Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Demonstration Derby

If Augusta and the Masters signals for many the start of the golfing season, then it also seems to be the time of year that most of the equipment manufacturers rise from their Winter hibernation and are out and about all over the country on demo days. As a gear freak, I love the opportunity to try the latest range of drivers and irons. Whilst in general terms I'm more than happy with the set up of my bag, I've always got a keen eye out for something that may be that bit more forgiving, accurate or user friendly. I don't buy into any of the product hype about the new releases being the straightest and longest. Every manufacturer claims their latest incarnation has that certain je ne sais quoi although it isn't necessarily the case, especially in my hands, but never say never.

With this in mind, I am going to a Taylormade demo day at the Blue Mountain Driving Range in Bracknell on Saturday the 24th. I've been keen to try their new RBZ driver and fairway woods for a while and hope this will be an ideal opportunity to put this new offering through its paces. This have had a great write up and word of mouth feedback from those that have tried them have said both the driver and the fairway woods are easy to hit, fly well and are longer than their current model. Sounds good to me.

The Taylormade RBZ driver - sounds too good to be true and I can't wait to give it a bash

I've been looking at my wedges too and they are beginning to show the ravages of time and use. I've been thinking that my 58 degree one in particular with its eight degrees of bounce may not be wholly suited to the bunkers we encounter at Royal Ascot which don't have the deepest of sand in them. I'm hoping my friendly TM demo man may have their new 2012 ATV (All Terrain Versatility) model with him although I don't think they look great and to be honest I'm a little be dubious.

The new Taylormade ATV wedge. I'm not overly convinced but want to hit one in the flesh
I only upgraded (or downgraded depending on your point of view) my irons in early December, switching from the TM TP 2008 model to the R11's in a bid to get more forgiveness for my wonky swing. However with the patience and dedication Rhys ap Iolo has shown in remodelling me into a more one plane type of golfer, the inquisitive golfer within wonders if Taylormade had a model that is a step up from the R11's and I can use competently and consistently. My old TP's have a lovely compact head and Dynamic Gold R300 shafts. I took them to the range recently. The good shots were very good with the new improved swing but there were still some that I would have got away with using the R11's but which fell way short of target when I missed the middle of the bat. I'm keen to see what options are available to me in terms of a smaller head and different shaft options and the Tour Preferred MC looks like it could fit the bill. However the R11's were by far the best irons I hit in 2011 and to be fair they haven't let me down on the course and all my bad scores have been down to user error. It's the Indian and not the arrow and we all know, deep, deep down, that you can't buy a golf game. My concern is the MC's won't have that degree of forgiveness I am looking for and need at this time.

The Taylormade MC. A good looking club but I'm not convinced I can do it justice - YET
At these demo days you can usually book an appointment with their fitter and get your shots checked using a launch monitor, usually Trackman (arguably the best out there) and they will look at the specs and work on getting the ideal numbers for your swing. This is usually reserved for driver or wood fittings. I don't usually bother and tend to just go for the stock shaft in stiff or regular and go more on the look, feel and performance. However, there has been much talk on the Golf Monthly Forum about the pros and cons of custom fitting and I think that if the RBZ range or the new adjustable R11 driver and fairway offerings tick the boxes and demonstrably perform better than what I have then I'll definitely consider getting them fitted.

I'm a bit of a Taylormade gear whore but I've always been open to the possibility of a different set of clubs. When I was at the Forest of Arden for the Golf Monthly Centenary Finals in October, Cleveland were there doing a demo. I started hitting their CG16 Tour irons and the guy had me on a monitor and I was producing some good figures and hitting it well. The problem was this was developing into a mini custom fit and I was 45 minutes from teeing off in the biggest event of my season, perhaps for many a season. I had to call a halt to go and prepare but the CG16 Tours are definitely on my radar for this year.

The Cleveland CG16 Tour - hit it well at the Forest of Arden but ran out of time to give it a full once over 
I wrote on here last year about the Ping I15 and how good they looked and performed and it they were very close to finding a home in the bag. Their latest offering the I20 look even better and they are also high on the hit list. The I20 driver in particular is a lovely looking club and the darker, gun metal colouring really suits my eye. I'll be looking to try those and again if they were to hit the right notes then I'd be looking at a full custom fit, probably at their HQ at Gainsborough in Lincolnshire.

I've fallen out of love a little with Callaway since I had a set of their X20 irons which I never really got on with. They now have the RAZR range and whilst they look a little thick in the top line from the pictures, it is about playability and not looks and so maybe it's time to look at Callaway with fresh eyes. In relation to their drivers, they have passed me by a little in recent years and I can't say with any honesty that I've seen anything that really excites me.

The Ping I20 Driver - I like the gun metal finish but it is a bit of a marmite design - love it or hate it

The Ping I20 iron - if it performs as well as the I15 it could be a contender to go in the bag - custom fitted of course

If Callaway, Ping and Taylormade are perhaps a little ungainly for the purists, there can be no doubt that Mizuno make a range of irons that are wonderful to look at. Forged and sleek there should be a model to meet most levels of performance. I tried their JPX800 Pro model when they came out and they were another that could easily have snuck into the bag and had the R11's not come out it would have been a straight fight between them and the Ping I15. I like the look of the Mizuno MP53's irons. These irons are another on the list for 2012 if only to answer the debate in my own mind as to whether there is any benefit between forged and cast irons. Will softer forged models be able to provide comparable distance to their cast rivals. Feel in forged irons will (or should be) improved but what is the trade off against cast when I miss the middle. Again the Mizuno reputation in terms of their drivers is a long way behind that of their irons and these are another make that I've largely ignored and haven't been enthused by anything I've seen.

The MP53 - a lovely looking club but how will forged fare against cast in terms of distance and forgiveness

It has been a good few years since I bought any wedges and there are certainly a plethora of choices around in terms of makes, models and specifications. My main reason for going with the Taylormade's were the fact that they felt lighter than the Titleist Vokey or Cleveland CG range I looked at. Vokey are perhaps the most well known version out there and perhaps offer the biggest amount of loft and bounce options. Definitely worth looking at again.

Vokey wedges - top quality and plenty of options to choose from

The Cleveland models have always provided me with huge amounts of spin and grip, perhaps too much, but again, the CG range has developed and moved forward and so there is food for thought here. Ping were never really renowned for their wedges historically (well not in my golfing world) but they have also developed an exciting range with their Anser and Tour S options and these are definitely going to be interesting to test this Spring. I did have some Callaway wedges at the same time as my ill fated X20 irons and they weren't a huge success either and felt very heavy and hard to control. Nike, are another who are now producing some quality gear and so their wedges may be worth a closer look. So many choices.

At this stage though the slate is clean. I would say the RBZ are definitely number one on my wish list for drivers, with Ping a close second. I've no urgent need to upgrade my irons and unless there is something special that comes out it could be a case of window shopping which will please both the wife and the credit card. The wedges are a "nice to have" but again it is perhaps more cosmetic than anything else. I can't help it. I'm a magpie to the lure of the shiny new gear.

If you have never been to a demo day then keep an eye out at a club, range or golf superstore near you or look on any of the manufacturers website as they normally publish dates and locations. While it is fun to get on a launch monitor and see how the numbers stack up it isn't the be all and end all. Personally I enjoy just getting hold of the clubs I want to try and having the freedom to hit them myself. There seems to be less pressure and I always feel that testing and hitting clubs is a unique and personal thing. How do you define or describe the feel to someone else and it is usually pretty clear by the flight and direction if the club and the shaft suits. Normally this has been enough in the past to persuade me to crank the wallet open and make the purchase but as I've alluded, the draw of a fully custom fitted set is definitely on my mind. I think seeing my regular partner Mike Stannard come back from a trip to the Titleist factory with a bag full of new toys along with the persuasive arguments on the Golf Monthly Forum is swaying me to getting something as close as possible to match the way I swing and with a shaft to give optimum club head speed and control. Of course, only if I find something that works.

One thing is pretty clear though. There are plenty of great clubs out there and whether you are in the market for a new driver, woods or, irons or merely a bit like me and a gear fanatic who can't pass the opportunity to try new stuff then the Summer is going to be a busy time with demo's galore. Have fun and swing well.

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