ORLANDO, Fla. -- Last week’s PGA Merchandise Show was, once again, an embarrassment of riches. It’s a golden age of equipment, a time when all the big manufacturers -- and even some small ones -- make superior gear.
I’ve already named my 10 favorite items, but those were just the beginning of the most notable things I saw at The Show.
Oakley Golf was this year’s biggest surprise for me. They’d been only marginally in the golf business, to my mind, with sunglasses and efforts to spin off some of their trendy footwear as golf shoes.
So I didn’t expect much when I checked out their gear, but I was stunned. The Oakley Cipher shoe was remarkable, but so was the company's high-tech apparel. Oakley hired some talent away from UnderArmour and adidas, went all-in for technology and signed some prominent names to wear its stuff—Rory McIlroy, Keegan Bradley, Ryann O’Toole and Rickey Barnes. My favorite was a windbreaker with removable sleeves. That idea isn’t new, but this jacket had a real innovation: you unzip the sleeve partway up and then neatly fold it, still-attached, into a pouch hidden on the inside of the vest. It’s totally out of the way, and you can't lose the sleeve. Ingenious.
A Swedish outfit I’d never heard of, Cross, also impressed. The kings of raingear are FootJoy, ProQuip and Sun Mountain, but Cross is suddenly in the mix with its FTX Full Stretch rainwear. It’s soft and unusually stretchy and quiet. It reminds me of ProQuip’s Silk Touch raingear from a few years back, as soft as a sweater but impervious to water. Plus, Cross has slick European style. Only a few online outlets carry Cross gear, and keep in mind that it’s cut to European sizes. The large pullover fit me nicely, but if I were going to wear it with a sweater or vest underneath, I’d probably have to go up a size to extra large. I’m pretty sure this is going to be my next rainsuit. The jackets go for $275-$300, the pants for $225.
In addition to the RocketBallz line, I was also impressed by the new TaylorMade ATV wedges. With their beveled leading edges and versatility, the ATVs are a big improvement for TM.
I like that Titleist broke out of its traditional mold ever so slightly and painted its new Velocity’s numbers in yellow-orange ink. Also impressive on the ball front was the Callaway Hex, which a fellow hacker in the industry told me was the best ball he’d ever played -- “phenomenal,” in his words. I also played nine holes in an outing with the Innovex V-Motion Tour ball and was impressed. Its playing characteristics were comparable to top-of-the-line balls, but they’re about $29 a dozen.
Nobody ever talks about spikes. Well, I do, but only to complain when I'm trying get them changed. Champ spikes has a new model out -- the Zarma -- with six longer, spidery legs that have a little more bounce, cushion and give.
I never get tired of looking at or trying out new drivers. The Adams Speedline Fast 12 has a more bulging head and a flared fantail, and it felt great when I hit it on Demo Day. I also liked the classic style of the Ping i20 driver and its flat-black paint job. No driver looks better than the Cleveland Classic, which looks like an old persimmon and gets my vote for Prettiest New Driver.
I also got a chance to swing a unique club at Demo Day, the new Exotics 11-degree 3-wood from Tour Edge. It’s got a large, flattish head and is perfect for the golfer who needs a backup driver during his round.
You’d have been hard-pressed to find more than one belly-putter in almost any golf shop a year ago, but golf’s newest trendy club was all over The Show. Everybody has a version. TaylorMade has its Ghost Manta series, a large center-shafted mallet with a white head and alignment markings. The Ping Nome has a similar mallet shape but is more rounded, and it had a really balanced feel that I liked. The Odyssey Metal-X is based on the Sabertooth model that Keegan Bradley used to win the PGA Championship last year, with two prongs behind the face. Bradley’s Tooth was white. The Metal-X is gun-metal black.
How about gadgets? Golf Buddy’s GPS rangefinders now have audio, so you don’t have to constantly check the screen. You can clip one to your belt, maybe even your hat, and it will announce distances as you move around the course. If I jack the volume up, I bet I can annoy my playing partners. I love that idea. Bushnell tweaked its classic laser rangefinder. The new Tour Z6 is more compact and attractive, and the numbers now light up in electric red instead of the usual black. It sounds like a minor change, but it makes the yardages much easier to see. Bushnell says it can hit targets up to 450 yards; from 125 yards and in, it provides distances to a tenth of a yard. It’ll be available in April.
Sky Caddie is the Cadillac of the GPS market, with accurate and up-to-date course information. Sky Golf, which makes Sky Caddie, has also expanded into a new area with Swing Labs, a launch-monitor-based fitting system that aims to help club pros, club-fitters and retailers match golfers with the perfect clubs.
I will go to extreme lengths to distract my opponents. Hence, a new Hello Kitty headcover for my driver. Hello Kitty Golf, as absurd as it seems, is going to sell a lot of accessories. Women, especially, were buzzing around that booth at The Show. They sell women’s and children’s clubs, bags and accessories. In the same vein, I may pull out some Chromax golf balls, which have colorful metallic finishes, kind of like lawn orbs. They come in seven colors, including turquoise, silver, pink and yellow, and they’re much easier to see than a standard white ball. The suggested retail price is $20 for a six-pack.
I can’t believe I’m about to write this, but I was also impressed by the Jacqueline Kennedy Collection. It’s a line of historically accurate jewelry, sunglasses, hats and accessories that has been approved by Caroline Kennedy. Why was this company at the Show? Because the collection will be sold in golf shops. Prices will vary, but most of the jewelry will be under $100.
More on shoes: adidas has two eye-catching models, the Crossflex and the Puremotion. The Crossflex, which weighs just 10.6 ounces, has molded traction areas on its soles instead of spikes and is modeled after a running shoe. The Puremotion is a mesh shoe based on the shape of the foot, and it’s also spikeless. They’ll be priced somewhere around $100-$120 and will be available in late spring. True Linkswear updated its models from last year and made them more contemporary. The phx model has a striking red stripe on the outside of the shoe and gripping nubs in the sole for traction instead of spikes. The Stealth is a leather model. They’re all very comfortable and light and are continuing the trend away from spikes.