“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.
Equipment rewind: A deep dive into the Cleveland HiBore driver legacy
I have always been fascinated by product development, specifically the development of unconventional products. Now in the world of golf clubs, one of the most unconventional designs ever introduced was the Cleveland HiBore driver, which during its lifespan, experienced tremendous success through a number of generations, including the HiBore XL, XLS, and finally, the Monster XLS, which, as you may remember, hid the acronym “MOI” on the sole, alluding to its massive level of forgiveness.
As a golfer, I played the original HiBore, along with the XL Tour for a period of time and was always curious about the story behind the “scooped out crown.” In a search for answers, I reached out to Cleveland-Srixon to get the lowdown on the HiBore and discuss where it sits in the pantheon of drivers.
Ryan Barath: Considering how engineers are continuing to do everything they can to increase MOI and push the center of gravity low and deep in driver heads, it feels like the original HiBore and the subsequent models were well ahead of their time from a design perspective.
It makes logical sense the best way to save weight from the crown is to make the crown “disappear” compared to traditionally shaped drivers, am I correct in assuming that?
Cleveland design team: You nailed it.
At the time of the HiBore, there were really only two solutions to create a low and deep center of gravity:
- Make the crown lighter – by either replacing the crown with a lighter-weight material such as a graphite composite or magnesium or by thinning out the material on the crown. Thinner crowns were possible thanks to advances in casting technology and using etching techniques to remove material.
- Make the driver shallower – this change in geometry created a very forgiving low profile design, but the downside to this was that you ended up with a very small face that looked intimidating compared to the larger-faced drivers on the market.
The HiBore took a new approach and inverted the crown geometry so that all the crown weight was moved lower. By inverting the crown the HiBore design allowed for a very long and flat sole, therefore there was space in the head that was really low and deep to put the weight.
The HiBore was really the first driver to eliminate, or nearly eliminate the tapered skirt. Almost every modern driver in the market is inspired by the HiBore in that respect. It was a two-part solution where we lowered the weight of the crown and simultaneously created a low/deep location to put any extra mass.
The lower and deeper CG of the HiBore improved launch conditions significantly, but also made the driver much more consistent across the entire face. The deep CG increased MOI resulting in tighter dispersion since the sweet spot was in the center of the face. Misses both low and high performed exceptionally as opposed to having a small hot spot high on the face.
RB: In every conversation I have ever had with engineers, there is always this give-and-take mentality from a design perspective to get to the final iteration. Was there anything that was given up or sacrificed for overall performance with this design?
Cleveland design team: The hardest part about the HiBore design was the sound. Prior to the HiBore, internal ribbing in a hollow golf club head was nearly unheard of. To make the HiBore sound acceptable, we had to design a ribbing structure to control the sound and design an entirely new manufacturing process to produce those internal ribs. To this day, most drivers include some form of internal ribbing to control sound or improve ball speed and that ribbing technology can be traced back to the HiBore.
In terms of tradeoffs, the major one was the low spin nature of the driver made it more difficult for low spin players to use. If a golfer is already low spin, this club would be too low and drives would just fall out of the air. Low spin golfers tend to be low spin because they hit the ball high on the face. Since we lowered the sweet spot, a high face impact was further from the sweet spot so ball speed fell as compared to a higher CG driver. Fortunately for us, in that era most golfers were fighting too much spin or way too much spin, this wasn’t a real issue.
RB: Do you have any final words on the HiBore drivers and the legacy they have left behind?
Cleveland design team: We are very proud of the HiBore driver family and the success it had at the time, but we are also proud of its legacy.
In the same way that you can trace nearly every modern band back to the Beatles or Led Zeppelin, you can trace nearly every modern driver back to HiBore either through the internal structure that is prolific across modern drivers, or the long, flat sole that is a must-have in a high-performance driver.
Coolest thing for sale in the GolfWRX Classifieds (04/03/21): Tiger Woods spec’d irons
At GolfWRX, we love golf, plain and simple.
We are a community of like-minded individuals who all experience and express our enjoyment of the game in many ways. It’s that sense of community that drives day-to-day interactions in the forums on topics that range from best driver to what marker you use to mark your ball. It even allows us to share another thing, including equipment or, in this case, a sweet set of irons!
Currently, in our GolfWRX buy/sell/trade (BST) forum, there is a listing for Tiger Woods spec’d TaylorMade P7TW irons, or as they are also known: the GOAT irons.
To check out the full listing in our BST forum, head through the link: TaylorMade P7TW **TIGER SPECS* 3-PW
Edel introduces moveable weight Swing Match wedges for 2021
The 2021 Edel Swing Match wedges are taking the concept of custom fit wedges to a level that has never been brought to the short game before, with the goal to use every possible tool to tighten dispersion and consistency to help you shoot lower scores.
The new Edel Swing Match wedges utilize a movable weight system in the flange to fit each club to a golfer’s natural short game swing profile. The research indicates that once properly fit, everything from mechanics to launch conditions shows measurable improvement.
Edel Swing Match wedges: The why
It’s no secret the best way to properly optimize your equipment is through custom fitting. When it comes to wedges, the only factors that have been traditionally accounted for are length, lie, loft, and grind—all of which, beyond grind, are already standard for iron fittings.
With how specialized wedges have to be for performance, is grind really the only thing golfers should be concerned with?
At Edel golf, they set out to answer this question, and they came away with “no,” which lead to the development of the Swing Match system to help every golfer achieve their maximum potential.
The backbone of Swing Match weighting philosophy is that a wedge’s weight location has a dramatic effect on how a golfer creates dynamics leading to impact. It’s no different than how a change in shaft weight of a driver can change impact location and delivery numbers.
The weighting technology allows each golfer to adjust their wedge in order to match their natural swing profile and release motion. Edel breaks these profiles into three major categories which are
- Cover – A steeper approach to impact
- Side On – A neutral approach
- Under – A shallow approach to impact
Once the heaviest weight in the wedge has been moved to the optimal position, it works alongside a player’s swing to optimize short game performance.
Results demonstrated that 80 percent of the golfers who were tested saw their best spin numbers and delivery were created with the weight adjusted somewhere other than the center weight port, and the average increase in backspin was just over 10 percent from the lowest spinning location to the highest location of the weight.
Edel’s research and testing have been analyzed by Mike Duffey, a PhD Biomechanics at Penn State and golf swing Biomechanist who came to the following conclusions:
- There is a substantial improvement in a player’s ability to control the flight of a wedge with weighting that matches – or is correctly fit – to the swing.
- The type of weighting that works best varies for individual golfers. The initial assessment of the data clearly showed that there are no consistent trends across golfers showing that one single weighting always works best for each golfer. In fact, the same weighting may have nearly the opposite effect on ball flight control depending on individual swing characteristics.
It was with this knowledge that the design team at Edel developed the Swing Match weight fitting system and now they are ready to introduce it to golfers.
The Swing Match wedges are forged from soft 1025 carbon steel and have all of the bounce and sole geometries CNC machined to ensure maximum precision wedge to wedge.
Like other Edel wedges of the past, they feature full-face groove coverage as well as a micro-engraved face texture to maximize friction for increased spin.
Another signature design element of the Swing Match wedges is their shorter hosel to precisely locate the center of gravity.
The Swing Match wedges come in four unique grind options with each one designed specifically for a specific player delivery—much like the adjustable weight system.
It’s easy to spot the grind type on the back of each wedge, but there is one thing you won’t find and that is bounce number—here’s why:
“Typical bounce is an arbitrary number called “effective bounce” that really has no standard and is played loosely across the industry. That’s why you won’t see a bounce number on our wedges.” – Edel Golf
- C-Grind: This grind is optimal for golfers with a moderate to shallow angle of attack who take a smaller divot. The extra sole width allows you extreme versatility for bunker play and greenside shots in the higher lofts; while being able to work in all turf conditions in the lower lofts.
- T-Grind: A tri-angle sole grind utilizing an extremely high bounce leading-edge, followed by a crescent-shaped lower bounce surface, and extreme heel relief. These three surfaces allow you to open the face without increasing the effective bounce for better performance on tighter lies.
- V-Grind: Inspired by Edel’s most popular DVR grind, this sole is great for cover golfers with a steeper swing motion. The higher bounce angle closer to the leading edge allows the sole to engage with the turf quickly which results in minimal hesitation through sand or turf.
- D-Grind: This high bounce grind is optimal for on-top golfers with a steep angle of attack who take a larger divot. The channel in the midsole creates two separate bounce surfaces; the high bounce leading edge to cut through the turf at impact without resistance and the extremely high bounce on the second surface to prevent any excessive digging.
Price, specs, and availability
The new Edel Swing Match wedge will be available starting April 2, with the retail price of $199 for a stock wedge with Nippon Modus wedge shaft and Golf Pride grip, while custom wedge will start at $225 with customizable hand-stamping and paint fill.
The wedges will be available in lofts 48, 50, 52, 54, 56, 58, and 60 degrees in all four grind options and come in a cream chrome finish.
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