You know when an upscale steakhouse opens in your town, and no one wants to go because it’s too expensive? But then a ritzy Italian restaurant opens next door, and a high-end seafood restaurant opens next to that. Now the area is booming, and the original steakhouse’s prices don’t seem so outrageous anymore. Vega is that steakhouse in the ultra-premium golf equipment world, and it has its sights set on an uptick in reservations thanks to competitors with even higher-priced menus.
Vega got its start as the in-house brand for famed Japanese forging house, Kyoei, which has been manufacturing golf clubs for more than five decades. It was purchased by Professional Golf Europe (PGE) in 2012 with an agreement that PGE continue use the Kyoei factory to manufacture Vega’s one-piece irons. Its reputation is similar to Miura, a fellow Japanese golf equipment manufacturer. While Miura is significantly more popular than Vega in the U.S., it’s similarly perceived among its fans for its quality and attention to detail: particularly its one-piece irons.
“Up until this point, [Vega has] always been perceived as really expensive in the market.” “Now, all of the sudden, we’re half the price of some of the new brands.”
As in the restaurant example above, economics of the golf equipment industry have rapidly shifted in the last two years. Newcomer PXG stunned the industry with irons priced at more than $300 per club, two-to-three times the going rate. Even more stunning was the popularity of the clubs with golfers; PXG became dominant in the ultra-premium space. The industry took notice, and that’s what led things to where they are now. Titleist and Callaway have both made a push into the ultra-premium space with similarly priced products, while historically ultra-premium brand Miura is undergoing a rebrand and retooling its product line to enhance its appeal.
Despite the increased competition, the shift in the marketplace can be seen as an opportunity for Vega; not at the high end of the ultra-premium market that it once occupied, but in a new “affordable luxury” category that seems to be emerging. “Up until this point, [Vega has] always been perceived as really expensive in the market,” says Peter Lord, Director of Professional Golf Europe, the parent company that owns Vega. “Now, all of the sudden, we’re half the price of some of the new brands.”
Lord’s reference was to PXG, whose new 0311XF irons start at $350 per club, or $2800 for an eight-piece set. Golfers who want them in the company’s special dark finish will pay an extra $150 per club, raising the price to $4000 per set. Vega’s irons sell for around $2000 per set, depending on the model (Vega also sells a full line of metal woods, wedges and putters that the company plans to promote more aggressively going forward).
There are other reasons for Vega’s resurgence, particularly in North America. The first has to do with distribution. In 2016, Jennifer Gard of Eagle Golf Distributors purchased the rights to distribute Vega in North America. Gard, whose company also distributes Veylix shafts, felt that Vega was being undervalued by North American golfers due to a lack of retail presence and chatter. She didn’t see it as a product problem, although she and Lord recognized that there was an opportunity for Vega to add a new page to its menu, so to speak.
“All we’re doing is moving the balance point from old school, hand crafted to more of the tech side.”
Vega’s new Mizar irons and Alcor wedges are the first of the company’s new Star Line, which focuses on improved performance through multi-material constructions. It’s a completely new focus for the company, at least in irons, which had been focused almost entirely on one-piece forged designs.
The Mizar irons ($280 per club) are made from two main pieces: a forged club head that’s merged with a thinner, maraging forged club face. A tungsten weight is also used in the design of each iron to optimize the center of gravity of each club. It’s located inside the sole, and its location varies based on the club. Long irons have the tungsten weight in the heel, mid-irons have the weight in the middle of the club and short irons have the weight on the toe. “With Mizar and all future Star Line (clubs), all we’re doing is moving the balance point from old school, hand crafted to more of the tech side,” Lord says.
Vega will continue to offer what it’s calling its “Classic” VC line of one-piece irons, which are offered in a range of sizes to please traditionalists of all skills levels. They’ll maintain their traditional lofts, which is an area of sensitivity for many golfers.
The Mizar irons take a much more modern approach to distance. The stock pitching wedge loft is 42 degrees, which is 1-degree stronger than the 9-iron loft of Vega’s VM-01 and VM-02 muscleback irons. It’s not a total distance-first approach, however. Whereas many golf equipment manufacturers have focused on making the club faces as thin as possible in their distance-iron models to improve performance, Vega decided to make its Mizar iron faces thicker. They’re 3.5 millimeters in thickness, according to Lord, a design that maintains soft feel Vega is known for across the club face. “It’s less hot, but it still gives it forgiveness on off-center hits,” Lord says.
The Alcor wedges ($260 per club) are a one-piece forged design, but like the Mizar irons they have channels cut into their forged bodies that helped designers alter center of gravity for better performance. With the wedges, the aim was to push the weight higher and toward the center of the club to improve spin and feel.
Lord called Alcor “the first of a long-term strategy with wedges.” He also hinted that Vega will expand the Mizar iron lineup with a both larger and smaller model, although he says golfers shouldn’t expect to see them in stores for at least 18 months.