“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.
Coming in HOT: Tour Edge HL4 driver
When it comes to combining performance and value, Tour Edge is one of the leaders of the pack.
The company offers two distinct lines that push the boundaries of forgiveness and speed: Exotics, which is the premium line targeting total performance at a higher price, and then there is Hot Launch: a line designed specifically for the value-conscious recreational player. As golfers know, you can’t continue to lead without new innovation, and on that note, today marks the launch if the HL4 Driver.
Club designer David Glod has again gone out of his way to improve on the previous version while offering a bevy of options in a mid-tier driver. From David
“This is an early release to a product line that we developed for 2020. We have spent the last 18 months looking at how to improve the best performance value drivers in the game and the end result is an all new shape that has an MOI that rivals that of a $500 driver. It’s an extremely forgiving design that all levels of players can benefit from.”
Speaking to the shape David goes on to say
“The HL4 driver features an all new sloped crown design that is deeper from face to back. N0 skirt where the sole plate meets the crown equates to a 12% increase in MOI over the previous Hot Launch drivers.”
Now, speaking to forgiveness, one of the other options the HL4 offers is an offset version — something you don’t find very often anymore because of the adjustable hosels found in most modern drivers. Those parts and additional SKUs add up. With the HL4 being a fixed hosel club, the cost savings can be passed to the consumer. This also opens the door for adding more actual versions of the driver. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know an offset driver is kinda ugly BUT you have to remember, it’s designed with a very specific player in mind — and speaking for a lover of offset drivers (my dad), this feature is a game changer for some players.
Since so much talk of 2019 is about face technology, it has to be pointed out that Tour Edge is not being left behind in this category either. The HL4 features a deeper cup face design and a rounder face shape than previous models for exceptional power and vastly improved acoustics, according to the company.
Combine the newly shaped Cup Face technology with Variable Face Thickness technology and you have a club that provides greater distance from more contact points on the face. All of this plus a Power Channel on the sole delivers amplified ball speed and less spin, as well as added forgiveness on shots struck lower on the face.
Price and options
The straight-neck HL4 driver comes in 9.5, 10.5, and 12-degree lofts, while the HL4 Offset driver will be available in 10.5, 12, and 13.5-degree lofts. The 10.5-degree HL4 Offset will be available in a left-handed model.
The HL4 series also features an upgraded UST Mamiya graphite shaft that offers enhanced tip stability. The drivers are available in ladies, A-flex, regular, and stiff shafts ranging from 48 to 60 grams.
The line has also been upgraded to a Lamkin Z5 multi-compound grip that features distinct hand-placement zones.
Both drivers will be available August 1 at authorized Tour Edge retailers and will retail for $199.99.
All-new Srixon Q-Star: Spin where you want it!
If there is anything I have learned in the past year about golf balls, it’s that they are packed with more technology and chemical compounds than most people can comprehend. A lot of premium boundary-pushing technology is found in, as the name states, the premium ball category, BUT Srixon is bringing the same tech found is the Z-Star line to the masses with the fifth-generation Q-Star, priced at $26.99 a dozen.
So, what am I talking about when I say chemistry? How about Spin Skin with Slide-Ring Material (SeRM for Short). SeRM is a urethane coating with flexible molecular bonds (how many times do you think about molecular bonds when talking golf ball?). This flexible coating digs deep into grooves for more control and more stopping power.
When we say “control” we mean friction. Friction is extremely important in golf is because the more you can create with your scoring clubs, the more control you are going to have around the greens. Where does all this chemistry come from, you might ask? In case you didn’t already, know Srixon is owned by Sumitomo Rubber Industries — a world leader in rubber technology including tires. Hmm…I think if a company can find ways to increase friction on a tire on a car going 100+ MPH, there must be some type of parallel there…
When you consider that most average golfers miss a LOT of greens, and often times in the wrong places, having a ball that offers a bit more control than the standard two-piece ball means you can (hopefully) stop it closer to the hole. And if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 1,000 times: The closer you golf ball end up to the intended target, the lower your scores are going to be.
Another way of getting the ball closer to the hole is distance, and the Q-Star isn’t lacking in that department either. By utilizing Fast Layer Core Technology, meaning the core is softer in the middle than around the outer layer [think of it like a symmetrical round muffin top (drool…mmm…muffins)], they can create a ball that is lower compression, feels great, and spins less off the driver without sacrificing the oh-so-important distance. Don’t forget that less spin off the driver ALSO means less axis tilt (often wrongly communicated as “side spin”) creating shots missed left and right.
All off this technology wrapped up in 338 dimples, available in both white and yellow.
Forum Thread of the Day: “What has made it into your bag so far in 2019?”
Today’s Forum Thread of the Day discusses new equipment that has made it into the bags of our members so far in 2019. From new club additions to shaft changes, our members share the tweaks they have made so far this year and divulge what has been successful as well as what has failed to work for them.
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.
- Jackal66: “Went from 816 DBD Alpha driver to M3. Changed Odyssey Fang putter to Scotty Cameron Newport putter. Bought a 56° wedge and it is competing with my 53° Diadic.”
- ObiwanForAll: “Gone all in with TaylorMade clubs and UST shafts.”
- macedan: “Successes- Ping G400 9*, thought the smaller head size may hamper my confidence, but It has performed beautifully. Mizuno ST180 16*, No words, performs as needed and looks absolutely sharp. Middle of the road- Ping G Crossover 21*, unfortunately, I fell into a swing slump across the bag not long after buying it. When my swing is on, it is one of my absolute favorites in the bag. My biggest complaint is just the appearance of the massive amount of offset.”
- pollock21: “Been quite a year…TS3 knocked out my trusty G400 LST which was quite a feat. Now shafted with 130 Rogue Silver. I500 w/LZ 7.0 125’s experiment is on the way out. They’ve been excellent irons for me, but I just hit them obnoxiously long. Currently looking for my next set. Also dabbling with a hi-toe 60 to replace my trusty 60* Glide 2.0 stealth. So far, I’m loving it. Last change was putting in the copper spider x which knocked out my ketcsh and scotty newport 2.0. Failed experiment so far with the flash sz fairway. Putting the trusty 16M2 back in the bag. Definitely moving on from the flash, I’m just not as consistent with it.”
- shanx: “Took a lesson late spring and my ballstriking has improved. I ditched the Callaway X20 Pros, Cally X Forged ’07s, added Mizzy MP15s with C Taper Lites. Not sure if those shafts will work for me in the long run, but I am going to play them for a bit as I am still working on swing changes from the lesson. Rotating three drivers (2 Titleists and a Callaway Epic), thinking about going to get fit for my driver soon.”
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Patrick Cantlay’s winning WITB: 2019 Memorial Tournament
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