Company Spotlight: Don’t Cell Cobra Short
In the last year, the golf industry has seen Cobra-Puma push the limits of how much color golfers will tolerate in their games. Its 2013 line of drivers, fairway woods and hybrids will be available in silver, as well as colors called Directoire Blue, Barbados Red and Vibrant Orange; names that sounds more Crayola than Cobra. Right now color is cool, and Cobra’s new lineup makes it the coolest.
But Cobra has always been a cool company, even before Puma purchased it in March 2010. Cobra was previously a part of Acushnet, where it sat beneath Titleist in prominence. But it caught the attention of both serious and casual golfers with its dedication to performance, especially in drivers.
The company will turn 40 this year, making it one of the longest-running OEMs in golf. Acushnet purchased Cobra in 1996, a time when the company was enjoying success from endorser Greg Norman and its Baffler hybrid. But the spotlight stayed fixed on Titleist at Acushnet, which stifled Cobra’s development. Under Puma, however, Cobra is back on the main stage. And despite its youthful vibe, the company has grown up.
Cobra’s 2012 product releases were some of the most polarizing of the year. Riding the buzz of Rickie Fowler’s affinity for orange, Cobra added orange to its drivers, fairway woods, irons and wedges. Consumers were hard-pressed to find a product in the 2012 lineup that was not available in orange. But there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing, which is why Cobra has broadened its color palate.
Cobra’s AMP Cell iron in different color options
But Cobra isn’t just hoping to become the most noticeable golf equipment company. Cobra-Puma President Bob Philion said he wants Cobra to become the most desirable company in golf. To do that, the company is focused on creating golf equipment that makes the game as easy and as fun as possible.
An example of that focus is Cobra’s AMP Cell driver, which gives golfers the ability to adjust loft from 8.5 degrees to 11.5 degrees without changing any other variables. Philion recognized the importance of adjusting loft in an internal test of Cobra employees that showed that 62 percent were playing drivers with the wrong loft.
The solution was highly technical – Cobra engineers wanted to create a driver that allowed a wide range of loft adjustability. But the problem with changing loft on most adjustable drivers is that when loft is changed the look of the club is changed at address as well. This is because changing loft on most drivers means changing what part of the driver’s sole rests on the ground.
When loft is added to most adjustable drivers, the face tilts up. This places more of the rear portion of the sole on the ground and has a tendency to close the face. When loft is reduced on most adjustable drivers, the face tilts down. This puts more of the front portion of the sole on the ground and has a tendency to open the face. But Cobra engineers figured out a way to solve the problem with a “Smart Pad,” a 1.5 cm strip located on the bottom of the AMP Cell drivers, fairway woods and hybrids that limits the amount of sole that rests on the ground at address. This keeps the face angle of the AMP Cell drivers, fairway woods and hybrids remarkably square regardless of loft setting.
According to Tom Preece, vice president of R&D at Cobra-Puma, the AMP Cell’s adjustability, coupled with the Smart Pad, creates an elegant, low-cost solution to long-game fitting (the AMP Cell will retail for $299). More importantly, the adjustability eliminates the need to make drivers, fairway woods and hybrids in different lofts. Because of that, Cobra can make its long-game clubs in different colors without increasing the amount of SKUs that retailers have to carry. Click here for more discussion in the “Tour/Pre-release equipment” forum.
Many golfers who were loyal to the Cobra brand were concerned for the company’s future when Puma acquired it. The familiar black-and-yellow color scheme took a backseat to orange, which gave some Cobra loyalists the impression that the company was more interested in paint than performance. But what they didn’t know was that while Cobra changed its look, it kept its independent R&D team from Acushnet.
According to Philion, one of the perks of being a part of Puma is Cobra’s ability to tap Puma’s trend research. That connection helped Cobra decide on the four different color options for the AMP Cell lineup. It sparked innovation as well.
Puma has employed “Cell” technology in footwear and clothing for years, using cell-shaped structures to make its products lighter, more stable and more comfortable. Cobra engineers piggybacked on the concept, carving out cells in their new drivers, fairway woods, hybrids and irons that helped them redistribute weight in the most desirable areas.
Cobra engineers did this by finding out which parts of the clubs were put under the least stress at impact. They were able to move weight from the areas under the least stress to places where it could boost performance, making certain parts of the titanium-constructed AMP Cell drivers as thin as 0.7 mm. Many golfers assumed that the colored dots that surround the sweet spot of the AMP Cell drivers, fairway woods and hybrids were cosmetic details, but they are actually the easiest-to-see example of Cobra engineers moving weight on a granular level in the new line.
“To save a few grams doesn’t sound like a lot,” Preece said. “But it’s huge.”
Casting a wide net
One of the biggest issues facing Cobra as it moves forward is an uncertainty about what segment of the market it should be targeting. Is its future creating products for golfers who dress like Rickie Fowler or those who play like him? While Cobra has roots in super game-improvement clubs such as the Baffler, the company is also releasing an AMP Cell Pro driver and AMP Cell Pro Forged irons in 2013, PGA Tour-inspired designs that will meet the demands of the best golfers in the world.
It’s easy to say that the bright colors of Cobra’s 2013 lineup mean that it’s aimed at younger golfers. But as anyone who’s ever been to a recent PGA Tour event can attest, it’s not just young golfers who are wearing bright, bold Puma clothing: it’s 30-year-old, 40-year-old and even 50-year-old golfers.
Maybe that’s the point. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how serious you are about the golf — you can still enjoy the game. Cobra is helping golfers have more fun on the course by giving them color options. And offering nearly one-size-fits-all equipment takes a great deal of risk out of the purchase, making buying new gear more attractive. The 2013 lineup of equipment has also proven that Cobra’s R&D team is committed to making the game easier as well, which means there is only one question left for Cobra-Puma.
How do I keep my white belt clean?