Nike's Assault on the Golfing World
Tiger Woods made the change to Nike Blade Forged Irons in September and immediately broke the course record at the World Golf Championships in Kilkenny. It's hard to say how much influence the new clubs had on the scorecard - Woods won two of four Majors and five events total in 2002 before making the switch - but it's certainly not a bad endorsement for Nike on his very first competition outing with the Forged Blades in the bag.
Despite the US$90 million five year sponsorship deal he signed with Nike in 1999, Woods maintains that his choices are based on the best equipment that's available: "I truly believe that no one is making better equipment for golfers than these guys right now," said Woods.
Woods' phenomenal success in recent years is closely linked to the rise of Nike as a golfing brand. Woods already has a Nike Forged Titanium Driver in his bag and worked with the design team on the irons which were released onto the market in early 2002, adding to other collaborations including the Precision Tour Accuracy golf ball, the Dri-FIT Tour glove, plus footwear and the apparel. Other big names like Michael Cambell and David Duval (who won the 2001 British Open using the Forged Irons) have also worked with Nike on developing their equipment, with the arrival of the new Irons and Titanium Drivers in Australia completing the company's golf product range.
Gizmo recently test-drove the new clubs at the Victorian Golf Academy to see if they could offer anything to those of us who will never break a course record. Golf is an exact science that's all in a class of its own, not to mention a massive worldwide industry where lots of money is thrown into R&D, so we won't pretend to make an informed analysis of the superiority or otherwise of the clubs - but to an average social golfer with a bag full of out-dated sticks they definitely had great feel and were a lot of fun to try out on the range. After all, Tiger seems happy with them.
The drivers come in three main head sizes - 275cc, 350cc and 400cc - with loft from 8-11 degrees and varying shaft combinations available. The idea is to provide golfers of varying abilities with the right club for them - the smaller 275cc head is designed for better, faster swinging players and the larger 400cc gives the average golfer more surface area to lay on the ball. Like most drivers made over the past few years, the heads are quite big and the whip in the shafts hard to control until you're accustomed to it. After spraying a few all over the range I settled on the mid-size 2-piece 350cc head with the stiffer rating shaft, and the handful that went straight did travel 20-30m further than average.
The Forged Blades can only be described as buttery. The clubs are nicely balanced and contact is so soft on the hands it almost feels like you're hitting a rubber ball. Shots with mid-irons didn't go any further than normal, but they are far more forgiving when you miss the sweet-spot than you would expect from a blade and it's very easy to appreciate why a set of these might sit comfortably in the bag.
The key to the manufacturing process according to Nike is that a two-stage precision forging process is used instead of casting. The irons are made from soft 1030 carbon steel and proprietary Beta-Titanium is used for the driver faces. Under master craftsman Tom Stites, who has designed clubs for more than 85 tour pros, Nike has pushed the design of their clubs as close as possible to the edge of USGA specifications.
A second set of "combo" irons that utilise both blade and peripheral weighting design will also reach to reach our shores in December. The difficult to nail longer irons (3&4) feature full-cavity peripheral weighting, mid-irons (5,6&7) have a "muscle-cavity" design to improve shot shaping while maintaining forgiving club-head weighting, and short irons (8,9 & pitching wedge) are a full-blade for maximum feel and accuracy. The idea is not new but has been made more viable by the increasing accuracy of the manufacturing process.
Nike Forged Titanium Driver's cost AUS$900 for the 275cc and 350cc models and the 400cc costs AUS$1000. The Forged Irons cost AUS$250 each and 1 and 2 irons are available.