylorMade.
TK: 31 years is hard to do in a “little bit” but I’ll try to give you the Clif Notes! Bob Vokey ran our Tour department and had me running his repair shop in Vista after George Willett took a job driving the Tour truck for TaylorMade. I was refinishing wooden clubs and repairing clubs for the local country clubs. I told Bob I was going broke making $4.50 an hour and driving all over San Diego. I asked if he could get me a job at TaylorMade and I started on the custom line with Wade Liles! Get to work at 2 p.m., off at 1 a.m. and golf in the morning. It was the life! Not to mention, I was lucky enough to meet my wife who worked for the company.
I started our player testing and worked for the great Dr. Benoit Vincent–the smartest man I know. I was a pretty good player, and I played a bunch of USGA and national amateur events. But when I did a TV commercial, I lost my amateur status and made the decision to turn pro. I quit my job and started that journey. Our CEO wanted me to take a leavem and I said: “I need to be all-in on this.” I had two children, a mortgage, car payments and had to buy health insurance while getting through all three stages of Q School. I realized I was a better amateur than a tour pro. We had our third child, and then I got the sales rep job in San Diego. After 10 years of sales, I moved inside the building and the ran innovations department before taking over our metalwoods category when we hit our highest market share in history. I spent a few years in product creation, ran global experiential for a few years and then got the best gig in all of golf here at The Kingdom. Been here for three years, and we’re just getting started!
Puma Golf teams up with Ernie Els in support of Autism Awareness Month
April is National Autism Awareness Month, and Puma Golf has teamed up with ambassador Ernie Els in support of the Els for Autism Foundation.
Throughout April, Puma will donate a portion of every individual sale of the brand’s Ignite Pwradapt Caged shoes with the proceeds going towards the Els for Autism Foundation.
Every pair of Caged shoes sold this month will include a blue Els for Autism shoe bag and puzzle piece ribbon lapel pin – with the color blue and the puzzle pieces representing Autism Awareness.
The Els for Autism Foundation helps deliver and facilitate programs designed to serve individuals with autism spectrum disorder. You can purchase the shoes here.
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