“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.
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.”
Chez Reavie’s winning WITB: 2019 Travelers Championship
Driver: TaylorMade M2 2017 (9.5 degrees)
Shaft: Aldila Rogue Silver 60 TX
3-wood: TaylorMade M5 (15 degrees)
Shaft: Aldila Rogue White 130
5-wood: TaylorMade M5 (19 degrees)
Shaft: Aldila Rogue White 130
Irons: TaylorMade P-790 (4-iron), TaylorMade P-750 (5-PW)
Shafts: KBS C-Taper Tour 120
Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM7 (50-08F, 54-08 M, 58-08 M)
Shafts: KBS C-Taper (50), KBS Hi-Rev 2.0 (54, 58)
Putter: Odyssey Works No. 7
Ball: Titleist Pro V1
Grips: Golf Pride Z Grip cord
From the GolfWRX Vault: Essential tips, tricks, and tools for building clubs at home
In addition to continuing to look forward to new content that will serve and engage our readership, we also want to showcase standout pieces that remain relevant from years past. In particular, articles with a club building or instruction focus continue to deliver value and convey useful information well after their publish dates.
We want to make sure that once an article falls off the front page as new content is covered it isn’t relegated to the back pages of our website.
We hope that you’ll appreciate and find value in this effort, and the first article from the GolfWRX Vault is a perfect example of a piece that not only remains relevant and engaging, but one that the author still gets questions about and routinely refers readers to.
Ryan Barath, well before his time as a full-time WRX staffer, wrote “Building golf clubs at home: The essential tips, tricks, and tools” back in October of 2016.
In the piece, Barath discusses both the elements of setting up a shop in general and what he has done in his basement workspace in particular.
A taste of the piece.
One of the most important things about building clubs is doing it properly with the right tools, and doing it safely. After setting up up multiple build shops over the years, from small hobby shops to large multi-station build shops, having the opportunity to build my own home shop from the ground up was something I always looked forward to. My shop is in my basement, and because of the limited space, it was imperative to find as many space saving-solutions as possible.
Like many people with a hobby they are passionate about, I look forward to one day having a stand-alone garage for all of my tools (and maybe a hitting net), but for now my basement gets the job done. I’m lucky to have access to a much large machine shop where I do wedge grinding, finishing and sandblasting, which are all jobs that make a lot more noise and create a lot more dust. I can’t get away with doing those things in a confined space, but we’ll touch on that later.
Although not a tool, arguably the most important piece of equipment is the workbench. Having a quality workbench is needed because of the amount of abuse that it will take over its lifespan. Also, just like a great kitchen design, you need counter space and a good workbench provides that. Dropping a clubhead (especially a driver or fairway wood with nice paint job) can be costly. The next extension of the workbench is a good vice that has been properly attached to the bench with bolts. Like I’ve said in previous articles, I believe when you do something you should take the time to do it properly. I once saw a vice screwed into a workbench with 1.25-inch screws, and as soon as someone went to use the vice it ripped out and took a club with it.
The Wedge Guy: The highest loft you should carry
Brooks Koepka’s winning WITB: 2019 PGA Championship
The top-5 longest drivers on the PGA Tour and their driver/shaft combos
Gary Woodland’s winning WITB: 2019 U.S. Open
Jason Dufner WITB: 2019 PGA Championship
Tuesday’s photos from the 2019 PGA Championship
Tiger Woods WITB: 2019 U.S. Open
New Titleist TS hybrids, U-Series utilities landing on Tour (updated with in-hand photos)
Kevin Na’s winning WITB: 2019 Charles Schwab Challenge
Patrick Cantlay’s winning WITB: 2019 Memorial Tournament
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