Sports Illustrated's Gary Van Sickle spent a lot of time on the convention floor at the 2016 PGA Merchandise Show testing all the latest golf gear and products. Here are some of his favorite things he found.
Sports Illustrated's Gary Van Sickle spent a lot of time on the convention floor at the 2016 PGA Merchandise Show testing all the latest golf gear and products. Here are his picks for the best of the best.
The Show's sexiest club was the Knuth Golf High Heat 3-wood, which combined a low profile with the sleek curves of a '58 Corvette and, oh yeah, balls shot like out of a cannon. Wow. New 3 Hybrid High Heat was also best in breed, easy to hit, and beautifully blue. Get behind me, though -- I'm first in line.
OnCore Golf broke out last year with hollow-core golf balls, doing for balls what perimeter weighting did for irons and putters. New Avant ($25 dozen) is a tad softer and a solid (pardon my irony) performer from the company Born in Buffalo (N.Y.).
Power couples, power trips and... power holes? The latter is Wilson's clever technological secret behind the C200 irons ($799, steel shafts). The tiny holes, peppered around the clubhead perimeter, act as mini-speed pockets to create maximum face flex and performance. I wouldn't hesitate to drop these in my bag tomorrow. A big play by Wilson, nice.
Yes, it looks like a defective ash tray with that gaping hole in the center but the BioMech AccuLock putter ($279) is a good Plan B if you've got to give up anchoring your putter. Its forward-press shaft brings out your inner Matt Kuchar once you aim your feet toward the target, keep the grip pressed against your left inner forearm (for righties) focus on a one-piece movement and use your core and quads to swing the club. I was convinced in three minutes. This science works.
My Innovation of the Show Award goes to DV8, who fit your golf clubs in a... backpack? Incredible. There's a shaft that snaps together in seconds and 14 head attachments. Just pop heads on and off for each shot. Backpack allows you to ride a bike with your clubs or go carry-on in a plane, although the shaft parts have to go in checked luggage -- thanks for nothing, TSA. Pack has pockets for balls and tees, too. Really, really clever and the snap-in clubs perform well enough. The full DV8 treatment is $1,200.
Ben Hogan Golf, resurrected last year, takes a big step forward with PTx irons ($169 steel; $184 graphite) and VKTR hybrids ($249). The irons, like the classic old Hogan sets, have an improved performance to go with the elegant body design that once made Hogan the Rolls Royce of golf clubs. The hybrids, ranging from 17- to 27-degrees, have a powerful feel that say Hogan is back and isn't going away a second time.
There are a million rangefinders in the naked city but you'll be hard pressed to beat Bushnell's Tour V4 ($399) for efficiency. The new V4 is 30 percent more compact than its predecessor and twice as fast. The best news is that the sticks-in-the-mud at the USGA finally approved rangefinders with slope/elevation capabilities for use in competition if those functions can be disabled, as it can be on the V4. About damn time. The V4 comes without a slope/elevation function for $299.
Bettinardi produces a whole fleet of high-quality, high-end putters. A new wrinkle is the Inovai ($299), a kind of space-age, letter-C design that feels like it practically swings itself.
DSG Global showed off The Mullen ($9880), named after a 200-mph Canadian sports car with the looks of a shrunken VW Beetle. The Mullen's top speed is 25 mph and this unique cart comes with two doors, windows, a roof, a windshield wiper, air conditioning. No doubt coming soon to The Villages.
TaylorMade may have made some missteps the last few years, but the company is back on technological track with last year's M1 and the new M2. The M2 driver ($399) differs from the M1 because it has fewer adjustability gizmos so it can max out on performance and forgiveness. The driver really goes, and if I could've successfully sneaked one out of Demo Day, I would have. It's that hot.
The original Axis1 putter and its unique J-shaped head came out five years ago and has been in my bag most of the time since then, but its odd shape freaked some golfers out. Axis1 finally has a Tour model ($399), a traditional, conventional straight blade that has the same brilliant physics -- it's face-balanced for gravity. That is, the head stays square to the target line thanks to its ingenious counterweight. In other words, I may be switching putters.
Scotsman Calum McPherson was appalled to learn how few Scottish youngsters play golf -- 1 in 200 -- so he started Golphin to do something about it. Golphin sells clubs for juniors (fitted by size and by skill level) but is part of a bigger program featuring oversized, easy-to-hit radial-sole golf clubs, soft targets and lightweight golf balls to bring the game indoors and to schools. His innovative program has already spread to 19 countries, including the U.S.
Cobra is following the same path as its marquee endorsee Rickie Fowler -- getting better and better. The new Cobra King F6 Plus Pro driver ($399) goes far (I hope that's not too technical for you!), looks good at setup and you don't have to be a rocket surgeon (yeah, that's right) to adjust the launch settings. It's also not drenched in orange, although I'd be OK with that.
What if a Transformer was a golf bag? I'll wait for the movie but until then, KLVN (pronounced COLE-vin) has its sturdy, roomy cart bag but wait! Push a release button and a small Sunday bag detaches from the cart bag in case you feel like walking a few holes or it's a cart-path-only-day and your shots keep finding the farthest points from the cart path. Two bags in one, $385.
There's a lot of same-old, same-old in golf fashion but not at Loudmouth Golf, where patterns look like a tornado roared through a Rainbow Brite trailer park with artistic results. Op art, Yuengling labels, paintball -- nothing is too bright for Loudmouth, whose newest patterns have names such as Tags, Tattoos and All-Stars. The shorts with 30 major-league baseball team logos (not including the defunct Expos, dammit!) look like a big hit (lame pun grudgingly intended). Slacks, $99; shorts $79. And, go Expos!
It's not an iron, it's not a hybrid. Is it an animal, vegetable or mineral? Ping's Crossover ($247) looks like an overinflated 3-iron (sure, insert your lame Tom Brady joke here) and may be a new club category. It's easy to hit, like wielding a tomahawk, and harkens back to a club that had a small but devoted following on tour in the early ‘90s, the late great PRGR Zoom. Memo to the 3-iron currently in my bag: This is your two-week notice. Start looking for work elsewhere.
Like any avid golfer, I want my numbers -- my spin rate, ball speed and all the stats and complicated specs the tour pros routinely have access to with their expensive launch monitors. SkyGolf's SkyTrak ($2,000) launch monitor brings that into my price range and it's easy to use even if you barely know what BlueTooth means. Hooked up to a viewscreen (laptop, tablet), you can watch the ballflight of each shot and get your numbers -- your own special numbers -- and they don't lie. Anti-depression pills not included, fellow hacks.