By Jeffrey A. Rendall
There's a war going on, but I'm not afraid of getting drafted--or shot at. Compared to so many notable armed conflicts of the past, this particular feud isn't going to hurt anyone -- because there won't be any lead fired, bombs dropped, sorties flown or missiles dispatched. And, unless you count the damage done to some sports companies' bottom lines, nothing gets blown up.
I'm speaking of the golf ball wars taking place in the lucrative golf equipment manufacturing sector. In recent years, all the big names threw their hats and reputations in play (or, should I say, declared war), and the resulting fight's more intense than two hyenas tugging at a carcass. Needless to say, there's a lot at stake.
It used to be you'd go to the store and choose between a couple brands of golf balls -- then just go out and play. Over time, you'd formulate opinions on the different manufacturers. Certain balls developed reputations -- TopFlite was known as an exceptional distance ball, but also felt hard as a rock (hence, the nickname 'TopRock'). Titleist was often the favored child, and it was a lucky day indeed when you'd come across a Titleist Balata ball -- because lord knows you couldn't afford to buy them. And they were soft! But they'd usually only last a couple holes before a smile developed that would make Brooke Shields envious.
Occasionally, you'd find a coverless ball on the course and marvel at the wonderful wound rubber bands covering a rubber core. 'Hmmm. So that's what the guts look like?' It never seemed to matter that much. Some balls seemed to do more things, but the game didn't change when you switched them -- except for maybe distance variations.
Golf is certainly morphing now, however, and it's due largely to changes and improvements in equipment. There's a big stir on the PGA tour this year, and it's not just because Tiger won his fourth consecutive major or several scoring records have fallen.
There's no doubt the new big headed Titanium drivers are adding greater distance and control to most everyone's bag -- but experts say the single largest boost in performance categories is in the golf ball itself. Because of the new balls, most observers agree the future of the game includes players hitting the ball longer, higher, and stopping it quicker on the greens.
And the most important trend in golf ball technology is the evolution of solid core or multi layered centers. No more rubber bands. No more liquid cores. These days, you saw a ball in half and you'll find more layers than Jupiter's outer atmosphere.
As a result, most top manufacturers are moving towards this new technology, and their latest product lines reflect the migration. Titleist is boasting its new multi-component Pro V1, Nike's Tour Accuracy (solid) is Tiger Woods' ball, and Spalding's getting rave reviews with its new Strata Tour Ultimate (multi-layered). Jim Furyk won the Mercedes Championship with it, and the golfing world now knows that someone other than Titleist or Nike is capable of producing a winner.
According to Nick Raffaele, Spalding's Director of Tour Relations, the Strata Tour Ultimate is more than just a multi-layered ball -- it's a pioneer in the field. "Our Strata Tour Ultimate is the first ball to take advantage of a revolutionary new technological innovation -- the Tungsten Energy Core. The Core concentrates the weight in the center of the ball, which equates to greater ball speed and higher launch angle and increased spin -- which all adds up to the ball flying farther."
Raffaele continues, "We at Spalding were one of the first to introduce a solid core ball back in the 80's and people weren't overly accepting. The older solid core balls were known for their exceptional distance, but it was felt they gave up some feel around the greens.
"Now, after twenty or so years of technological advancement and working with different materials and covers, we're able to give players the incredible distance a solid core ball is known for, but also provide the same touch and feel around the greens as a wound ball. All of these factors merge together in the Strata Tour Ultimate."
Curious as I am about these new golf balls, I had a difficult time believing a simple change of polymers in a tiny sphere like a golf ball would produce anything markedly different than what I've seen in the past. I've played the game for almost 25 years, and all I've ever expected from the ball was for it to roll in the hole if I hit it right -- and fly a long way if I smack one.
But after trying the Strata Tour Ultimate, I've changed my mind. I will note, some of the added distance I've found could and should be credited to the new Taylor Made 320 Ti Driver I've been using, but there's no doubt the combination of ball and new driver is kicking my game up another notch.
I think Jim Furyk described it best when he recently talked about how the Strata TU's improved his driving proficiency, while maintaining the soft feel of the prior Strata balls around the greens: "I'm definitely driving a little farther with the Strata Tour Ultimate this year, but more than anything, the added distance is because of the ball's higher flight and softer landing. In other words, I may only be getting a few more yards in total distance, but it's due to a higher trajectory with less roll.
"It allows me to take the ball over some doglegs I may not have been able to carry before. For example, if there are bunkers 255 yards off the tee, I think the Strata TU helps me fly it over them, simply because I'm able to get more air under the ball. Last year, that wouldn't have been possible."
"At the same time, I think the higher trajectory helps stop the ball quicker on the greens. If I hit a three iron last year with a total distance of 207 yards, the ball would fly 200 and then roll seven. This year, the ball flies 205 and rolls only two or three. That's the best way I can explain it."
I'm not going to claim my game's anywhere near Jim Furyk's, but I'll definitely say some of what he talked about is reflected in my impressions. I still won't look at flying bunkers at 255, but I might think about it at 235 -- and that would never happen before. The Strata Tour Ultimate, in my experiences with it, gives solid power off the tee and stopping force on the greens.
Nick Raffaele says it's always been Spalding's intention to use the PGA Tour to develop products for the average consumer. And in this case, I think there's some evidence in my tests of the ball to back that up. The ball that's brought the highest performance to great players like Jim Furyk also benefits the average player, like me.
It's hard to put it into quantitative terminology what the Strata Tour Ultimate does for my game. I can't tell you that I get 20 yards farther with the Strata TU than I do the others. I can't tell you I spin the ball sideways towards the flag with the flick of my wrist. I can't tell you it's so soft the Snuggle bear wants to hug it.
But I can tell you the ball gives that extra little bit of confidence to challenge a golf course. I'll take Nick's word for it that it's the Tungsten Energy Core that's performing the unthinkable for me. I no longer fear forced carries; I look at some fairway bunkers as decoration; and I know the ball's going to stop on the green.
It's always nice to have an ally out on the course -- after all, in golf as well as war, you'll need all the friends you can get. And the Strata Tour Ultimate is with you for every shot you fire out there -- in friendship or aggression.
The Strata Tour Ultimate Golf Ball
Available in Fine Pro Shops and Golf Retail Stores
Find out more about the Strata Tour Ultimate at: www.stratagolf.com/ball/ultimate_plus.html
Spalding's Director of Tour Relations: Nick Raffaele
Strata's Top Touring Pros: Jim Furyk, Hal Sutton, Dennis Paulson, Bernhard Langer and Len Mattiace
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