LAS VEGAS, Nev. - The 2004 Fall PGA Expo hit Sin City like John Daly hitting an all-you-can-eat buffet. Three hundred exhibitors filled 50,000 square feet of the Las Vegas Convention Center, singing the praises of everything from sunglasses and softspikes to artificial putting greens and radar-based launch monitors.
Of course, the big dogs were there, crowding around the food dish: Callaway, Wilson, E-Z-Go. But the Fall Expo is all about the young pups, hoping to steal a few scraps. Some of these names - Vortex, Zivot, Gaim, E21, and Zelocity - you might hear a lot of in the future.
Chances are, however, that you won't.
Golf is one of the most cut-throat businesses around. In fact, you'd have a better chance leaving Vegas a winner than keeping a start-up equipment company solvent for five years. But like they say, you can't card an eagle if you don't go for the green.
In hopes of giving the little guys a fighting chance, and of breaking the "press-lock" big companies (and big advertisers) have on the media, we scoured the Fall Expo to seek out and shine a brief, bright light on some lesser-known companies.
Some of the loudest buzz was created by two medium-sized companies whose recent innovations outside of their traditional specialties, La Jolla Club and Feel Golf.
La Jolla (lajollaclub.com), long-known as producers of Snoopy juniors' clubs has followed up it's wildly successful Knife fairway woods with Knife irons. The irons also feature low-profile "blades" on the soles, and a large, low bulge in back. Despite the odd shape, these irons set up beautifully, with a thin top-line.
Feel Golf (feelwedges.com), established wedge-maker, has introduced the Full-Release Grip, which are tapered at the butt-end, rather than the club-end. Inventor Lee Miller points out that in traditional golf grips "the gripping area is inverted opposite every other sport," and claims that Feel's redesigned grips eliminates slices by promoting a full release, and at the same time keeps the right hand passive until impact, reducing hooks.
It seems like everyone and their caddy's brother had a start-up putter company in Vegas. Of course, all of the "break-through" designs were "revolutionary."
One such start-up was Mentor Sports (mentorsportstech.com), whose V-MOI putters feature three or four weight cartridges that can be moved around, taken out, or added in. President Chin Bae eagerly explained two full pages of possible weight/MOI (moment of inertia) configurations as I marveled at the calculus grades the guy must have gotten in college.
FisherGolf (fishergolf.com), offers a larger line of putters with enough adjustable parts to make a gear-head weak in the knees. The radical looks of the company's Talon putter, reminiscent of some of the spaceships in Battlestar Gallactica, might be a draw for golfing sci-fi fans.
Other innovators include Gaim Golf (gaimgolf.com), whose mallet-style putterhead includes a cavity in the sole that will lock onto a golf ball and pick it up so that you don't have to bend over. The putterhead even fits inside the hole to retrieve the ball.
Zivot Golf (zivotgolf.com) offers a line of big-headed aluminum flatsticks that look like triangular versions of the infamously ugly putter Jack Nicklaus used to win the 1986 Masters. And finally the hammY (hammyputter.com) is a split-grip standard length that allows a hockey-style, side-saddle stroke for desperate players with near-terminal yips.
Vortex Golf (vortexgolf.com) has an established presence in Japan under the name of Yugengaisha Rita, where they sell drivers for the equivalent of $1,250 a piece. The company is unveiling both conforming and non-conforming drivers in the U.S., where the prices will be considerably lower. The Vortex VT420 beta titanium driver recently surprised everyone (including the folks at Vortex) by out-distancing eight of the current top-selling drivers in independent testing.
The Bionic Golf Glove (bionicgloves.com), just introduced by Hillerich & Bradsby (PowerBilt, Louisville Slugger), incorporates extra padding in the pressure-points in the hands where bone is closes to the surface. The Bionic is the first golf glove to be commended by the Arthritis Foundation.
And one of the most intriguing "revolutionary" products was the Eagle One Pro Lite shaft by E21Golf (E21golf.com). What sets these apart, according E21's Pete A'costa, is the use of Scandium, the 21st element in the periodic table. A'costa says the shafts are the lightest and longest metal shafts in the solar system. And I'll admit, they did feel solid.
It remains to be seen, however, if messing with the elements will prove to be more successful than building a hockey-stick putter like the hammY. The golf business is always one big roll of the dice.
September 28, 2004
Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Ill. Read his golf blog here and follow him on Twitter @GolfWriterKiel.