“If you want to make a small fortune, start with a big fortune”
It’s a phrase I’ve heard many times before, not just with the golf industry but in other industries that are, let’s call them — leisure or sports-focused. It’s an uphill climb to enter any market, but golf might be on another level. There are the big players that are worth BILLIONS, and spend millions of dollars in research and development, along with equal amounts marketing, to make sure that every golfer is aware of their new club technologies. They also have well-oiled systems of distribution.
But in this new world of brand-agnostic fitting centers, boutique brands, social media, and the ability to reach your target demographic like never before there are a LOT of new companies creating high performance, high quality, well-engineered products. But when it comes to forged irons for golfers of all abilities, industry veteran Eric Burch’s New Level Golf stands on its own.
If you don’t know Eric Burch, and you’ve gone through a custom fitting recently, then you are at least partially aware of some of the breakthroughs he’s helped create in the golf industry, including the Club Conex system. His newest endeavor New Level Golf was only started in 2017, but in that short time, it has made some very big strides including distribution in over 150 brand agnostic club fitting facilities and now some professional golfers signed to the roster (including PGA Tour winner Ken Duke).
So how do you go from designing club fitting components to designing forged irons and starting a company that has products on the Golf Digest Hot List? I got the chance to talk to Eric about New Level Golf, his background and how after his years in the golf industry he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
RB: Based on your history in the golf industry you seem to be a real problem solver with a “Be your own boss” mentality, is that how you would describe your self?
EB: I’ve been in business for myself since my early 20s. Other than a few short stints for other golf companies, I have primarily been my own boss involved with golf. I would consider myself a problem solver. Not necessarily by design, but mainly due to starting companies that have always been undercapitalized which forces your hand to learn a variety of tasks to help the business move forward.
Although I’ve received notoriety as a club fitter/retailer, Club Conex, and now New Level. I’ve been fortunate to have won the professional Clubmaker’s Top Shop Award (2004), Golf Digest Top 100 Club Fitters (2016), & have products I’ve designed be on the Golf Digest Hot List (2019).
RB: What was the first product & club head you ever designed, and how does the workflow go now with New Level?
EB: The first golf products were, of course, the Club Conex prototypes and those were generated from hand-rendered sketches. I still believe, given what I did with Club Conex and the universal system I designed, I hardly get the credit I deserve. I bought a milling machine without really knowing how to use it and over the course of 6-7 months taught myself how to use it and started creating prototypes. Those prototypes eventually became the Uni-Fit system.
The first clubs I ever designed were putters dating back to the mid 2000s, but in terms of New Level, I know what I am trying to accomplish in design as well as fitting into player categories that comes from my years working at my own shop and fitting golfers from professionals to higher handicaps. Since product is made overseas, the engineers I work with at our factory have done a very good job of helping bring my concepts and designs to fruition. I really enjoy doing the designs and creating something that will one day be in someone’s golf bag. The only current issue with the success we’re seeing now is if the company continues to push forward we will at some point be forced to bring on an industrial design engineer to further help with product development, but that would be in 2021 as most of our products for next year are in development, or have already been developed.
RB: On that note, how long from having an initial concept to that first set of irons or at least a prototype head in hand?
EB: This is heavily dependant on the complexity of the design. The 4995 HB took almost 9 months to get it where we wanted, whereas the 902 took just about four months. Typically we can get a first article sample of a playable sample in less than 60 days.
RB: When you consider the logistics and tooling involved, that’s quite an impressive turnaround time. From a design perspective, what do you think is the most misunderstood part of creating an iron head and the manufacturing process that you face?
EB: This is a hot topic with me since most people just don’t understand the depth of the manufacturing process. A lot of people think of the term open model (a factory’s in house design produced to create a starting point for some companies), they think we are just stamping our name on a head that is already been refined and finished by someone else which couldn’t be further from the truth.
Like with many aspects of club designs some of the tooling we use are openly available, but for example the raw forged blank head is on average 407 grams on a 6 iron that needs to be designed into a profile that weighs just 262 grams. So as you can imagine a club head overweight by more that 35 percent, it’s far from being a finished product. We call all the shots when it comes to every pertinent parameter and specifications of our design. The only thing incorporated into using this process and something we can’t change is the offset of the club. All other facets of the design are facilitated by my directive and incorporated into the final design.
I chose this method of manufacturing for New Level because it allows a far more flexible range of experimentation before a final design is consummated and brought to market. As a new company starting out it would have been near impossible to use a process similar to other OEMs that create a final tool for each and every design solely based on scale. We had several designs that were not used because they didn’t make the cut when it comes to performance and if we had gone the other route we would have had hundreds of thousands of dollars in tooling alone from products that never saw the light of day.
This process is called the “near net” process, and I find it to be much more in tune with today’s industry. I will take it one step further by saying regardless how good one may be at hand grinding and polishing, a human will never be as consistent and effective as a CNC machine. This entire process allows us to keep our costs reasonable and offer a…uniquely designed, full one-piece forged club for a fair price. There are a lot of other companies using this process you’d just never suspect it.
RB: As a club builder and fitter myself, I have encountered my fair share of misconceptions from golfers, what do YOU feel is the number one thing golfer misunderstand from a design perspective of their clubs?
EB: I can only speak from my experiences, but most golfers are scared of the word “forged” as it has been far too long associated with blades and hard to hit designs. I believe the average weekend warrior still views forged as a design methodology as opposed to a manufacturing process. That is a major objective for New Level to prove that forged clubs can be forgiving, can produce great ball speed, & can be used by your average mid handicap player. Our 1126, for example, is longer from heel to toe, has a shallow profile, and deep undercut – lots of forgiveness for any level of player. From a fitting perspective, I’d say that over 80 percent of players are using shafts that are too heavy, and too stiff for them.
RB: We’ve talked a lot about the product, and now I need to know – How many retail outlets currently carry your irons and wedges. And lastly, what advantage do you believe New Level irons and wedges have over the competition?
EB: New Level products can be found at roughly 150 locations worldwide and growing almost weekly. If I had my way, we’d never sell another club off the website since I truly believe getting fit by a professional is the best way to get the right set, but saying that as the brand is growing and during the infancy stages, I am trying to get as much product in the field of play as possible to spread brand awareness. We get positive feedback on a daily basis. We have an extensive questionnaire on our site to help those that are not close to one of our retailers, and we also have a lot of people that see our clubs, like what they see and order to their known specs.
As far as our advantages go, I believe it’s pretty simple — being small allows us to pay more attention to each and every client and ensure they are getting the attention that they deserve. The mentality is always to be big enough to make money, yet no matter how we grow, act small and care about every single customer. Currently, we have the care part down very well. My belief is with any business I’ve ever been involved with is that if you do the right thing and stay focused eventually the money will take care of itself. It’s funny because I experience many of the same challenges with New Level as I did with Club Conex early on. Although I am mixed in with a ton of larger players in the golf industry, with New Level I am starting to see our awareness with golfers grow. I hope that this growth continues and we still maintain a great rapport with our customer base.
If you are interested in New Level products check out their website, or call and check with your local club fitter for availability.
Justin Thomas’ winning WITB: 2019 BMW Championship
Driver: Titleist TS3 (9.5 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Diamana BF 60TX
3-wood: Titleist TS3 (15 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro Blue 80TX
5-wood: Titleist 915Fd (18 degrees)
Shaft: Fujikura Motore Speeder VC 9.2 Tour Spec X
Irons: Titleist T100 (4-iron), Titleist 718 MB (5-9)
Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100
Wedges: Vokey Design SM7 (46, 52, 56 degrees), Vokey Design SM6 (60 degrees)
Shaft: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400
Putter: Scotty Cameron X5
Grip: SuperStroke Pistol GT Tour
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x
Grips: Golf Pride Tour Velvet Cord
Forum Thread of the Day: “Best ball for players with slower swing speeds?”
Today’s Forum Thread of the Day comes from ghoul31 who created a thread dedicated to finding the ideal golf ball for players with slower swing speeds. Our members have their say on what is the ball most suited to slower swing speeds, with a variety of models receiving a mention.
Here are a few posts from the thread but make sure to check out the entire discussion and have your say at the link below.
- Hogan9: “My SS is 80 to 85. I play the Titleist AVX. Many people on these forums tell it’s wrong for me. I’ve tried several brands and types over the last year ( Pro-V-1 and 1X, Cally Supersoft and Chrome Soft, TM TP5X, Wilson Duo Soft and the Snell MTB. The AVX gives me the best overall performance for my game. I’ve had to slightly adjust to how it reacts on chips and pitches, but the extra distance off the tee is well worth it. “
- North Butte: “Maybe 90mph driver swing on a good day. Driver 205-ish hit 6-iron from 150. Pro V1x but I have played AVX, B330, TP5 with pretty much similar results to my favorite V1x. Also played the Chrome Soft for a while but it seemed to fly a little low and sometimes have trouble holding greens (or maybe I just didn’t give it a long enough chance to know for sure).”
- Hat Trick: “Pro V1X – Spin and higher launch keeps it in the air longer, but at the same time that spin holds the greens – SS 96-98 mph.”
- Kmac: “My SS is right around 95-100, and I find the QST to the perfect for my game. I will also play the AVX or Chrome Soft Truvis. But for the money, nothing beats the QST.”
Forum Thread of the Day: “Single length irons stunting development?”
Today’s Forum Thread of the Day comes from rbark11 who has sparked an interesting debate over single length irons in our forums. Rbark11 has been playing single length irons for the past seven months, and he is concerned that he may have issues changing back to regular length irons. Our members give their take on the matter, as well as discussing single length irons in general.
Here are a few posts from the thread, but make sure to check out the entire discussion and have your say at the link below.
- mcs4: “No, it will not. Both my father and I are currently playing Cobra One Length irons after decades of playing variable length irons. It took both of us maybe a few rounds to feel comfortable with the switch. This weekend I played a round with my old irons, and it was different but not a big deal. My opinion is that there are pros and cons with each approach, but I don’t think picking one will make any particular negative impact on your ability to later switch to the other.”
- Quadra: “I’ve played both. Right now I am back to VL clubs ( Wishon 560 irons). Find VL gives me more shot-making options. With uneven lies, especially with the ball above or below foot level, the shot seems easier with a more upright or flatter lie, rather than trying to manipulate a shot from clubs with only a single length/lie. VL = more shot possibilities.”
- Aucaveman: “I played Cobra ftbo for a year. Shot my best scores ever. Our club switched to Mizuno exclusively, so I had my first real fitting. I switched to the 919 forged and had to sell the Cobras to fund the mizunos. Really wished I hadn’t. I really liked the Cobras. The shafts in the Mizuno’s are better suited for me but had I put the same shafts in the Cobras; I’d prob been better off. At some point, I’ll prob do it and go back to one lengths. I was perusing eBay yesterday actually.”
- Brandons68: “I think that the consistency you gain from SL irons is pretty great. I have not played them personally, but have talked to several people that have, and they really like the feel of the irons and the fact that they swing every iron the same because they are all the same length.”
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