We were in attendance at the madness that was the 2015 PGA Merchandise Show last week, and other than registering about 18,000 steps (8.5 miles) on the pedometer each day, we met many old friends and saw lots and lots of golf products in the more than 1 million square feet of exhibit space at the Orange County Convention Center. As always, some products stood out among the rest. Here’s a few of the golf clubs that caught our eye this year.
Best New Clubs
- Bridgestone J15 irons, J715 & J815 Drivers – Bridgestone hasn’t released any new clubs for a couple of years, but fans of the brand have plenty of options in 2015. Bridgestone golf has released two new drivers and five new iron models. The J15 muscle back, cavity back, driving forged, dual pocket forged and cast irons have something for every level of golfer from low handicap to beginner golfers. The J715 driver has a cleaner, more traditional look, while the J815 driver gives more forgiveness and higher launch angles.
- Nike Vapor – 2015 brings some new offerings from Nike Golf as well. The new Vapor Speed, Vapor Pro and Vapor Flex drivers give every level of golfer a club fit for their game. The Vapor Flex is Tiger Woods’ model of choice, while the Vapor Pro is in Rory McIlroy’s bag, and the Vapor Speed is for the rest of us who need more help. Matching the drivers and fairway woods are three new Vapor iron models, similarly called Vapor Speed (more forgiveness), Vapor Pro Combo (Cavity back w/ feel & forgiveness), and the Vapor Pro (Small cavity back/blade for feel and workability) The Vapor Pro blades were one of the best new irons I tested, and are sure to be popular with better players that fancy the Nike brand.
- Ben Hogan Golf – The biggest club story of the 2015 PGA Show was the re-birth of Ben Hogan Golf. Club designer Terry Koehler has not only given us a beautiful forged blade worthy of the Ben Hogan name, but his unique club fitting system is a much needed innovation for the modern game. Eschewing the traditional numbered iron set, the new Ben Hogan irons and wedges have the club’s loft stamped on the bottom instead. The new Ft. Worth 15 irons and TK 15 wedges combine to offer 44 clubs available with every loft from 20 degrees to 63. This allows golfers to tailor a set to their particular preferences for loft, distance gapping or personal tastes. For example, slower swingers may choose 4 or 5 degree gaps in their long irons as they tend to hit traditional long irons the same distance, or longer hitters may prefer smaller 3 degree gaps in their wedges to cover more yardages in the short game. With soft & surprisingly playable forged 1025 carbon steel heads in 44 different lofts and the most playable sole grind on any wedge available – V-Sole (Increased leading edge bounce, decreased trailing edge bounce creates a V- shaped sole) The new Ben Hogan irons and wedges are going to be a big hit. Even mid to high handicappers have praised the clubs for being easier to hit than anticipated for a forged blade.
- Callaway PM Grind Wedge – Phil Mickelson is one of the most influential players in golf. His long relationship with Callaway Golf has led to some interesting club designs and ideas over the years. One of the most recent ideas comes in the form of the new Mac Daddy PM Grind wedges. Wedge designer Roger Cleveland came up with this design at Phil’s request to help him hit high, soft shots around the greens. The wedge features a very high toe area and grooves that extend all the way across the face to the edges. It also has a scalloped sole grind and drill holes to remove weight. The wedge is so new that Callaway haven’t even put it on their website yet. Check out the scoop on PGATour.com here. It’ll be available in May with lofts of 56,58,60 and 64 degrees. Time to work on your flop shot!
- Exotics E8 Woods – What is there to say about the legendary Exotics fairway woods? The best just keep getting better. The new E8, E8 Beta and E8 Tour fairways are as hot and easy to hit as ever. As usual, the Exotics E8 was the most versatile, best looking and best feeling fairway wood I hit at the PGA Demo day. Those wanting a higher launch and a bit more spin to get the ball airborne will favor the E8 (185 cc) , while those that prefer a smaller head and lower spin will gravitate to the E8 Beta (175 cc). The E8 Tour fairways complete the lineup with a compact head size (150cc) and a fancy new manufacturing process called 360 degree robotic laser beam bonding to ensure very precise tolerances. Adjustable hosels (E8 Tour) and weight kits allow for a custom fit, and a multitude of shaft options are available. Prices range from $249 to $399.
- Srixon Z745 – In 2015, the parent company for Srixon & Cleveland Golf (SRI Sports) has repositioned the Srixon brand at the head of the table behind the popularity of their Q-Star and Z-Star golf balls. This year Srixon has released an entirely new line of irons and woods. I’ve had a chance to spend some time testing the Z745 Driver, ZF45 Fairways and Z745 irons, and I’ve come out impressed. Srixon haven’t jumped on the gimmick bandwagon with these clubs. Even though they are modern clubs with hot faces and have adjustable hosels and interchangeable weights, the look and feel of the driver and fairway woods is clean and simple. No fancy paint scheme or alignment marks, no flashy colors or crazy shapes here, just a classic look and shape. The forged cavity back irons have a familiar look that better players and purists will appreciate, and the polished chrome finish on the back edge of the irons reflects the turf, making the club appear thinner at address. The forged feel is solid and delivers great feedback, as expected from a forged club, while providing enough forgiveness for mid handicap players. Higher handicap players may want to try the Z545 driver and irons, which are built with more forgiveness than the Z745 line.
- Knuth Golf High Heat Driver – Perhaps the biggest surprise of the PGA Demo Day, Dean Knuth (Known by many as the “Pope of Slope” for his role in creating the USGA’s slope rating system for golf courses) has introduced a new improved version of the High Heat driver he originally created in 2007. The High Heat driver has the lowest CG (Center of Gravity) of any driver on the market, and the company claims that the low, deep CG also makes the driver more accurate on off center hits than any other driver. If you are among the majority of golfers that tend to make contact slightly off center and lower on the face, this is very good news. Even if you make consistent contact, you need to try this driver! Having hit the High Heat myself, I believe their their claims. The High Heat driver hits the ball very high, very far and very straight. Available with Fujikura and Aldila shafts. $399 direct – www.knuthgolf.com
- Honma Golf – The Japanese luxury club maker has a strong following in Asia for building top of the line, high performance clubs. If price was not a factor, Honma’s Tour World TW727 Driver, Fairways and TW727M forged blades might very well be in my bag. Being one of the few OEMs that manufacture their own shafts allows them tighter control over quality and the ability to make shafts specifically for their clubs. This advantage translates to better performance and more fitting options. However, given the price of their products they aren’t likely to become very popular in the USA or Europe anytime soon. Street price for the TW727 driver will be around $800 USD, and the irons typically sell for $275 per club ($2200 per set). There are other companies that sell premium priced clubs that compete with Honma, but sadly the elitist mentality and condescending looks I’ve gotten from the Honma reps at the PGA Show for the last several years has turned me off to the brand. Perhaps if I had a check in hand for $3000 I may have been treated better.