Thursday, December 04, 2014

Callaway Big Bertha Alpha 815
Price: $449

Callaway's reborn Big Bertha topped its class in our ClubTest earlier this year. Its replacement, the Big Bertha Alpha 815, takes the signature feature of the equally acclaimed Big Bertha Alpha driver and puts it to work in a model that average Joes can enjoy. The industry-first "gravity core" rod has 10.5 grams of tungsten at one end and 1.5 grams of nylon at the other. You place the rod into the head to move the club's CG higher or lower to optimize launch, spin and ball speed. The high-CG position [nylon end is closer to the sole] plays like a "mid-spin" driver, while the low-CG position generates 300 rpm less spin. Compared to the current Big Bertha, the Alpha 815 delivers similar mid-spin drives when the rod is in the high-CG position, and 300 rpm less spin in the low-CG position.

The Alpha 815 has the same light, forged composite crown as before, along with a thinner, livelier titanium face that's made possible by stiffened ribs on the crown and sole, inside the body. Also, removable plugs in the heel and toe [7 gram and 1 gram] can be used to create fade or draw bias. Like its predecessor, the Alpha 815's adjustable OptiFit hosel provides loft options [from 2° stronger to 1° weaker], as well as neutral or draw setting. Lofts: 9°, 10.5°, 12°.

Its sibling, the Big Bertha Alpha 815 Black Diamond [$499], is geared at faster swingers who benefit from less spin. A taller gravity core alters spin by up to 400 rpm. Both models are available now.

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Cleveland CG Black Driver
Courtesy of Cleveland
Cleveland CG Black Driver

Cleveland CG Black
Price: $349

Though still known primarily for its wedges, Cleveland has spent the last few years trying to make a splash in the long game with some of the lightest drivers on the market. Its newest entrant is the lightest yet. The CG Black tips the scales at a featherweight 260 grams [courtesy of a 187-gram head, a 44-gram shaft and a 25-gram grip]. That's 10 grams lighter than the company's current max game-improvement model, the 588 Altitude, and around 40 to 50 grams less than you'd find in a more typical driver. The CG Black is designed for players who have swing speeds between 80 and 90 mph. The nonadjustable club produces a similar amount of backspin to the 588 Altitude. However, the CG Black's lower center of gravity and new 46-inch, 44-gram Mitsubishi Bassara shaft let its target audience produce higher-launching shots for maximum carry distance. In fact, shots launch 1° to 2° higher than the company's CG Black driver from 2012.

Additionally, this forgiving stick boasts a higher overall balance point, freeing up golfers to swing faster and rotate the club easier with the same amount of effort. The titanium 6-4 face features four distinct thicknesses -- it's thickest in the center and thinnest in the high-toe and low-toe areas -- in order to improve distance and direction on off-center hits. Lofts: 9°, 10.5°, 12°. Available now.

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Mizuno JPX-850 Driver
Courtesy of Mizuno
Mizuno JPX-850 Driver

Mizuno JPX-850
Price: $399

Mizuno's MP-600 driver was one of the first woods to feature moveable weights. Now, six years later, the shiny blue JPX-850 addresses the art of adjustability in an elegant manner. The updated "Fast Track" weighting mechanism consists of two removable 8-gram tungsten chips that fit into five ports -- three in a row straight back from the clubface, to alter spin rate, and individual ports in the heel and toe for draw/fade bias. In all, there are 10 settings to help you find a preferred setup.

For example, using two of the three middle ports can move the CG significantly closer to or further away from the clubface, which affects spin by as much as 281 rpm. This simple shift has a big effect on ball flight, changing the height of your drives by as much as 12 feet up or down. Or, if you're looking for a specific shot shape, you can use one weight along the center track and the second weight in the heel or toe slot to create fade or draw bias within a 19-yard differential. The company's "rebound crown" technology, first seen in the JPX-EZ driver in 2013, creates more flexibility across the titanium 8-1-1 face to enhance ball speeds on shots struck high or low on the face. The club's adjustable hosel enables you to change loft in 1° increments -- the 9.5° head goes as low as 7.5° or as high as 11.5° -- and to tweak lie angle between standard and 3° upright for draw bias. Loft: 9.5°. Available now.

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Titleist 915 Drivers
Courtesy of Titleist
Titleist 915 Drivers

Titleist 915 D2 and 915 D3
Price: $449

Every club company worth its salt is dedicated to boosting driver performance on off-center hits. Lively clubfaces with a range of thicknesses are a given, but companies such as Nike, TaylorMade, Adams and Tour Edge have begun to look beyond the face [or, more accurately, below it], adding slots and other design elements to the club's sole to produce more pop. The by-product, they say, is faster, more consistent ball speed on low hits. Well, count Titleist among the believers. The new 915 D2 and 915 D3 drivers feature a deep, wide cutout known as an "Active Recoil Channel" [ARC] on the sole behind the leading edge, which allows the sole to flex more than it does in the 913 series drivers. Think of the cast titanium body as a spring that flexes in the crown and sole areas. The bottom line? Faster ball speeds [by 0.5 to 1 mph] and less spin on shots struck low on the face. What's more, the forged titanium face insert [which has thin sections in the heel and toe] delivers 99 percent of maximum ball speed on shots hit up to a half-inch off center.

The clubs also feature a similar MOI to 913 drivers. That's no small feat considering the ARC adds 8 grams close to the face. To counteract this, Titleist created a thinner crown, then redistributed the weight they saved to the back of the sole.

Company testing shows that the 915 D2 produces slightly higher-launching shots than the 913 D2 and, on average, 115 rpm less spin. The result? An average of three yards more carry and up to 15 more total yards. The 915 D3 spins 250 rpm less than its predecessor, which helps produce nine extra carry yards.

At 440 cc, the pear-shaped 915 D3 produces a lower, flatter trajectory, with about 250 rpm less spin than the 460 cc D2. The new D3 is also more workable than its sibling and has less built-in draw bias, making it a better fit for lower-handicappers. Both models feature the same SureFit Tour hosel as 913 drivers, so you can easily adjust loft [+1.5° to -0.75°] and lie [1.5° upright to 0.75° flat].

In conjunction with the 915 release, Titleist is offering five stock shafts -- two Aldila Rogues and three Mitsubishi Diamanas. With various weights and flex points available, finding the right fit should be simple. Both 915 models are available now. 915 D2: 7.5°, 8.5°, 9.5°, 10.5°, 12°; 915 D3: 7.5°, 8.5°, 9.5°, 10.5°.

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Tour Edge Exotics E8 Driver
Courtesy of Tour Edge
Tour Edge Exotics E8 Driver

Tour Edge Exotics E8
Price: $299

X marks the spot with the Exotics E8. That's because the club can be customized using an X-shaped removable sole plug to alter swing weight, ball flight and feel. The driver comes with a 7-gram weight that can be easily swapped for 5-, 10- or 12-gram plugs, which are part of an optional $50 weight kit.

The E8 has a low, forward CG to promote a higher launch, lower spin and faster ball speeds than the current XCG7 model. A relatively shallow face makes it easier to launch the ball on a high trajectory, while the corrugated channel along the sole -- called the "Power Grid" -- is deeper than in the XCG7 so the face flexes more at impact for faster ball speed with less spin. The Power Grid combines with a variable-thickness face to improve performance on low, heel or toe strikes.

In addition, the adjustable hosel lets you set loft from 8.5° to 12° in 0.5° increments. The matte black head can be paired with a number of shafts, including Fujikura's Pro Series and Pro Tour, Aldila's Rogue Silver and Black, and Mitsubishi's Bassara E-Series. Lofts: 9.5°, 10.5°.

Tour Edge also debuts the Exotics E8 Beta driver [$399] for players with faster clubhead speeds, who can benefit from less spin, a lower launch, and a more penetrating trajectory. The deep-face, 440 cc head has a slightly higher CG than the standard model and a beta titanium face insert. Both models are available now.

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Wilson Staff D200 Driver
Michael Chini
Wilson Staff D200 Driver

Wilson Staff D200
Price: $299

Recent history shows that Wilson Staff is committed to building superlight drivers for slower swingers. Now the company is taking the next step in that process, outfitting these clubs with adjustability features typically found in standard-weight drivers. The bottom line is that slower-swinging golfers can now access the type of toy that faster swingers [and lower-handicappers] have used for years. The D200 can be switched from 1° weaker to 1° stronger than the marked loft, and the club offers upright settings that produce a draw bias. At 268 grams, the D200 is one gram lighter than its predecessor, the D100. That's a notable achievement, considering the added mass that comes with the inclusion of an adjustable, aluminum hosel. The D200 also has a lower CG than previous models, due in part to a thinner, lighter crown.

And it's not only easier to swing -- the Wilson Staff D200 is designed to be a slice-buster, too. The aforementioned upright lie settings can straighten out shots by adding 9 to 12 yards of draw bias, according to company testing.

Like the existing D100, the D200 features "Right Light" technology, which combines a light, forgiving clubhead with a lightweight shaft. This requires tweaks to the club's balance point, MOI and swingweight but ultimately allows players to generate more clubhead speed without swinging harder. Lofts: 9°, 10.5°, 13°. Available January 23, 2015.

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