The United States may be the center of the ball manufacturing business, but an event on the other side of the pond made waves in early 2015.
The German Golf Association, the umbrella organization representing over 800 golf clubs in the country and responsible for league competition among German amateur golfers, is an important organization for ball manufacturers and had an official golf ball sponsorship deal with a big brand.
That is until the Association shockingly announced that it would have a new ball sponsor for 2015 and 2016. Instead, it would be…Vice Golf? A three-year-old company that only sold golf balls online?
[quote_box_center] “Golf needs some change, everyone’s searching for the new thing, the new 2.0,” said Vice Golf co-founder Ingo Duellmann. “That’s probably what was what they were searching for in the GGA, something new with edges and someone who was willing to do something different from the traditional brands.”[/quote_box_center]
Vice Golf remains on as the Association’s official ball sponsor through 2016. And it’s the latest win for a company that has made in roads quickly in the golf ball manufacturing world in a unique way.
The financial investment in golf can add up quickly, and it doesn’t help when your local pro shop or sporting goods store sells golf balls, an essential part to the sport, at $50-60 a dozen.
Vice Golf, based out of Germany, has stepped in to bring complexity to the market, adding a new model into the old, establishment golf ball manufacturing business.
The company, founded by Duellmann and Rainer Stoeckl in 2012, sells golf balls through its website vicegolf.com. Consumers buy the company’s balls online and the goods are shipped directly to them, so Vice avoids dealing with the middlemen that characterize the rest of the business.
The Point A to Point B structure means no price markups, and thus a cheaper ball that Vice markets as having the same quality as the big brands.
While the balls from these giants will sell for the $50-60 per dozen after the middlemen raise prices at each point of the process, a dozen Vice Pro balls can be bought for $34.95 directly on the company’s website, and the price drops to $24.95 per dozen if a consumer buys 60 Vice Pro balls at once.
The Vice Tour model sells for $21.95 per dozen and $15.95 per dozen at a 60-ball purchase. The Vice Drive model starts at $14.95 per dozen and drops to a $10.95 per dozen price tag at 60 balls.
Stoeckl and Duellmann said that they try to keep their prices 40-50 percent below the big brands while keeping the ball of the same quality.
This has resulted in steady growth. Vice Golf increased 100 percent in sales in 2013 and jumped up 167 percent from that number in 2014. The staff nearly quadrupled in full time employees in that span, and customer satisfaction is high.
Stoeckl and Duellmann said that others are taking notice of their new movement in the golf ball manufacturing market, the nix-the-middle-man-and-pro-shop model, even if these other guys can’t feasibly join in.
Stoeckl and Duellmann met over a decade ago while studying law at the university level. Both would become lawyers. Duellmann worked for a sports company and dealt with business development in U.S. and Asian markets, while Stoeckl was in a business consultancy company where he did many projects in sports. Stoeckl had serious contact with manufacturers, and on one project in particular, he saw the cost structure of golf ball pricing.
Despite the steady jobs, their immersion in golf was growing and by 2010, they were hearing consistently from family and friends the complaints over exorbitant prices around golf balls.
[quote_box_center]”And at that time four or five years ago, all these direct-to-customer concepts popped up,” Duellmann said.[/quote_box_center]
With that impetus and their interest in golf, Duellmann and Stoeckl started looking into ways to get into the golf ball manufacturing business on a direct-to-customer basis.
[quote_box_center]”We thought manufacturing golf balls would be an easy job,” Duellmann said. “We thought we could skip out on our lawyer jobs and have a good time and not work so much. It turned out to not be that way. Instead of working less, we actually work more than we ever have before.”[/quote_box_center]
The duo started part time in their garage and hunkered down from there.
It took them about a year and a half from the conception of the company to when they sold their first batch of balls, a 50,000-unit set. To get to that point, they worked with testing labs in San Diego and Germany and collaborated with engineers at a technical university in Munich. They went through hundreds of prototypes to get to the quality of ball they were looking for.
In the end, they came out with three models in the Vice Pro, Vice Tour and Vice Drive.
Stoeckl and Duellman compare the Pro to the Titleist’s Pro V1, saying that the ball is a three-piece model that is most useful for low handicappers and pros who want a ball that stops quickly and generates max spin in the short game. The Pro comes in several versions, including the Pro Neon, Pro Shooter and Pro Flamingo, each offering a different color ball.
The Tour model is generally for single digit to mid-handicappers who want a three-piece ball that rolls more. The Drive two-piece ball usually works best for high handicappers who want a lot of roll and a more durable ball.
And Vice Golf will unveil a fourth model in April 2015: the Pro+.
[quote_box_center]”We compare [the Pro+] to the Pro V1x,” Stoeckl said. “It’s a four-piece ball, a cast urethane ball. It’s a really green grabbing ball, but takes less spin. It’s a little bit harder and it flies lower.”[/quote_box_center]
Stoeckl said that they came out with the Pro+ because customers wanted the feel of the Pro model but with less spin and a lower trajectory on drives.
And that’s another perk of the way Vice Golf does things as opposed to the establishment methods: They only report to the customers.
Part of the business model of the biggest golf ball brands is get tour players to use, and thus advertising, their balls. And dependence on selling balls in pro shops means a greater need for more frequent updated models, so that pro shops will clear their old stock to buy newer and (sometimes barely changed) versions of the same ball.
Vice Golf has neither of those worries. They hear from customers and have gotten positive feedback from some professionals who have used their golf balls. The company currently has a few professionals who play their balls, namely Camilo Sprinz and David Gerszstein of Europe’s Challenge Tour (the equivalent of the Web.com Tour circuit). But they have no official sponsorships with players, as they pride themselves on not spending that money.
Vice Golf does have some business in pro shops, but not in the traditional way.
These direct-to-pro shop sales account for less than 10 percent of Vice’s business, and the lack of sales reps means no extra costs and speaks to the lack of dependence Vice has on pro shops for revenue.
As Vice lacks these significant expenditures, they’ve been able expand their business.
The company mainly sold its balls first in Germany than in the rest of Europe for the first years of its existence, but added Australia to the mix last year and the massive United States market in 2015 due to high demand in those places.
Vice’s website promises 2-to-3 day shipping, and Stoeckl and Duellmann say they can indeed do so to any place in the world besides China, thanks to the logistics facilities they set up in Australia and Buffalo, New York when they incorporated these new markets.
In addition to new markets, Vice offers more than just normal golf balls.
Based off consumer feedback, Stoeckl and Duellmann implemented a customization feature to their golf balls a year into the business.
The customization on the golf balls can be wide ranging, from company logos to photos of birthdays and group trips to humorous printed phrases like “You found this ball, bring it back to the clubhouse,” and even a depiction of a pixelated naked girl (seriously).
There are limits (nothing crude and no trademarked properties), but Vice has cast a wide net on customization and now see 50 percent of its golf ball sales come from this department.
The key has been minimal extra cost and inconvenience, and a simple process to add your customization.
Vice isn’t done there either, with the release of a golf glove called Vice Golf Pure to come this year. The company also sells golf caps, and has found great success in their limited edition offerings. It started at the major championships last year, and the special caps sold out within hours.
Later, they released a limited-edition camo Ryder Cup cap, where a closer look showed the camp to actually be an outline of the Gleneagles layout.
Those hats sold out in minutes.
Stoeckl and Duellman said they plan to offer new versions of the major championship limited edition caps in 2015, with their release dates the weekend ahead of the each of the four tournaments.
The hat side of the business actually has less to do with money, than with branding. Vice has increased in recent years, as has general awareness for the company in the golf ball business.
But without the big name of “Titleist” or “Callaway,” Vice’s golf balls still face speculation even as the market share grows.
Ultimately, Vice has found its niche in the market and while it anticipates more growth and represents an alternative to the big brand model of business, the goal isn’t to challenge the Titleists of this world.
That being said, Stoeckl and Duellmann do expect pro shops to focus in future years more on helping people finding equipment, and thus less on golf ball sales.
Does this mean Vice Golf is ahead of the game? Maybe or maybe not. But watchers of the golf ball category are taking notice.
See what GolfWRX Members are saying about Mizuno’s new ST-180 driver
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.
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
Spotted: Justin Rose is testing a new TaylorMade “Hi-Toe” wedge
On Twitter today, Justin Rose posted a photo of a never-before-seen TaylorMade “Hi-Toe” 60-degree wedge. As the name suggests, it appears the toe portion is raised; we’ve seen this high-toe design from other manufacturers, and the benefits of those designs included increasing face area on open-faced shots, and shifting CG (center of gravity) to where it’s more beneficial for wedge play (likely higher for more spin and a lower flight).
— Justin Rose (@JustinRose99) November 15, 2017
The wedge is also stamped with “MG” to suggest it’s a “milled grind” wedge, much like TaylorMade’s popular wedge line that’s in stores now. There also appears to be slots behind the face, likely to also shift CG to where it’s deemed more beneficial.
Talks of a TaylorMade wedge with a high-toe design were actually started by Dustin Johnson a few weeks ago in a press conference. His full comments on that wedge are above, and you can join the discussion about the wedge in our forums.
GolfWRX Exclusive: Patton Kizzire speaks on first PGA Tour win, WITB, new 718 irons
Patton Kizzire nabbed his maiden PGA Tour win at last week’s OHL Classic, outlasting a late charge from Rickie Fowler. He raised his first Trophy with a bag full of Titleist equipment and a Titleist ProV1x.
Following the event, our Andrew Tursky had a revealing chat with Patton about the win and the clubs he used to do it.
GolfWRX: When you’re leading down the stretch, are you leaderboard watching? Does a big name like Rickie Fowler chasing you have any effect on your mentality/gameplan?
Patton Kizzire: For most of the tournament, I try not to look at the leaderboard. I took a long look on 15…and I just wanted to make sure nobody was ahead of Rickie and closer to me, and I just went from there.
GolfWRX: Do you get defensive or less aggressive down the stretch? Are you aiming away from pins, or are you ‘head down, keep it going’?
PK: It’s all situational. On difficult holes, maybe [I] play a bit more conservatively. I certainly wasn’t willing to take any chances with a three-stroke lead. I was playing the percentages. I maybe didn’t hit the best shots of the tournament there toward the end. The beginning of the back nine — 12, 13, 14 — were not my best tee shots. But I certainly wasn’t trying to play defensive. I was trying to play aggressively to conservative targets.
GolfWRX: Were there a lot of nerves coming home down the stretch?
PK: It was a little nerve wracking, but it wasn’t my first time in contention. I was able to draw on some of my near-misses, especially the Safeway Open last year. I was in a very similar spot on the weekend on Sunday, and I didn’t get it done, but I was able to look back at that and learn a little bit.
GolfWRX: It looks like you don’t do a whole lot of switching. You’ve still got a 913 Hybrid in the bag and a putter that’s been in the bag for years, too. What does your testing process look like when Titleist comes out with new equipment?
PK: Titleist has been really consistent for me since I was 15…I’ve played Titleist equipment almost exclusively since I was 15 or so. Every year it seems they come out with something new, and I have so much trust in it. It’s a pretty seamless transition. I don’t switch much. I try to put the new irons in play, the new driver, the new woods.
But something like a hybrid, you kind of have a club you fall in love with over the years, and I’ve been a little bit hesitant to switch that. The new balls, the new woods, the new irons are pretty easy for me to get into. And the Vokey team…have done such a great job with wedges”
And I have to mention the putter. The Scotty Cameron GoLo putter has been in my bag for about five years. And I owe a lot of my success to putting.
GolfWRX: Do you ever look to switch out your putter, or do you just kind of love that one and it works for you?
PK: I’ve toyed around with other putters here and there, but I always go right back to the GoLo. For whatever reason, maybe because I’ve used it so long, it just seems like what a putter should be. I feel really comfortable with it. I always gravitate back to the GoLo.
GolfWRX: What makes the wedges a good fit for you?
PK: The way they go through the turf. I like to have a strong leading edge to go through the turf. And the lob wedge needs to perform well around the greens and in the bunker. I’ve really been hitting my bunker shots well with my new 60 degree. I have different versions of the same wedges. Aaron [Dill] does great work in the truck. He kind of tweaks it here and there for me, and they perform like expect them to.
GolfWRX: How often do you switch out wedges?
PK: I get a new 60 degree the most…every four or five tournaments. New 56 and 52 every six to eight tournaments. I try to keep that 60 degree sharp. If we get to a course with firm greens and my wedge doesn’t have the bite that I want it to have, I’ll definitely give the Titleist guys a call.
GolfWRX: What kind of grind do you have on that 60?
PK: We call it the “Dufner grind.” I saw Jason Dufner had one like that about a year ago, and I told Aaron, “I want one like that.” I don’t know what the grind is, but it’s really good for me. [Note: The grind is a modified K grind.]
GolfWRX: One last question… How do the 718 irons look and feel different than the 716 irons?
PK: They don’t look a whole lot different. They’ve been holding their flight better in the wind. I’m able to get the long irons up in the air a little bit. That’s something I look for, being able to control the trajectory. I kind of imagine the shots that I want to hit, and the 718s are coming out on the flight that I want them to.
The good folks in New Bedford, Massachusetts, were kind enough to furnish us with some details about Kizzire’s setup.
Titleist tells us Kizzire switched to from the 915D4 driver to the 917D3 the first week it was available at the Quicken Loans National last year. He switched to the 718 irons to start the 2017-18 season at the Safeway. After missing the cut at in Napa, he has finished T10 (Sanderson Farms), 4th (Shriners Hospitals Open for Children) and then won the OHL Classic.
Titleist Tour Rep J.J. Van Wezenbeeck had this to say about working with Kizzire.
“Patton likes traditional look throughout his bag but needs vertical help with his angle of attack. A 10.5 degree 917D3 helps him with launch but still controls his swing. The shaft is based on a platform he had success with us early in his career and he really loves the feel.”
“The 917 F2 was a perfect fit for Patton early on. He loved the ball speed and having a 16.5 allows him get great launch out of a club he has had trouble with in the past. Titleist Tour Rep Jim Curran worked extensively on finding him a shaft that felt good, was the proper weight, and yet still launched the way Patton wanted. Tour Blue 95 fit the bill – and Patton has been in it for a year.”
“Patton loves the look of traditional irons and the 718 MB fit the bill for his look and his desire to control flight. Now, as he moves up through his bag, he has multiple options in 718 which really helps his game. He moves to 718 CB at his 5 and 6 irons, and then carries the 718 T-MB at 4-iron which helps gapping and ball flight at the top of his set.”
Vokey Design Wedge rep Aaron Dill regarding Patton’s wedges:
“Patton has a old school approach to wedge selection. When he finds a wedge he likes he will rarely make a switch. He doesn’t blame the wedge for poor or mishit shots. His technique is smooth and accurate with mid to high ball flight. His 52 and 56-degree wedges have been in the bag for a while now, and his 60 has changed a little keeping the width but changing the bounce angle for conditions. He likes an old school look which is why we add offset to his 60.”
Kelley Moser on Kizzire’s Cameron GoLo:
“Patton has been using a Scotty Cameron GoLo model since his mini tour days. The one he is currently using was a backup that was made for him when he first earned his PGA TOUR card. He had a stock shaft and silver head version that he used for a long time, but he wanted to shake it up a little so we made him one with a black shaft and a dark finish. He loved it and after his victory said he’s pretty sure this one is in the bag permanently.”
Many thanks to Patton for the talk and the folks at Titleist for sharing some insights on the newly minted PGA Tour winner’s WITB.
You can see Kizzire’s full WITB here.
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